On Tough Love and Unconditional Support

Silhouette of cyclist with friend motion on sunset background

Every major life change starts with some sort of trigger. Maybe it’s a visit to the doctor or an inability to squeeze into your favorite jeans. Or in the case of Susan Lacke, a conversation with her boss, Carlos.

A boss who became one of her best friends and biggest fans as she went from self-proclaimed couch potato to Ironman and now ultramarathon finisher.

Several years ago, Susan was the original contributor to No Meat Athlete (other than Matt, of course), and through dozens of posts she chronicled not just her fitness journey, but also that epic friendship with the late Carlos Nunez. This week Susan released her new book, Life’s Too Short To Go So F*cking Slow, a tribute to the life-changing support we can give one another.

We’ve asked her to share an example of that support. An example we can all learn from.

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To call Carlos Nunez my “cheerleader” makes me laugh out loud. Case in point: When I proudly finished my first 5K race, I texted him. His response to my finishing time: “45 minutes?! What did you do, skip?”

There was also the time I crashed my bike—it was my first time riding in shoes that clipped to the pedals, and I didn’t quite time the release of my feet correctly. I went down in the gravel, still attached to my bike, and Carlos laughed. (And laughed, and laughed…)

When Carlos, a multiple Ironman finisher, inspired me to sign up for my first Ironman despite never having done a triathlon (a journey I chronicled in the early years of No Meat Athlete), he told me it was the dumbest thing I had ever done. Even the title of my new book, Life’s Too Short To Go So F*cking Slow, is a direct quote from something he huffed just before dropping me on a bike ride where I was dragging ass.

And yet I still maintain that for almost a decade, Carlos Nunez was my cheerleader. The captain of my squad, even.

When most people think of a cheerleader, they think of someone who waves their pom-poms and effuses positivity. Though there’s certainly a time and place for that, that’s not the only way to show your support for someone. The thing I’ve learned about cheerleaders is that it’s not the positivity that matters—it’s the underlying and unconditional belief.

You see, when Carlos gave me grief for my slow 5K, he didn’t do it to mock me, but to get me to sign up for another one. He knew me well enough to know that I’m a deeply competitive person. With the right provocation, I’d not only sign up for another race, I’d go faster just to prove him wrong.

Carlos laughed when I crashed my bike, yes, but that was because I had too much pride to ask him for help understanding my newfangled shoes. After he stopped laughing, he cleaned the gravel out of my scraped knee and let me know that he wouldn’t offer advice when he saw me doing dumb things, but he would always give it if asked. As entertaining as it was when I failed, he wanted to see me succeed.

And he did want to see me succeed. So much, that he rode at my (much-slower-than-his) pace every Sunday morning so that he could coach me to my first 100-mile ride, my first mountain summit, and my first Ironman triathlon. He taught me how to pull a water bottle without stopping, how to change a bike tire, and how to pace myself during a 112-mile bike ride so I could follow it up with a 26.2-mile run.

He didn’t have to do any of those things, and yet he did them. He never once said anything resembling a “rah-rah,” and yet I knew he believed in me unconditionally, even on the days I didn’t believe in myself. If it weren’t for him, I would have quit endurance sports a long time ago.

carlos

Cheerleaders take many forms. Some are enthusiastic and unconditionally optimistic. Others are realistic to the point of being brusque. They can tell you they believe in you, or they can show you by investing their own time and energy in you. They can offer platitudes, or they can push exactly the right buttons to get you to step up your game.

But no matter what forms they take, one thing is for certain: there aren’t enough cheerleaders in the world today.

When was the last time you were truly supportive of someone else’s goals? I’m not talking about liking someone’s race photo on Instagram—I’m talking about investing in the success of someone else without benefit to you. Too often, we’re focused on our own goals. We insist we don’t have the time or energy for others, or that we aren’t the right person to offer such support. We believe that cheerleaders are always supposed to be positive, even to the point of lying. We roll our eyes when someone announces a Big Scary Goal and surreptitiously track their progress in search of schadenfreude, not success.

But what if we didn’t do those things? What if, instead, we dug out the pom-poms and supported each other through words and deeds? What if we always had each others’ backs, even when we think the other person is doing a dumb thing? What if we offered to teach new runners the ropes or meet for a ride on Sunday morning? What if instead of simply clicking “like” on a race photo, we offer to buy a celebratory coffee and plan to do the next one together?

I bet it’d be a pretty cool thing.

Lift each other up. Acknowledge successes. Be encouraging. And when someone doesn’t believe in themselves, carry them until they do—loudly and enthusiastically, like the cheerleader you are. Carlos passed away from cancer two years ago, and I’ve made it my mission in life to carry on his legacy as everyone’s cheerleader. I hope you’ll join me.

Though Carlos taught me how to ride a bike, what I ultimately learned from him is much more important:

When we help one another, everybody wins.

About the Author: Susan Lacke is a writer, professor, and adventure junkie living in Salt Lake City. Her first book, Life’s Too Short To Go So F*cking Slow, tells the amusing and poignant story of an unlikely friendship that went the distance. Follow her on Twitter @SusanLacke or Facebook: Susan Lacke.

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Comments

  1. Having started running in high school (a few friends of mine demanded a girl’s track and cross-country team in 1970) I have encouraged many women to begin the journey of signing up for that first 5k, or just getting out the door to do SOMETHING for over 46 years. I coached girls in cross-country at my local elementary school (after teaching all day) to where they became good enough to win the city wide trophy one year. I don’t know if any of these “kids” are still active today- hopefully I planted some seeds. I have had others close to my age (64) tell me that I am an inspiration having completed 133 triathlons from my first one in 1982 (which was a “half” IM- give or take a few miles as the distances were pretty arbitrary back then), have swum from Alcatraz 9 times (number 10 coming up next June) and have completed a few 50ks and a Rim to Rim to Rim canyon crossing, amongst other marathons, open water swims and Xterra tris. I just got back from a mountain bike ride (20 miles) with my husband. I understand about the “support” thing. I just completed my 8th 70.3 and my husband was there by me in almost every workout (except the run as he has a fake hip). It’s nice to have that support and gentle prodding from someone. Keep up the good work and maybe I too will write a book some day about my “adventures”- most of them took place in my classrooms…far more exciting than any or my races.

  2. Hi Susan loved your podcast and hearing all about your triathlete journey. Hope we get to hear more of you on NMA radio soon! Cheers

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