Bill Bradley has been on top of the world. He has experienced what it means to have it all. And he has experienced what it means to lose it all. Just over five years ago, he went through a bankruptcy. He lost his business. And his marriage came to an end. He had hit rock bottom.
“I remember calling a friend who had been in a similar position not that long before looking for advice.” Bill said, “He told me I needed to count my blessings. I couldn’t believe it. What blessings?”
After a short pause in their conversation as his friend wracked his brain for blessings, the answer he received was, “You’ve got your health.”
Even now, Bill laughs at this. “My health? That’s it? Nothing else?” he asked his friend.
Soon enough Bill came to realize that was all that really mattered, without his health he couldn’t have pulled himself out of the hole he was in. In losing his business, his home and his wife, he lost his self. He was no longer the confident businessman with a business model others hoped to emulate. He was no longer the family man people looked up to.
Bill found himself wallowing in self pity. He realized that when he spoke with people he never looked them in the eyes. Instead, he spoke with his head down, staring at his shoes. People underestimate the toll loss of confidence can take on a person. Without confidence, moving forward is practically impossible. Without confidence life becomes stagnant.
Luckily, Bill soon came to realize he had another blessing. He had friends with good, if somewhat crazy, ideas. It was one of these friends who mentioned to him the day before a fifty mile ultramarathon that it was too bad they hadn’t thought of it earlier because a race like that might be just what he needed to get his life kick started again. Though he shook his head, not believing anything would get his life kick started again and thought he had left the idea right there, he received a surprise calling in the middle of the night.
“It was like a Jerry Maguire moment. I sat bolt upright in the middle of the night and said, ‘sometimes you just gotta say, what the _____?’”
The next day Bill ran that fifty miler. With no training and no preparation he ran fifty miles for the first time in his life and for the first time in months he felt good. He felt confident. He could see a future.
Since that time Bill has completed the Virginia Triple Ironman, the Ultraman, a double Badwater – that is 270 miles of running through Death Valley, the Ride Across America – coming in several days behind the cutoff but finishing the ride because he knew he could, and countless other races and adventures.
While these feats have all been awe inspiring, it isn’t the most inspiring part of Bill’s personae. Bill is not an elite athlete. Completing these incredible adventures he takes on are not guarantees by any stretch of the imagination. At any time he can and has failed to complete a goal. But that’s okay. It isn’t the end of the world.
That is the very essence of what Bill discovered when he woke up that morning and ran a race he had not only not trained for, but had not even seriously considered. With each new feat, he has gained a circle of confidence. This confidence does help him to attempt new adventures but it goes far beyond that.
“The confidence I gained that day when I completed that first 50 miler wasn’t just in me. It was around me.” He explained, “The confidence permeated every area of my life. People around me noticed that I gained something that day.”
Bill’s family and friends began to see flashes of the person he had been. With each new race, each new adventure, Bill saw that circle of confidence widen. He looks back on the Bill who spent his days feeling like life was over and knows that that Bill could have never foreseen this one.
“If you had told me then that I would have faced my biggest fears, all of my biggest fears by attempting to swim the English Channel. Not only that but after failing at swimming the Channel that I would have gone back twice more to make that attempt. I would have thought you were out of your mind.”
The Bill who sat on that couch mourning the loss of his business and family, couldn’t have faced another failure.
The Bill who has taken on some of the toughest challenges in the world, doesn’t worry about failing again. He has learned that failing is just another opportunity to pick yourself up, learn from your mistake and try again.
He has learned what it feels like to sit on top of the world and how bad it can be to hit rock bottom. But even that experience is one that his new found confidence has helped to heal. He looks back on that time having learned his lesson, picked himself up and moved on. For him, that’s what life is about.
Ann Brennan is a freelance writer, fitness columnist and blogger living and running with her family in Millersville, Maryland. You can find more of Ann’s writing at Ann’s Running Commentary .