Have you ever wondered about the word “discipline”? What images does it conjure up in your mind? Doing what you have to do? Towing the mark? Keeping your nose to the grindstone? Putting restrictions on your behavior and actions? Setting limits? If these are some of the negative connotations you would assign to the word “discipline,” then you’ll really enjoy hearing the story of Stuart Jenkins, and you may find it quite an eye-opener.
“Mrs. Jenkins,” the grade school teacher announced to Stuart’s mother, “your son will never graduate from high school, let alone attend college. It’s because of his dyslexia, you see, he’s learning disabled.” Stuart sat in the slow class in the one-room schoolhouse in a little town in Nebraska where everyone knew everyone. The worst part was not that the town labeled him “dumb” and “stupid.” The worst part was that Stuart believed the labels. Until, that is, the day that everything changed for him.
When Stuart reached junior high age, he was given the opportunity to attend private school away from home, and it was there that the earlier labels that had been placed on him were gradually displaced. Not only did he become the school’s track star and champion runner, but the confidence he gained helped him distinguish himself academically as well. Contrary to the earlier predictions, he not only graduated high school, but he became student body president and went on to graduate college with a 3.2 grade point average. And all because of his very unique concept of the word “discipline.” Stuart’s love of running prompted him to set a long-range goal: to qualify for the Olympic trials by running the Boston Marathon in two hours, nineteen minutes, and four seconds!
Beginning at age 15, every single day for eight years, Stuart ran in preparation for that great race. He did not miss one day in eight years! Would you say that was discipline? In fact, by the time Stuart reached Boston, his daily log indicated he had run exactly 26,000 miles in preparation for that one 26-mile race! That’s 1,000 miles of preparation for every mile in the race! Here are his own words about what happened as he ran in the Boston marathon:
“Everything was going great until I got to the 17-mile mark–Heartbreak Hill, as it’s affectionately called. It was as if somebody had turned on Bunsen burners under both my heels and I had 4-inch blisters on them. My shoes were full of blood. There was more pain than I could ever remember in my life. I had to ask myself, am I willing to take one more step on these feet? Then the answer came: “Stuart you are within six miles of reaching the goal you set eight years ago. The goal you have pursued for 26,000 miles!” And the power of the goal was much greater than the power of the pain. I kept going, climbing the next hill. As I reached the crest of the hill I looked out and saw a huge digital clock. It read: TWO HOURS, EIGHTEEN MINUTES, 46 SECONDS. That meant only one thing. I had just eighteen seconds to get from there to the finish line! Then I heard a voice on the loudspeaker: Ladies and gentlemen, here comes Stuart Jenkins. He’s the last runner who has a chance to qualify for the Olympic trials. Let’s bring him on in. Twenty thousand people jumped to their feet and began cheering wildly. But my entire focus was on that digital clock! Tick. Tick. Tick. I’m not a sprinter, but I believe I actually sprinted for the finish line, and in just fourteen seconds I was there, qualifying for the Olympics–by just FOUR SECONDS!”
Now ask yourself, which day should Stuart Jenkins have skipped in his training? Which day should he have allowed himself not to pursue his goal? What mile in those 26,000 miles of preparation should he not have run? What does the word “discipline” mean? It means freedom! It’s not putting yourself in a box; it’s putting yourself on top of the box, giving yourself a structure that can support you. The box is not a trap, a confinement, or a prison cell. It’s a platform, a solid step that affords you a higher vantage point from which to view your possibilities. Eight years of running every single day–that was discipline for Stuart Jenkins. But that kind of discipline is what gives you freedom–freedom from mediocrity!
Think of discipline as the path to freedom–freedom from limitations! Clearly define your goal and focus on it. Don’t let yourself quit too soon. And when you hit your “Heartbreak Hill,” keep going!