For an instant, I feel a pang of self-pity. Will I forever own a misshapen femur already causing arthritis of the knee at age 26? You bet. Walking across the floor of our apartment, I’m careful to not wake Lauren and suddenly another pang, this time of guilt. It sharpens my waking brain as I remember Lauren’s back injury and the constant discomfort that has engulfed every moment of her waking life for some months now. Then, I summon every ounce of sisu within me for this day, this moment, of life. It is this instant which is ultimately the most important moment that will pass, for me, now. I recall the understanding that it is time to live in the present and be the best form of myself that I can be, for myself, for Lauren.
Sometimes, life sucks. Sometimes you don’t want to get out of that warm bed with the duvet comforter and it sucks. Sometimes, that comforter doesn’t exist and life just sucks in spite of your efforts for it not to. Sometimes you’re just hungry. Sometimes you’re scared.
Sisu embodies that uncompromising mentality not to give in to the problems you face. It doesn’t matter how small or how big. Isn’t the size of a problem subjective anyway? Sisu is energy which lives in all of us. It is that life-force which defies incomparable challenges which only you know; that life-force which battles demons unseen and darkness untold. Sisu cures obesity, sisu solves flagging relationships, sisu tosses addictions aside, and more. You cannot substantiate sisu. You cannot categorize it. Sisu cannot be confined to a regimented discipline, or else it will vanish.
You cannot categorize the feeling of being diagnosed with a heart condition, as I have been. Nor can you categorize labels like “mental illness” as several of my friends have experienced. Labels don’t matter. Sisu, your life-force, which faces adversity head-on and defies labels is what ultimately makes YOU. Sisu is about moving forward, upward, and sometimes about fighting the tide which keeps you still. Sisu is, ultimately, about grit.
But, Sisu can be experienced in myriad forms. It can be encompassed by full-out effort in an endurance race, or by the heightened spirit of a yoga pose, or through the clarity found in cutting-edge science. Sisu is holding the hand of a loved one through a medical procedure, or the early-morning workout before work, or making you child’s dreams come true at the expense of your own. Sisu defies odds and breaks barriers otherwise forsaken. Sisu is potential revealed.
I awoke that same gray-skied Sunday morning with the mission of living out my life, with my situation, and without an ounce held back. I met my father at the Boston Prep 16 Mile race in Derry, NH in a state of peace; to live with nothing held back. It didn’t matter what happened yesterday or what could happen tomorrow. I made it a point to summon every ounce of strength for the moments in my life which matter: the now. I guess I caught a fantastic day to be me. But I also caught a glimpse of what it is to be my father, a 61-year-old with a bad back who placed 2nd in his age group and could not have been happier to place 172nd.
So, sisu is not about momentary strength or defiance of the odds, and thus, neither is a single training day, nor week nor month of life on this Earth. Sisu channels the courage and strength to persevere, to sustain against the odds always facing us.
I think endurance athletes get that.
I think sisu is, ultimately, why endurance athletes relate.
No one can predict what the future holds. No one can imagine each individual situation or what challenges might face someone. Sisu supports each of us and fortifies us in an uncompromising and unfair world. Sisu defines our efforts. Together, Sisu unites us.