3 min read

There is no next time.

For someone who has helped athletes for more than a decade leverage their platforms for social change issues, I don’t follow sports all that much save for one big exception — I am the massive, massive closeted endurance sports fan. Specifically, I am a women’s track and field superfan with only moderate attention given to the men’s field just in case one of my distant relatives make yet another Olympic team.

I have very strong opinions about subjects I imagine no one normal gives more than a passing thought to: things like Breaking 2, Rule 40 and why Eliud Kipchoge should give a Master Class.

Last year, days before the pandemic began to shut down the world, I was on vacation in Mexico while the US Olympic marathon trials were going down in Atlanta. I needed the break more than I needed to be in Atlanta cheering on clients who have become close friends so I found myself the only person following the race from a hotel bar, tipping the bartender for keeping the television on NBC’s borderline racist coverage.

This was the last qualifying event before seasons were canceled and the Tokyo Olympic Games postponed. I admire the work ethos of athletes and I enjoy supporting goal-oriented communities. There is comfort in the formula of achievement: set a goal, work hard towards said goal and accept the outcomes on the other side of doing one’s best. But COVID changed that for them and for all of us. You cannot outwork a pandemic.

There is a beauty to accepting what one cannot change. There is a grace in relinquishing control. There is peace in evaluating something from where you stand in that moment in time. All you can do is all you can do. They did and the rest of us, in our own ways, did too.

Humans adapt. Many athletes who did not make the team for the marathon, quickly pivoted to track and field events and set their sights qualifying for the US Olympic team in other distances while others set newer, bolder goals: Sara Hall had the most inspiring pandemic glow up, Des Linden set a new world record in the 50K and Aliphine Tuliamuk, the first-ever Black American woman to win the US Olympic trials marathon, leveraged the time a postponed Olympics gave to have a baby.

This weekend will be the last US Olympic Trials events for track and field before the Tokyo games and the marathon trials, held more than a year and a half ago, are on my mind again.

"No more next times." This was the mantra Jake Riley, an unsponsored professional runner no one expected to make the Olympic team, repeated to himself again and again during the men's US Olympic marathon trials. Riley finished in second place and his story is incredible. Injuries, depression, divorce, economic instability, inconsistent coaching support and an epic tortoise-level dedication to one's goals.

Riley's story is one that encompasses two seemingly conflicting concepts I have been able to internalize that I do not think is innate to most people – leaving it all on the field and the the fallacy of a sunk cost. My upbringing and life experiences have blessed me with a worldview where I only evaluate decisions only through the lens of how many years I have left on Earth and not at all through the lens of what I have already put into something. There is no next time.

You gain so much when you have little to lose. “I needed to make a jump in some direction because I couldn’t stay where I was," Riley reasoned. In practice, this is looks like living fearlessly (change careers! move to a new city! quit rhyming with lesser rappers!) but in actuality this is what it feels like to live in faith: If something does not work out, that is okay– the best is still ahead. I am never walking away, I am always walking toward. But to hold this faith, I need to do my part too. I need to actually show up, try and do my best. When I do that, I can accept the outcomes as they are and enjoy the peace that comes with walking away. Time is limited and life is short.  

No more next times. Before the Olympic Trials in Atlanta, Riley's coached encouraged him to embrace the moment. “This is a childhood dream,” he said. “Run to it, don’t run from it.”

I thought of Riley this week when adorable second graders, actual children, taking a summer writing workshop interviewed me over Zoom and asked: "If you could have a super power what would it be?" I told them, "I already have a superpower! And so do you!"

"What is it?!" the kids demanded to know.

Life is short. I know this and so do you.

Now what would you do if there was no next time?

Sabrina Hersi Issa is a human rights technologist. She is committed to leveraging innovation as a tool to unlock opportunity and dignity for all. She does this through her work in technology, media and investments. This is her personal newsletter.