A Quilting Lesson from the Boston Marathon

A few days ago, I was listening to NPR on my way home from work. Since one of the oldest continuous marathons is being run this week in Boston, they were interviewing the race director who has run every year for most of his life. He was telling the story of his first marathon. He had run all his life, and a goal of his was to run the number of miles of however old he was. Then he entered into the marathon. Apparently back then, there were no qualifying requirements.

Before the race, he made a deal with his grandfather. He would run, and his grandfather would meet him somewhere near the end of the race. Well, during a time when cell phones didn’t exist, he fell out of the race at mile 21 and ended up in the emergency room. After finally getting home, he called his grandfather with no luck. He kept trying him all afternoon, until finally late at night, his grandfather finally picks up the phone.

“Grandpa, where were you?” he asked.

His grandfather responded, “Where were you? I’ve been waiting for you.”

He told his grandfather he failed, he had to drop out of the marathon, he just couldn’t do it.

His grandfather told him he hadn’t failed, he just set an impossible goal. He needed to set achievable goals until the marathon was an achievable goal.

That’s how I feel we are as beginner quilters. We start out thinking we can make a king sized quilt with all the fancy free motion quilting on it. When we try, we get to our own Heartbreak Hill, whether it is at the beginning, when we realise all the tiny little pieces we need to cut or sew together. Or perhaps when we put the quilt top down on the floor for the first time and realise how very *big* it is. Maybe it is when we realise we don’t know how to keep the quilting “sandwich” together. It could be when we realise how very small the throat of our sewing machine is in comparison to the size of the king size quilt and how much our shoulders, neck and back hurt from wrestling with the monster quilt we have.

It is so easy to give up at that point, to drop out of the race, and never go back. It is so easy to believe we will never create that amazing looking quilt that everyone oooh’s and aaah’s over. But, just as marathon runners need to train, we need to train too. We need to take one step at a time, to set achievable goals for ourselves. Yes, we may not be able to freemotion quilt a king size quilt, but can we make a table runner and stitch in the ditch? After that, can you make a baby blanket and do straight line quilting? And if even those two ideas may be intimidating for you then work even smaller. Learn how to sew a straight line and make mitered corners with cloth napkins.

The biggest goal for anyone with any hobby or interest they want to be good at is to keep challenging yourself. Lately, I have been doing a fabric postcard swap that has taught me so much each month I do it. Last month, I learned how to work with metallic thread. This month, I am working on super tiny dresdens. Perhaps next month, I will work with applique. At the same time, I am finding patterns I want to do for future projects.

After the race director’s “failure”, he made another promise with his grandfather to meet him at the finish line. His grandfather died before the marathon could be run, however he still ran it in honor of his grandfather that year. At a certain point in the race, again, he was about to drop out. He noticed he was right at the cemetery his grandfather was buried at. He thought to himself that this was a sign, his grandfather kept his end of the deal, the least he could do is keep his. He finally finished the marathon that year. 

Maybe if we work hard enough at our craft, just when we think we will give up, we will find we made it already to the finish line.

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