September 4, 2015
On Sunday, August 16, I attended an Ironman race in Mont-Tremblant, Canada. Over 2,500 participants swam 2.4, biked 112, and ran 26.2 miles while more than 5,000 spectators watched and almost 4,000 volunteers assisted. Now boil away the pro athletes, the massive marketing push, the carnival atmosphere, and you find the core and essence of what these events are all about. They are about people. About people dreaming they can achieve something they didn’t think they could. It’s all about people making their dreams become reality through practice, grit and determination.
If you ever have a chance, squeeze yourself amongst the crowd at 11:30 pm on the night of an Ironman race and you will see what I mean. People of all shapes, ages, and backgrounds have been out there on the race course for almost 17 hours giving it their absolute most. People who have been through cancer, experienced weight loss, milestone birthdays, battled physical challenges as well as those who just want to see what they can do with a life-changing goal …. They are all running down the final chute while other athletes, family and friends cheer them on. Crossing the finish line, the faces speak to what they’ve just completed: Elation, agony, pride, triumph, bewilderment and relief. Their dream is about to be realized. They trained, they swam, they biked and they ran. They did it. But it is clear that the goal is achieved because of a lot of help – help from spouses, parents, family, friends, and of course, the race organizers.
As it turns out, the Ironman race is a lot more about the journey than it is about who “wins.” It’s about what the individual puts into it and then gets to take away from it.
Now I am sure that the board of directors for the World Triathlon Corporation does not spend a lot of time talking about their mission as dream facilitators. But they should. Because they are not a race company. They are a dream company.
So what might this have to do with RIT and you my colleagues? Absolutely everything. We, too, are in the dream business. Every year we open up the residence halls, the parking lots, the classrooms, the labs, and the athletic fields to dreamers. Maybe it’s the dream of a parent to see their first …or last … child achieve a college education. Maybe it is the dream of the student who always wanted to be a doctor, an engineer, an artist, a designer, or a coder.
Here at RIT we are fortunate to be surrounded by dreamers. How fortunate we are, yet how easy it is to forget. It is our role of course to help these students, parents, spouses, and families realize these dreams. Just as athletes work hard to earn the right for their award, so too do our students. They must work hard to cross the stage at commencement and earn the right to say that they have completed a degree at Rochester Institute of Technology. We, in turn are their support team, their trainers, coaches, champions and ultimately their biggest fans. It is our responsibility to help them achieve their dreams.
Dreams – the kind that envision a better tomorrow – are powerful, inspirational, motivational, and hopeful. Mess with them and we call them shattered; make them real, as we do at RIT, and we call them life changers. Let’s keep this in mind for this next academic year.