Deep and lasting change is a heroic journey. Sometimes in our efforts to complete a particular journey in our life, we bite off more than we can chew and end up disappointed when we fail.
Sometimes though, we find the hero inside ourselves and that is witnessed in the growing numbers who are exercising at a time when ironically we also see a huge rise in obesity in our country.
Everything is relative – for some a 5k or a 10k might be that goal to feel good and sometimes people complete shorter, personal journeys that are absolutely immense victories for them.
Their ‘marathons’ were just five steps each but what a magnificent achievement for the two of them. Each journey just five steps. Your journey of 1,000 miles begins with just five steps
I’ve seen some of those achievements by people over the years where they were completed with both courage and conviction. Some were just over 26 miles long and some were only five steps long.
I had the privilege of introducing the late Muhammad Ali to an Irish audience in Dublin at a charity dinner organised by Dr Pearse Lyons and the Alltech company some years ago.
I was with the great man and his wife, Lonnie, backstage as the MC was talking to the audience. Ali was sitting in a chair, shaking with his Parkinson’s Disease.
My script was simple. Just say, with as much power and passion as possible: “And now, ladies and gentlemen, a big warm Irish céad míle fáilte for the greatest, Muhammad Ali.”
The directions were clear. Give Ali the nod to stand up and walk to the curtain as I was bellowing out, boxing ring-like, the introduction.
I looked at Ali and nodded to be sure he was okay. He nodded back. When he stood up, he smiled. Chin up. Head back. He was ready. As he started to walk, I began my introduction. I could have been in Madison Square garden introducing a world championship fight. But I saw clearly within a millisecond that my speaking was much quicker than Ali’s ability to put one foot past the other.
I just got as far as saying, “and now ladies and gentlemen a big warm Irish céad míle fáilte for …” but Ali had only moved two steps. His jaw was square. He had that same steely determination he needed the nights he fought Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Sonny Liston. He had refused to use a wheelchair and Ali was fighting harder than he did against Foreman, or Frazier, or Liston to walk out and greet his Dublin audience.
He had moved only two steps, and I was stuck. I had totally overestimated his walking speed. He takes the third step and I say, “A living legend.” I pause. He takes a fourth step. “The most recognised face on the planet …” and then he takes his fifth step and just before he splits the curtain I say, “The greatest, Muhammad Ali.”
He got a standing ovation. The longest one I’ve ever seen or heard. By the time it was over he had been helped to a chair where he was happy to sit down.
Those five steps had taken an awful lot out of him but he has been fighting for a bigger cause than just a boxing payday for these past three decades since he retired.
Lonnie said that boxing was only ever a vehicle for him to do what he did outside the ring; raising millions for his charity as he continued to encourage every man, woman and child in the world to be the greatest they could be.
I was humbled to be beside him as he completed those five steps with immense courage and conviction. In those five steps, I saw the “Rumble in the Jungle,” and the “Thrilla in Manila.” He did it not because he had to do it but because he wanted to do it. It gives him purpose and meaning every day.
With those five steps he conquered yet again his personal Everest.
Alexander is our third child. He has a rare medical condition called Mowat-Wilson syndrome. He was the first child in Ireland discovered to be suffering from it as a baby.
As I write this he is 11 years old. He will never talk. He can do a little walk if heavily assisted by Annette, his mother or Genevieve or Fionn (his sister and brother) or by his godmother Mary or his visiting nurse Liz who all help make his life so worthwhile.
He hasn’t eaten for over eight years because he gets his food into his system through a tube into his stomach. He’s also doubly incontinent.
We are all in awe of him in our house. He is the most magical and magnetic child you could ever imagine. Every morning he goes on his special bus to St Catherine’s in Newcastle, Co Wicklow where the staff there does amazing work with him and with all of his special needs friends.
Before Christmas a few years ago they even staged a nativity play. Alexander was St Joseph. In the rehearsals, he was great at knocking on the doors of inns that were full and closed to travellers with a donkey.
However, during the play itself, as soon as he saw the audience he became more interested in waving and clapping his hands on the stage than knocking on inn doors.
All the actors in the nativity play had members of the staff helping them move around as some were in wheelchairs and some needed assistance to stand upright.
In the midst of it all, Alexander stood up and took off. He walked five steps across the stage on his own. Unaided.
Jane, who looks after his class was over the moon. She was so excited afterwards. “Did you see him walking five steps on his own. Could you even imagine him doing anything like that last year?”
Like Ali, he conquered his own personal Everest that day in the nativity play by walking those five steps.
So if you’ve given up on working harder or some other personal challenge, think of Ali and Alex and then just realise what you are capable of doing in your life.
Their “marathons” were just five steps each but what a magnificent achievement for the two of them. Each journey just five steps. Your journey of 1,000 miles begins with just five steps.
In the book, The Green Platform, chapter 11 is about Alex and the positive impact he has on everyone he meets. The chapter is called “Alexander the Greatest.”
Every day is a new beginning only waiting for you to start your own heroic journey and be inspired by “The Greatest, Muhammad Ali,” and “Alexander The Greatest,” so that you too can become the greatest you can be.
Declan Coyle is an Irish and international motivational speaker and is also the author of two best-selling book – The Green Platform and Living The Green Platform.