Dr. Jeff Lynn, a renowned exercise physiologist and accomplished ultra-marathoner and distance runner, recently came down to Savannah from Slippery Rock University where he is a professor of exercise science to speak to SCAD cross country and track and field and swimming teams. A former student of Dr. Lynn’s, Patrick Reagan, is now SCAD’s head coach for cross country and track and field. Coach Reagan is also a world-class ultra-marathoner but Lynn’s talk and his message apply to any athlete and the SCAD artist-athletes he spoke to were eager to hear it.
Lynn didn’t mince words; “you have to suffer to have happiness,” the professor said, and the grit and resilience necessary to endure such suffering can be developed. We often may think an especially skilled and accomplished athlete is simply talented, just as we may think a very successful artist is talented, yet in both cases the individuals involved have almost certainly suffered greatly. Often, duration and suffering go hand in hand: it’s a matter of not giving up when giving up or giving in feels like a really welcome option.
While Lynn was able to draw on his own experiences as a runner and make mention of Coach Reagan’s accomplishments and experiences as well, he stressed throughout the lecture that his principles are not sport-specific. A swimmer could apply them just as readily as a sprinter and a member of any other SCAD team could, too. Beyond that, as art students we all face moments of suffering, whether physical, psychological or emotional. There are moments when it seems an art history paper is “good enough” to turn in, but you know with another three hours of work it could be an “A” instead of a “B.” You’re investing a tremendous amount of time to the project, because it’s about goals; the work you must do has to be done with a clear, concrete goal firmly in mind.
Once the goal is set, once the “why” behind the great effort is established, the rest should be much clearer. Still, who likes to suffer? “Suffering” is probably at the top of the list of things we all really wish to avoid—not something society teaches us to embrace. And Dr. Lynn’s lecture wasn’t about enjoying the suffering, but accepting it, surviving it. Not being its victim, not allowing it to define the experience or to be a greater factor in the equation than the goals at hand.
Knowing what we can change and what we cannot—and accepting what we cannot—but also knowing that there is something better beyond the current suffering are prime motivators and key, core, beliefs of people who rise above tremendous challenges—people whom we may consider “winners.” They’re not people who were born with an incredible, special gift or something innate, but people who have developed an outlook and mindset about challenges and about the nature of true—sometimes painful—work and who have decided—at the end of the day—to be above it. That’s something any athlete, but also every SCAD student can take to heart.