Dear Lauren Fleshman,
I have a fear of making people into heroes. As John Green wrote, “What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.” It’s treacherous for us, as the people who have illusions shattered when a hero is inevitably imperfect, and it’s treacherous for the other person, who fails at the impossible task of living up to unrealistic expectations.
So, Lauren, I will not call you a hero. I won’t even quite call you a role model or an inspiration. I will instead just say thank you for being the kind of human who can inspire and frustrate and sweat and cry, because that’s the kind of human I want to be.
In a world where athletes often have stock phrases that they use in interviews and are afraid to show their passions outside the sport, you have always seemed like a whole person to me. Whether you spoke about body image or sponsorship and how screwed up it is, you always spoke with passion and empathy. In your podcast interviews with Julia Hanlon, you gave beautifully honest advice that respects the wide range of human emotions.
In your races, you hauled ass. In accepting the pain, and in welcoming it, you showed what it meant to be a true competitor who was humbled and empowered by the sport. You told us your dreams and disappointments, reminding us that yeah, sometimes you dream big and work hard and it doesn’t work out. And you’re allowed to cry when that happens, and you’re allowed to feel a little bit like you failed without being a failure.
Yet you did not let the sport define you, and I think that’s what makes you more human to those of us who will never be fast enough to be professionals. We can absolutely admire the seemingly impossible feats of all professional runners, and I do obsessively, but what a relief to see someone who could take her running so seriously while still pursuing art and business and coaching and family, in whatever order works best for that day. What a reminder to me that I can be a teacher, a runner, a writer, and a gajillion other things without having to sacrifice my curiosity or dedication in any arena.
I don’t want to put unfair expectations on you as a human, especially because we’ve never met and there’s a good chance we never will. But I can thank you for being a voice of kindness and sincerity in a world that can use more of both. I can thank you for embodying the very best virtues of running in all aspects of your life, because it has given me the courage to do the same in mine.
You know this better than anyone and you said it so eloquently in this poem. It’s not retiring, it’s rewiring. Can’t wait to see where you go next, and thank you in advance for doing it authentically.
[Salty’s note: with the news on Friday that Lauren Fleshman is retiring, we decided to share Lemon’s letter instead of our usual Monday morning Readers Roundtable. Of course she has a lot more inspiring and ground breaking yet to do, but we wanted to know:]
How has Lauren Fleshman inspired you or what has been her greatest impact on the sport of running so far?