In Hurdles We Trust

July 16, 2017

“Jazz is about being creative, and always staying creative. Jazz is about being outside of the box. Jazz is about feeling outside of the box. Jazz is about asking questions outside of the box. To express yourself, to be unique. To have a unique voice, a unique style. When you’re dealing with music you’re dealing with infinity. There’s no beginning, there’s no end. It’s an ongoing, never-ending journey. It’s an ocean you never will cross.”

The above quote was spoken by one of my all-time favorite musicians, tenor saxophonist David S. Ware, who passed away a few years ago. Ware was definitely a musician who pushed the boundaries, who didn’t even acknowledge their presence. His music is not easy to listen to, nor even pleasant to listen to. It pushes you out of your comfort zone, takes you on a sojourn to places unknown. But if you trust him, if you take the journey with him, if you keep listening, you will be rewarded. You will become a wiser, more perceptive human being. You will become more sensitive, more compassionate. And you will feel good about life.

For me, the words from the above quote apply directly to the hurdles. In fact, if you were to replace the word “jazz” with the word “hurdling” in the quote, you would have a good summary of how I feel about the hurdles, and why I have maintained a relationship with the hurdles throughout my life, ever since I first started hurdling at the age of fifteen. In fact, let me go ahead and re-state the quote, replacing “jazz” with “hurdles:”

“Hurdling is about being creative, and always staying creative. Hurdling is about being outside of the box. Hurdling is about feeling outside of the box. Hurdling is about asking questions outside of the box. To express yourself, to be unique. To have a unique voice, a unique style. When you’re dealing with hurdles you’re dealing with infinity. There’s no beginning, there’s no end. It’s an ongoing, never-ending journey. It’s an ocean you never will cross.”

Throughout my years as a hurdles coach, nothing has done more to facilitate my growth and to help me stay confident in the face of new challenges than listening to jazz music. While it is not the only genre of music I listen to, it is the genre I turn to when I feel like I’m not growing, when I feel like I’m stagnating, when I feel like I’m becoming a cliché of myself. To me, jazz musicians are the most courageous, most creative, most bullshit-free people in the world. No matter what they may be going through personally, financially, socially, or emotionally, they give their lives to the music. They dedicate themselves totally. Artists like Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, and Jimmy Heath are in their 80’s and 90’s, yet they’re still growing, still learning, still finding new sounds.

When I listen to the music of artists like Ware, and that of some of my other favorite artists like John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Yusef Lateef, Kenny Garrett, Miles Davis, Ambrose Akinmusire, Albert Ayler, Lee Morgan, and so many others, I become infused with the spirit of exploration. I realize that whether or not I “like” the music is inconsequential in comparison to whether or not I am willing to listen openly enough to enable the music to allow me to grow. The music of artists like Ware, Coltrane, and Ayler in particular is definitely “out there,” and I certainly don’t “like” all of it. But the lesson I learn from listening to it is that I should never be afraid to venture into the unknown. Just like the musicians boldly go where the music takes them, I must boldly go where the hurdles take me. I cannot fear making mistakes, of leading my athletes astray, of experimenting with ideas that may not work. I must trust myself. I must trust the hurdles.

As I write this post, I’m listening to trumpetist Ambrose Akinmusire’s new live album, A Rift in Decorum. It is easy to hear the influence that past great trumpet players have had on him, but it also evident that he has practiced enough, performed enough, experimented enough, failed enough, discovered enough, that he has developed his own sound, his own style. He is not merely the sum of his influences. He has digested the lessons of the masters and discovered his own voice.

To me, that’s what hurdling is all about. Even more so than winning races. It’s about expressing oneself. It’s about finding one’s own unique style. It’s about studying the known in order to journey more deeply into the unknown.

I don’t believe there is such a thing as a perfect race. I don’t believe there is a “right” way to hurdle. I believe in being a beginner every time I step on the track. I believe in learning something new every time I step on the track. I believe that if I trust the hurdles, they will take me where I need to go. If I stay true to the hurdles, the hurdles will stay true to me.

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