Words I did not want to hear from Karl after volunteering to write the first post for the Sheep Blog. Put me in a gym with my iPod and a barbell, I’m in my element. Similarly, on a bright Sunday morning, trainers on, running alongside my beloved River Tyne, I’m happy. But neither creativity nor imagination are particularly my strong suits, having free reign to write a blog post put me into a bit of a panic, it’s taken me a week of indecision to work out, vaguely, what to write about. In much of the social media posts related to the 100 Black Sheep project I see the phrase “be the best version of yourself”.
Being entirely honest, I don’t believe I always am. Yes, I am naturally quiet, I always have been and despite being a born and bred Geordie I’m not the outgoing, ever optimistic, life and soul of the party type. But that being said, I often go beyond natural quietness into epic nervousness. It takes a lot to get me out of my shell, I’m not good at putting myself forward, I have many moments of self-doubt and until I get to know people I can be socially awkward in group settings. As daft as it sounds, I wonder if people will actually understand my accent and what I’m saying. None of this is me being the best version of me, it holds me back socially, at work and in my running / lifting. Being a better me, power-lifting and running aside gaining self-confidence, can only be beneficial which is why I was keen to be a part of this project and, reluctantly, relieved that nobody had volunteered to write this post before I did so I get to go outside my comfort zone early.
Looking for inspiration, I figured a good place to start this post would be with a definition of the term “black sheep”. Most of what I found however did not seem to fit the ethos of the project – be the best version of you that you can be, set the standards for those around you, dream big and going back to its predecessor The 100 Peaks be inspired and be inspiring. Most definitions had negative connotations – an outcast, someone who doesn’t feel they belong or live up to expectation, someone who is treated differently. The best definition I found came from urban dictionary –
That last sentence I find particularly interesting. “It usually takes some balls to be a black sheep”. The goal I have set for myself as part of 100 Black Sheep is to finish the Wall Run, a 69 mile ultra-marathon across the country from Carlisle to Newcastle Upon Tyne but don’t be misled by the distance, the most difficult run I’ve ever done was back in 2011 when I signed up for the Great North 10k and tried to go and run a mile for my first training run. It wasn’t pretty, it certainly wasn’t quick and I had to stop more than once. As it says on www.beablacksheep.co.uk/theproject
Depending on where you are starting from, setting yourself a goal to run a 5k can take just as big or bigger balls as my attempting 69 mile. Distance is all relative, one man’s mile is another man’s marathon. What’s important is you take that first step. You want to challenge yourself, you want to be a better version of yourself and be a positive inspiration to those around you. Making that decision and taking that first step takes the biggest balls of all, no matter what that first step is you’ve gone outside your comfort zone and stood out from the masses. Congrats, you are a black sheep, keep going. The late Icelander Jón Páll Sigmarsson was very much a black sheep in the strongman world of the late 80’s early 90’s.His famous response to being heckled mid competition “I am not an Eskimo. I AM A VIKING” is something I would like people reading this to take away, becoming a better version of yourself, standing out from the crowd and helping others do the same will not only make you feel better physically but will develop that same unshakable self-belief and invincible outlook as displayed by the first man to be crowned World’s Strongest Man 4 times.
Inherent to the idea of being a black sheep is the concept of standing out from the crowd or the flock, going against the grain etc. On the contrary to this, anyone reading this post who hasn’t yet joined the flock I would heartily recommend getting in touch and signing up. Since I ran that first 10k back in 2011 I’ve gone on to finish 6 half marathons, 5 full marathons, 2 Fan Dance’s and 9 Paras 10’s. In all honesty I couldn’t have done it without the support of many people, including some of the people already signed up to be a black sheep. The advice, support, encouragement and constructive criticism I’ve received from too many people to mention is what’s kept me going and allowed me to have amazing experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise been open to. The 2013 Avalanche Endurance Events Winter Fan Dance was a very special, life changing day for me. From the moment I signed up I was terrified of the reputation of Pen-Y-Fan in January and there were so many times in the intervening months that I wanted to drop out. Karl Rushen in particular is a very large reason I set off from the phone box that Saturday morning and his keeping on at me, despite us having not met in person at this point, is something I will always be grateful for.
I am lucky enough to have met and be able to call a handful of the current flock of black sheep friends. Themselves and other regular attendees of the Fan Dance and the Paras10 have genuinely, I’m not exaggerating here, changed my life for the better. There is an enormous amount of awesomeness amongst this flock and I know there are more awesome people out there still to sign up. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how this project develops and the benefits it brings to those involved. I fully expect there to be results that go far beyond finishing lines being crossed and medals being received. One of the best known black sheep in the world today Arnold Schwarzenegger readily admits he is not a self-made man, he got to where he is with the help of a flock. From the foreword to Tim Ferriss’ book Tools Of Titans: –
“Governor / Governator / Arnold / Arnie / Schwarzie / Schnitzel (depending on where I am), as a self-made man, what’s your blueprint for success?......‘I am not a self-made man. I got a lot of help’……. ‘My life was built on a foundation of parents, coaches, and teachers; of kind souls who lent couches or gym back rooms where I could sleep; of mentors who shared wisdom and advice; of idols who motivated me from the pages of magazines (and, as my life grew, from personal interaction). I had a big vision, and I had fire in my belly. But I would never have gotten anywhere without my mother helping me with my homework. (and smacking me when I wasn’t ready to study), without my father telling me to ‘be useful,’ without teachers who explained how to sell, or without coaches who taught me the fundamentals of weight lifting”.
So, to bring this post to a close, what I’ve tried to do here is put my understanding of the ethos of be a black sheep – stand out from the crowd, be the best version of yourself, set the standard for those around you – to paper, well, a Word document, and to try and project positivity, that you can reach your goals and keep reaching them and inspire those around you. From little acorns as the saying goes. Hopefully I’ve re-enforced, for the people already signed up, the reasons behind why they signed up and encouraged at least one person who is reading this but hasn’t yet signed up to take that step and send a life changing email. There has been a lot of negativity in the world over these past 12 months or so, there is a need for inspiring people and real-life super heroes. Your friends and family can be every bit as heroic and inspiring as those people we watch on a football pitch every weekend, or in the annual summer blockbuster or who took to the skies a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. As Tully Blanchard, a member of pro wrestling’s most infamous black sheep The 4 Horsemen once said: -
Best of luck to you all on your respective journeys.