Written by Nicole Sifuentes
I wonder sometimes how running became my job. As a child I didn’t have any aspirations to be an athlete - I just wanted to be good at something. But at the age of about 10 I discovered my natural affinity for running and fell in love with this sport. Bit by bit I kept moving through the ranks, working toward one goal at a time until I ended up a professional athlete. For the past 8 years my job has been to train, to travel the globe, and to race against the best runners in the world while representing this incredible running company: Saucony. It has been the best job imaginable. I experienced the thrill of winning, the sense of triumph from setting a PB, and the euphoria of performing my best in a clutch moment. Every day of “work” had such clear purpose - to experience those moments of success again and again.
Throughout my career I sought to reconcile that insatiable desire for success with the longing to accept all my results with contentment and satisfaction. I wanted to leave it all out there and then be at peace no matter the outcome. But that’s just not an option. As an athlete, you can be pleased, encouraged and motivated. You can acknowledge progress and achievement, but satisfaction is the enemy of success. You cannot be complacent because there are always teams to make, medals to win, and glory to achieve. Bad race? Keep working. Great race? Good job, but just imagine what you can do next. Keep working. Stay hungry. Never quit. And so my pursuit of excellence came with a sense of urgency and unrest.
This year started with one of those highs when I set a lifetime best in the mile in my very first race. But as the season progressed I realized my motivation to pursue the highest level was gone. I wasn’t excited about the World Championships in Doha next year or even the the 2020 Olympics. A quick glance at instagram assured me that all my peers were already traveling the #RoadtoTokyo, but I knew my heart wasn't calling me to join them. My road was coming to an end.
Now, at age 32, I’m ready to leave that constant pursuit behind. At the end of my road is a place of contentment and peace, deep gratitude and awe. Yes, there is an element of sadness for the PBs, records and accomplishments perhaps left on the table. In hindsight there are things I would do differently to have given myself a better shot at those goals, but in the moment I always did my best. Even if my final resume were more impressive, no doubt something would be left undone. I’m not hanging up my spikes because I’ve reached all my goals and am finally fulfilled, but because I want to stop chasing those goals and turn my focus to everything I was given.
I’ve ticked a lot of boxes in my career. It feels good to retire as an Olympian, world medalist and Canadian record holder. But behind those achievements are treasured gifts which are more worthy of my reflection and words. None of my success would have been possible without God’s favour and all the people He put in my life, starting with my coach Mike McGuire at the University of Michigan.
Mike was (and still is) the Women’s XC Coach when I moved to Ann Arbor in 2004. At the time, I didn’t realize that I had chosen one of the greatest minds in middle distance coaching, and that he would guide me for the rest of my career. Mike has coached up so many successful women at Michigan that with every graduation class I gained more training partners that also became my friends. The elite training group True Blue Elite literally grew up around me.
Michigan is also where I met my husband, Antonio. We married just as I began my post-collegiate career and sharing the journey has made it so much more meaningful. Through every high and low I was never alone, and it always felt so fitting and appropriate to pin our name SIFUENTES on my uniform for races. It is impossible to convey the value of his support.
And finally there is Saucony: the one company willing to take a chance on a soft 4:12 1500m runner fresh out of college. Over the years Saucony’s steady and faithful support has allowed me to train as a full-time athlete. This company’s investment in me fueled my confidence and drive, and paved the way to everything I achieved. It has been an opportunity that many only ever dream of, and there’s still a small part of me that thinks I’m crazy to leave this job and this community.
It’s been an unforgettable ride and so full beyond anything I earned or deserved. Looking back, it’s easy to see how many things outside my control ended up going my way. I see my running career as an extraordinary gift given to me by God. It is a testament to how well I am loved and how deeply I have been blessed.
Featured Image By Jason Honeycutt