After 20 years of participation in the sport of running, I achieved my dream of competing in the Olympic Games. I can still remember where it all began, as a young girl growing up in Ireland and how much I loved to run. I wasn’t always the fastest in my class, but I was usually near the front of the pack. My talent for running didn’t come in the form of some supernatural ability, it came from my passion-driven commitment, dedication, and my openness to learning and self-improvement. Sport has given me so much more than an Olympic experience.
As a kid I knew a couple of things for sure: kids know what they want and are not afraid to dream! I loved watching the Irish athletes running in the Olympics. It ignited something inside of me. By the time I was 11, I was so “into” the sport, I told people I would love to go to the Olympics. I wanted to train really hard in my local running club and become a world class runner (but thankfully my smart coach knew to hold me back to appropriate training levels). However, after several more years of training at age 16, I felt that “I wasn’t talented enough,” to go to the Olympics. I still loved the sport more than ever and running was “my thing.”
Over the next two years I made steady improvements in my times and fitness levels and eventually was offered a scholarship to Providence College. After college my running took me all over the world and I had opportunities to race throughout Europe, Asia, Australia, South America and the USA. I was able to have amazing experiences like taking a boat up the Amazon River, walking on the Great Wall of China and falling in love with a country and its culture like I did in Japan. As you can see my love for running took me on an incredible journey.
Besides opportunities to travel and race in the Olympics, I benefited in many other ways through my participation in sport. I learned through experience and participation and not just from reading theories and books. I learned that moving my body was exhilarating and fun, and I gained a keen sense of the “mind-body” connection before I could articulate what that concept was. I developed social skills that allowed me to work well with teammates and even befriend competitors. I learned the value of teamwork, and benefited from the synergy of working with people. I learned physics, specifically the causality principle; the harder I trained, the better I did in races. I learned nutrition and biology—the importance of healthy balanced meals gave me the energy to perform well and thrive. Running taught me to endure, to work hard, to put in effort and experience delayed gratification. My passion and interest in my sport made me a more disciplined and a better behaving teenager and college student. I cared more about running, than any subject in school, and it motivated me to stay on top of my grades and to be responsible in order to be able to pursue my passion.
As I mentioned – I raced all over my county, my region, my country and lots of other countries. Sport is a great connector and uniter of people from different places. Its great to feel like a citizen of the world – to know that people everywhere are different on some levels, but the same on others. I learned the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic reward. Sometimes my best races weren’t when I won, they were when I was beaten and I did my best. A personal record, is one of the most satisfying thrills of sports. The feeling of progress and momentum is very gratifying. For me, it definitely trumps any projected glory or recognition from outside sources.
I learned the importance of having a dream and how to set goals. I feel that kids are not given enough encouragement to dream. However, I think its also really important that kids know how to set goals. Big dreams, such as going to the Olympics, are achieved after years of progression. Its years of achieving small, attainable goals, that gets someone to eventually reach their dream goal. Having dreams and goals can steer our lives, setting the course and give us the motivation to head out and endure the rollercoaster journey . . . And finally, I learned that aiming to be the best you can be, is more effective than trying to “be the best” at something. If everyone could reach their potential, the world would be a much happier and productive place.
So I’ve been asked, would I recommended participation in sport to my daughter? Would I like her to learn, to dream, to set goals, to meet people from all over the world, to be in tune with her body, to learn to be resilient and overcome obstacles, to experience natural highs and exhilaration (and the lows of disappointment), to learn how to nourish and respect her one and only body, to develop social skills and working with a team, and ability to work independently? I would love my daughter to find her passion, which I hope will give her all of the benefits that sport gave me.
Roisin McGettigan-Dumas grew up in Ireland and currently lives in Providence. She attended Providence College on a track and cross-country scholarship, where she was a four time All-American (Indoor Mile & 3K Steeplechase), Big East Champion and a Psychology major and Environmental Studies minor ‘03. Roisin went on to complete her Masters degree in Educational Counseling at Providence College, while also competing in international competition as a professional athlete for New Balance. In 2008 she represented Ireland in the Beijing Olympics in the 3K steeplechase, where she reached the final. In 2010 Roisin married husband Myles Dumas, a graphic designer, New York native and fellow Providence College alumni. In 2011, they had their first child and also started their own company, Believe I Am (believeiam.com) along with fellow professional runner Lauren Fleshman. Believe I Am creates training journals and apparel that share sports psychology techniques and inspirational messages with women of all fitness levels.
*This blog originally appeared in the 2013 Spring edition of the She Shines Magazine for the YWCA RI.