Colorado Springs in June wasn’t all bad. Gorgeous clear skies, crisp mornings, warm afternoons and a calming stillness in the air. All a byproduct of the severe altitude – 7,258 feet above sea-level. That thin air combined with the violent blur that was my first week of bootcamp at the Air Force Academy rapidly stripped my cocky, calm, confident 17-year old demeanor, into a weak, scared shitless adolescent.

My SoCal-bred thick oxygen-loving self, was DYING during one of our sunrise workouts. I had slipped (again) to the very back of the pack during our run, and this stocky ginger, slides up next to me, jogging in-place as I waddled along.

“Cadet, what’s your name?”
“Wright … ugggggh .. Sir.”
“Wright, why are you walking?”
“No excuse <dry heave> Sir”
“Wright, here’s what we’re gonna do. We are going to run hard these next two laps.”
“I can’t”
“I can’t Sir.”

By this point I was actually crying – don’t judge.

“So you got nothing left then?”
“Yes Sir.”
“But you can still talk?”
“Yes Sir.”‘
“Okay, Wright. Here’s what you are going to do. I want you to start running. And when you actually hit the point where you have nothing left, I want you dig even deeper. Use your guts as fuel.

He pulled away into a jog and the bile in my guts ran faster than I could.

“I’m throwing up.”
“Then throw up, so you can start running again.”

So, I yakked and spit and kept running. He ran right next to me, our arms brushing against other other, him quietly urging, “Dig!” “Use your guts” for the next mile. We rounded off the last lap with a lung-splintering sprint.

That was nearly 20-years ago. Matt Cantore is now a Lieutenant Colonel, and I’ve used and re-used his advice since then to survive some life-shattering struggles. I doubt he realized that I would use it for the times I reached emotional puke point, but I am no less grateful.

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