On Grit, Showing Up and Alexis

This story was originally published in the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

This summer, I taught a physical literacy program for Traverse City kids.

Not because it’s good for my career — it isn’t. Or because it’ll make me rich — it won’t. But because it’s fun as heck — it really was.

Teaching elementary school kids how to run, jump, catch, throw, dodge and balance was a wonderful experience. So fun.

The program provided an opportunity for kids who might not be that athletic or coordinated yet to learn movement fundamentals without judgment.

Like most things in life, the more confident you are playing and being active, the more likely you are to play and be active.

Kids learn that it’s OK to suck at something. They learn that they’ll get better if they keep showing up and putting in the effort.

Their confidence will improve — confidence in playing sports, during recess, in PE class, or on the playground.

And then they realize that they are good enough — that they belong.

Watching these kids persevere with things they weren’t great at reminded me of a gritty girl my wife Johanna met six years ago.

Alexis was then in the 5th grade at Old Mission Peninsula School. She joined track thanks to the encouragement of her parents, and Johanna was her coach at Eastern Elementary — her school didn’t have enough kids to form a team.

Alexis ran the mile. And let’s just say she wasn’t great at it. She finished near the back of every race.

Johanna remembers asking her if she’d like to run a shorter race, but she always refused. She was loyal to the mile. And she kept finishing near the back of every race.

But Alexis didn’t whine or complain or make excuses. She stuck with the mile that year and throughout her middle school years.

Although she does admit that it wasn’t always easy to keep showing up for practice and races, “It was a challenge when you’re working just as hard as the other girls, but you’re nowhere near as fast as them.”

And then something clicked. During Alexis’ freshman summer, when she started training with the high school team, Alexis got fast.

Alexis saw her times fall through mentorship and support from a solid senior class and Coach Lisa Taylor that helped her tackle a jump in training.

Her confidence grew, and she seized the opportunity. She practiced with discipline and deliberateness. Alexis got better. Lots better. She started to believe that she was good enough. She started to believe that she belonged.

“I love running because you can always get better. There’s no limit. Endless improvement is possible because what you put into it, you get out of it. The results come,” Alexis told me.

I admire this growth mindset — a hopeful mindset that everything is possible if you put in the effort.

Alexis is now a junior at Central High School, and she is the lead runner on an always competitive Trojan cross-country team. Awesome, right?

Alexis was not satisfied finishing in the back of every race. She is a reminder, like Angela Duckworth writes in her book ‘Grit,’ that excellence is available to all of us — that as much as talent counts, effort counts twice. There are no shortcuts to excellence.

Alexis continues to dream big by setting ambitious goals for her junior year:

  • Make all-state.

She’s off to a great start this season and has led the Trojans in their first three races this fall.

Watching Alexis train at the Civic Center or when she’s running down Washington Street with the team makes me think of the kids who struggled during my physical literacy classes this summer.

Just like them, Alexis kept showing up. She persevered.

She realized she was good enough.

She realized she belongs.

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Ty Schmidt

Manitoba made now proud Michigander living in Traverse City. Dad, husband, community organizer and founder of Carter's Compost, Norte, and Good Works Lab.