Off Season...On Purpose

Saturday I return to work.


Which means I return to Europe.


And on the one hand I know it’s time to go, and on the other I look back on my offseason and wonder…


Did I...


Use my time..


Wisely?


It’s funny because once a global championship ends you can hear athletes talking about all of their off season plans. The reality of the matter is most of us…really just want to sleep,


In our own beds,


With our own pillows…


And either eat and drink in celebration or disappointment of the season passed.


That transatlantic flight back to the United States after the last meet is full of elated anxiety…


You can’t wait to see your people waiting for you in baggage claim to take you home…


Or…


to take you to a new one.


One you have to make for yourself.


Because the place you once called home never really was.


So my offseason was less homecoming and more self discovery.


It takes a week of catching up on sleep, and another week of getting treatment so my body could understand I wasn’t asking it to do anything intense or painful.


And while that was taking place my thoughts began to settle and I became restless:


I think I want to go to Ohio.


So I went, and once I got there I decided that my niece and I would go to NYC and see a Broadway show. Both of us have a love of theater, and although her career has progressed well beyond mine, it’s not an experience I want to relegate to a past life.

So I honored "Little Tee" who used to only sing replies when people would talk to her, who would try out for solos in choir and get them just to chicken out on the day of the performance, who even now still belts songs from Phantom of the Opera from well placed balconies.


But then the nerd in me wanted to go to Washington D.C. that trip had been an unfulfilled promise to me for years. I’ve always wanted to visit the nation’s capital, but most of all I wanted to visit the Smithsonian Museums.

I had heard great things about the National Museum of African American History and Culture so chose that one.


I can’t even begin to articulate what experiencing that museum was like.


I learned so much,


was shocked by so much,


and encouraged by so much.


It was overwhelming.


I thought it would make me angry…the story of my ancestors.


Coming face to face with atrocity after atrocity uninterrupted for hours and hours.


I thought it would send me down the rabbit hole of depression and self pity maybe even make me angry with white people, especially men both past and present for the treatment of my ancestors, of me.


But it didn’t.


I can pinpoint the moment it happened.


We were in a room with remnants of recovered sunken slave ships, the room was dimly lit as if we were in a cargo hold ourselves, chains, wooden planks, and dioramas flanked us on both sides.


Upon closer inspection the plaques on the walls were layouts…


Different blueprints for how one can arrange the slaves to maximize capacity.

And then I saw it.


A small sign so nondescript I almost missed it entirely.


It was merely a postscript to the room of horrors and it basically said this:


On average only four out of ten slaves survived the trip from their native homeland in Africa, to the shores of the “New World.”


FOUR.


Out of…


TEN.


Less than half…


And immediately as I was standing there I thought,


I’m standing here, because someone who’s name I’ll never know, survived.


Someone who’s blood I share, had a level of strength I can’t even begin to imagine.


Someone who had the unimaginable happen to them, who lived a daily unending nightmare, found a way to put one foot in front of the other, start a family, survive, thrive.


I thought….


All this strength inside my DNA…


Like Kendrick Lamar would say.


I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the glass of an exhibit.


Locked eyes with a woman I’m only now getting to know, and am falling in love with and thought…


you are everything.


you are strength.


you are love.


you are wonderful.


look around you.


your ancestors survived this, they built this, in the hopes that you would one day stand here


like this


and come to this


realization


for yourself.


Fast forward a couple weeks and I’m on the red carpet at USATF’s Black Tie and Sneakers Gala discussing the season and my shoes.
 

There wasn’t a lot of time on the red carpet to really delve into the story of my kicks,


but here it is…


There were a few moments this off season when I felt like a failure.


I looked back on all the poor decisions I made,


All the bad situations I’ve found myself in…


I even wondered if I was a failure for not being able to win the gold medal at World’s this summer in spite of everything that was happening to me at the time…


But there were plenty more moments this off-season when I felt like I’d hit the jackpot.


I got to speak to UNLV’s track team about what it takes to be that “elite track star.”


I was able to reconnect with old friends, like Jebreh Harris who still had copies of the poems I used to write. He had me read them again and I felt like I was being reintroduced to myself.


I was surprised at the tears that welled in my eyes as I read.


In a word everything was: wonderful.


So when it was time to attend the gala I wanted my last off season event to be a culmination of everything I felt and learned about the past year and season.


By themselves, the Wonder Woman Converses were cool, but as they stared back at me from the table top, spending time on them...


making them something I truly could feel proud of...


became a symbolic, sentimental, and meditative exercise for me.

Each time I painted the wrong spot with the wrong stroke, or super glued a crystal in a weird place I giggled, or cursed, or exhaled a frustrated breath and slammed my brush or tweezers down and called it a day.


Those shoes are so me.


Inside and Out.


And I wouldn’t part with them except for the fact that another lesson I learned a while ago that really came to pass this year is that, “you can’t keep what you have unless you give it away…”


Which simply means…


The experience of this year would die if I didn’t share it with you.


Same is true with supporting the next generation of track stars.


So it seemed only fitting to auction them for charity, so that a few more dollars can be added to the coffers that support youth athletics in this country.


This off season has been so fulfilling, not because I was off, but because I was on.


On purpose.

nick steadman