Guest post from Ssideline City friend and fan Don Peps. Pictures are taken by Berit Bretschneider during the Hackney Half Marathon in May 2016. Runners, confetti and Don Peps cheering alongside Ssidelines Captain Hell!
Wherever the invitation of men or your own occasions lead you, speak the very truth, as your life and conscience teach it, and cheer the waiting, fainting hearts of men with new hope and new revelation. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
To write about the joy of cheering is to write about the question of why we cheer. It may surprise people but I am quite new to cheering. Every event that I participated in since I started running in 2011, I always ran. Five half-marathons and a handful of 10k’s later, I decided to take a year off and work on other things in my life. So prior to this year, and only a few months ago in fact, I never really experienced cheering for friends and my crew. I discounted cheering as a “nice way” to support people you may know. Armed with “I had a couple of hours to kill” mentality I treated the task more as a chore than as a self-defining expression of a piece of my identity and what I value in life. It was in Berlin and Belgrade that I realised that cheering is quite an experience on its own. One that has its own values, its own challenges, and its own joy.
So I think cheer should be spelled with 3 e’s. Those e’s represent the three sources that I tap into at the cheerzone to fuel my drive – Empowerment, Expression, and Empathy. They are the three elements that lead to the joy that I ultimately feel while on the cheering zone.
Thoreau once said that “The mass of men (Most people) lead lives of quiet desperation”. The fact is many of us proceed through our lives of routine without question. Like the film Groundhog Day, for each day that we live, we endlessly repeat the tasks and thoughts and motives from the previous day. The spirit of our lives lost in a hamster wheel. As the routine crystalises to become a part of our daily identity, so does the immutable questions that linger around our state of happiness. For example, why is it that it can be the sunniest day outside yet we cannot find the appreciation to take a second, collect our thoughts, and smile?
This is where cheering comes in. Cheering is a form of empowerment. It allows me to be free. In the cheerzone I can be myself or I can take on various roles. I can crack jokes, I can be loud, dance, and say some biblical stuff to generate a reaction from all the runners that pass me. In essence, I control the moments in any given interaction. I’m a rock star in concert. At the very least, cheering gives me a chance to feel a sense of purpose for that day. It releases me from that powerlessness grip of my own mind by giving me an appointment (e.g. a race event), a task (e.g. be loud and entertaining), and a purpose (e.g. be that ‘good’ friend). In short, it is like running or art, it’s an excuse to get out of the bed and participate in an uplifting project which ultimately brings value to the ticking seconds of our lives.
The next essential ‘e’ to why we cheer is Expression. To many people that know me, I am a walking bubble of energy. I am the type of person that walks into the office on a Monday morning wishing everyone a ‘Happy Monday’ and the type of person that would sit next to people in the Tube and ‘chatup’ the person next to me so that I can kill some time until I get to my stop – an act I continue despite being informed previously to NOT do in the London Tube. It’s something about ‘Londoners liking their bubbles’, apparently. All I am saying is that ‘They can like their bubbles…I am just saying “Hi”’. The truth is I have found lots of examples where my random conversations with people have led to really fun interactions. There is a genuine serotonin-boost when I find people that I connect with. As such, cheering can be evaluated in the same way, it’s about expressing yourself to achieve connection and demonstrate freedom.
So what’s going on in my head when I cheer? What message am I trying to convey? How am I effective in what I do? The answer is that I take on a few frames (i.e. perspectives) to keep my energy up and to build a connection.
Think of Christmas time. For cheering, we can use gift-giving as a strong state of mind. It is Christmas and I am giving gifts to strange runners. Call me Santa! Talk to anyone who has ever cheered before. One of the most beautiful things you will see in a course is the “restart” – a random runner becoming a defeated runner, who has stopped, and starts running again because you had the audacity to engage them and pick them up. Having this mindset in the course can lead to an extended feeling of euphoria. What I am doing does not require money. It just requires my time and my voice. And I have seconds in my life to spare for someone in need.
For me, I go out there to cheer for my friends – that’s my primary frame. It is most important to be that ‘good friend’ that day from all other days. I experienced it for the first time in Berlin this year when I saw Jermaine Breidel (Patta Running Team) pass through our cheerzone. And because Jermaine and I go back to BTG South Africa in 2014, I was incredibly excited seeing him roll through. I was still in second gear in terms of my state at the time. I was still just waving my American flag at the time, casually clapping at strangers running passed me. But when he came flying by, I just had a burst of energy that bubbled and flowed through from my gut that busted out to a roaring voice, screaming, “Jay! You sexy son of a bitch!”. I laughed in pride as he passed by with his hands raised in triumph. After that, I was off the wall and cheered like a man possessed. These are the moments that I get some of the biggest highs from in the cheerzone. Because he heard me, he smiled, I smiled, there was a connection – it was crewlove!
The final frame is about honour. Cheering for people is a rare opportunity to demonstrate your pride and pleasure for who you are, where you came from, what these people you are cheering for mean to you, and what being out there in the cheerzone says about you. To cheer is an existential act that conveys to everybody what is valuable in your life. It is a time to celebrate achievements unfolding in the streets as they pass your field of vision. If your friendship has value to you, then get out there and cheer. The cheerzone should be a celebration of the privilege of your communion as teammates.
At the same time, if your town is something special and you are proud to be a part of it, then go out there and cheer. Runners aren’t the only ones on show. It’s a fact that the spectators are also on show. There is nothing like the proud locals coming in to add to the vibrant experience. As such, cheering can be expressed to demonstrate good citizenship and a proud culture.
The last ‘e’ is for empathy. It stitches together all the various frames I mentioned and brings a message of why cheering ultimately matters. This “e” encapsulates why I cheer for hours for many people and not just my friends. This is why I choose to move my cheer closer to the bottom of bridges than be at the top. And why I decided to cheer my friend one time outside of town in a solitary road with a terrifying hill. I want to be in places where I can make a difference. Because this sport is unique – on race day the streets are filled with suffering. With each stride, long distance running tests your physical boundaries. The lengthy examination continues to grind your mind to a pulp in order to find the integrity in your spirit. There are many people on the road suffering. Just look at their eyes. Lost between loneliness, boredom, fatigue, and pain is the runner.
For many, their voluntary self-examination started months prior. Running in the rain suffering through blisters; running in the baking sun suffering on the verge of heat stroke; enduring lonely, chilly winter nights to prepare for that one event. Would we be remissed in our duties as citizens to not honour that courage, that endurance, that audacity? And as citizens by side of the road during the event, we are all in a unique and prime position. With a call of a runner’s name we can entice a smile, with a high-five we can reframe their focus, with inspiring words we can alleviate their struggle, with a “shimmy” dance we can extract an encouraging laugh. And in one moment, a period of valuable seconds, you shared a path, a connection, and helped another person get to where they wanted to be…or better yet, you helped get them to who they wanted to be.
So when people ask me why do I cheer?
Because, above else, cheering honors the human spirit.
We cheer because it matters.
– Don Peps