The Art of the Comeback

I’m Hillary Allen, a Colorado native living in Boulder, CO. I’m a science nerd at heart, when i’m not running or enjoying the outdoors I’m teaching chemistry, biology, anatomy and physiology and physics at a small college outside of Boulder.

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I hate the term: “comeback.” It implies returning to something that you left – purposefully or unintentionally. The comeback has a stigma of judgement associated with it, that the whole world is watching – waiting even – for you to return from: an injury, a vacation, an illness or missed training run, or a subpar race. The list can be endless, and the pressure of the comeback can be immense. We quickly beat ourselves up for falling off, or missing something, or not being 100% on top of it all of the time. I’m speaking from a more personal perspective, and I’ve had to learn to temper these thoughts, to avoid being driven to frustration by them. There is so much pressure to return; not just to a previous high water mark, but to exceed expectations (your own and those of others) and surpass previous achievements. This pressure for me is largely internal, but it certainly can be externally accumulated as well.

The author running into the sunset.

I’m afraid, that after my accident, I will be defined by my comeback. Consumed. That everyone, including myself will be waiting for the moment when I have returned to previous form – to races, to running, to training. Returned to my old self, compared to my past results/successes in order to assess if I am – indeed – back. If anything, I should identify with the phrase. I am coming back. From something arduous, life-changing, impossibly complex. So why do I hate the phrase so much, if at the surface level, it seems to encapsulate my journey, and could fuel a dramatic comeback story? Why else would I be working so hard? Why would I devote hours on end, despite my fatigue, despair, pain, and emotional waning, if my goal was not to return or comeback to racing on a world stage? For starters, it wasn’t my choice to come back – I would have preferred to have never had to claw, fight, and brood over what I want. To push my limits and to work toward a goal which I’m not even able to express.

But this is how it always works, right? Life always throws us the unexpected. Getting sick when we have a big interview, a first date or a big A race. Things seem to fall apart at times when we are feeling most accomplished and on top of the world. So, when these events happen as an inevitable but unpredictable pattern, we must move forward somehow. Are we then, witnessing a comeback?

Cold miles up high.

I think not. I don’t think we should give so much weight to the expectation. Life is full of mini comebacks. But we aren’t scrutinizing each one. Why, then, do we scrutinize any of them? It’s human nature to problem solve, to have a backup plan, to endure. To find a way to survive and persist in this world. We are resilient, dare I say anti-fragile – becoming stronger from affliction – after nearly every experience we have in life. The setbacks are what make us individuals, able to make new goals, have new aspirations, while developing perspective.

So, herein lies my angst with the term “comeback.”

It’s far too simplistic and lacking in nuance. I’m not the same. No one is ever the exact same. So, what would we be coming back to? We are all constantly changing, evolving, learning, improving. Yet, we all have certain marks of achievement based on the past. Sure, in running there are personal best times that have an expiration date. There comes a certain point where we can’t beat a time in the past. But that is not my argument. I’m emphasizing broadening your scope, using the benefit of perspective to grasp the whole picture. Use knowledge, empathy and wisdom gained from experience, to consider every circumstance as an opportunity to grow and comeback to something new.

All smiles on top of Bear Peak.

I don’t want to come back because I never left. I have arrived at a new equilibrium, at a more aware, in-touch, complete state. What I am working toward is not something I lost or am trying to obtain again. What I’m working toward is new and undiscovered. I’m not even sure I’ll recognize it when I get there, which makes it even more exciting.

About the Author

I’m Hillary Allen, a Colorado native living in Boulder, CO. I’m a science nerd at heart, when i’m not running or enjoying the outdoors I’m teaching chemistry, biology, anatomy and physiology and physics at a small college outside of Boulder.

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4 Responses

  1. Your inspiring story really hits home for me. As a psychologist, I too believe that the journey is always with us in the present and in front of us. While my growth right now comes through a tough departure from a job ( and my coping is through endurance sport), I truly appreciate your take on a “comeback” as I am feeling professional career pressure both internally and externally. Thanks for my daily grounding 🙂
    A fellow Boulderite,
    Kelly

  2. Thank you Kelly! It’s most definitely a hard lesson to learn but i’m so grateful for the journey. Challenge leaves us more enlightened and wise to tackle the future and to be more in touch with ourselves! It’s a gift in a way . . . although sometimes a challenging one 🙂

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