Editor’s Note: We’ve asked a select few athletes who we’ve featured on Purpose2Play to write about who inspires them. Up first is SaraMae Hollandsworth, a former college runner who lost her feet to sepsis, but became a more well-rounded athlete because of it. Our feature story on her was published in November of 2016.

When I was asked to write for a Purpose2Play series called “Who Inspires the Inspiring,” I was humbled and moderately overwhelmed. I realized that I was meant to be ‘The Inspiring’ part of the equation — something I’m still getting used to.

I love everything that this publication stands for and eagerly await each article they share. That’s because inspiration has been a huge part of my life. I was the super jovial child who would turn down social invites in favor of trips to the library, where I would walk out just past close with influential books toppling out of my arms.

I would sit intently watching Rocky IV (and the entire Rocky franchise) over and over again, devouring as many biographies and autobiographies as I possibly could. I would listen to the Rocky soundtrack on repeat before every single track meet.

I have to credit much of these character traits to my Maker. Beyond that, I have to credit my dad.

Before I proceed, I would like to reference something that Tony Robbins said which speaks to my
core. He said, “If you’re gonna blame people for all the shit, you better blame them for all the good, too.”

And, that would be a good place to dive into this complicated yet significant topic. Let me present a disclaimer: You will not get all of the story, but you will get the part that is relevant here.

I didn’t intend to go this direction, but the more I sat with it, the more I realized, there is simply no other answer.

Photo courtesy of SaraMae Hollandsworth

I had a complicated childhood, as many of us do. My father was an alcoholic and drug addict until the time I was five, when he entered a rehab facility and got sober. Although young, I have various memories of this time period.

I recall my mother and I leaving my dad to go stay with my grandparents while he went to rehab. I was confused, yet content. That was kind of the theme of my part in “the play.” I always made the best of whatever dynamic I was a part of. I lifted those around me. Part of it was a burden I placed on myself and part of it was my nature.

I recall leaving my dad on the side of the highway once and demanding we pick him up. I remember him ripping shirts off his back for dramatics, and throwing our entire dish set through the wall. I recollect the subsequent hole that remained and the unspoken meaning it held.

Then there were the various odd characters he brought into our home and the “microwave science experiments” a.k.a. the drug rituals.

I remember us getting into a car wreck or two and riding with him in an ambulance while I cried out for my mom.

I recall him reading to me and staying up with me when my mom worked the graveyard shift. Time and time again, he helped me with school projects late into the night. I worked alongside him from the time I was five until my mid-twenties. I was his sidekick and his business partner.

I have memories of visiting my dad in rehab and thinking it was the most wonderful place in the world. His friends from rehab rolled out a red carpet for me with every visit and I delighted in the love and attention. To me, my dad hung the moon, despite his demons.

I’d like to pause for a moment and share a bit of his backstory here. My dad was abandoned around the age of two or three. His mother drove him to his babysitter’s house and dropped him off. The problem was, they had left town. No matter, his mom left him, and the sitter never returned.

Photo courtesy of SaraMae Hollandsworth

My dad slept in an abandoned home under a rickety bed covered in newspapers, and crawled out to the dumpster to retrieve whatever food scraps he could find. This was back during a time when neighbors “minded their own business.”

When it became impossible to ignore his emaciation, someone stepped in. He became a part of “the system” and lived between foster homes, where he was beat within an inch of his life, and in an orphanage, where he was surrounded by other children with similar backgrounds.

He was dyslexic and labeled “retarded” at the time. He eventually ran away, and in running, he found his freedom. I have actually never spoken to him about what he felt when he ran, yet I am sure I can answer it on his behalf as I’m confident it is very similar to what it represented for me.

I am sure that when he left the house and hit the desolate roads, he felt unbounded. I would guess he felt “at one” with the world while also feeling like a lone wolf, and that both feelings fueled his core. I am sure he felt both powerless and powerful; Strong and insignificant. I’m positive the burning of his lungs was a chosen form of self-abuse as well as self-love. I know he was running to everything he didn’t know he wanted while outrunning all that he longed to forget and leave behind.

I wonder if his heart sank when he returned to his life, and slowed its beats until it could revisit the freedom of the open roads again. That’s the thing about running and runners. It’s incredibly complicated and oh-so-simple.

Photo courtesy of SaraMae Hollandsworth

My father was an ultra-marathon runner. And even that sentiment holds much significance.

Fast forward and skipping much history, my father met my mother, and they had me. He created multiple fairly successful businesses. He made many friends. Everyone knew him, and to know him was to love him.

Growing up, I told everyone my father looked just like Tony Danza and had watermelons for biceps. He was strong, healthy and steady. He taught me that anything was possible. He knew how to spin silk out of straw. He was my dreamer and my unfailing optimist. He was a fearless risk taker and had a Ph.D in Comebacks. He was an artist and a visionary. He was also a servant who would fill up gift baskets in his restaurant and take them around to the local homeless. He didn’t draw the line there. He befriended homeless men and women, brought them into our restaurant and even into our home on holidays.

My dad was the champion and team captain of “the Under Dog”. I watched him deny the odds throughout my entire life. He had one attachment, however, that held him back. He created an identity and hung his hat on his narrative of being an abandoned orphan. He was a  card-carrying member of the victimhood society, despite his propensity to overcome.

After a few disappointments and setbacks, which I watched him contribute to, he seemed to have fallen farther than he knew how to climb. He chose bitter rather than better. My hero fell from grace and he hasn’t gotten back up. That’s the thing with heroes — they don’t always slay the dragons or save the princess. So, who do we look to when they fall?

Heroes are human, and in humanity, is fragility no matter how bulletproof. When I was very little, my father would inundate me with resources and tools to help me overcome. He hammered into me an awareness and understanding that there was better and more to life than he was demonstrating even while he was living well.

Photo courtesy of SaraMae Hollandsworth

Most of us live out the patterns we were born into without knowing that we create our own reality; that we are not victims of ancestry, circumstance or DNA. We are architects and engineers of our souls. We are here to give birth to that which begs us life. We are the mothers and fathers of our own purpose and passions.

My father and my mother paved the way for me to overcome all that was laid before me without ever placing that responsibility on me. It was part self-inflicted and woven into my soul.

As a young child, I knew I was here to change the story. I come from two broken ancestral lines with their own cyclical struggles. If I bought the story of my life, I would be a depressed addict. Instead I chose to rewrite it. I am a writer, literally and figuratively. I am keenly aware that I hold the pen and I decide how this story ends. I have chosen to be the victor and the hero in my own saga.

For a long time, I waited for my father to mount his white horse and save us all. When he couldn’t and didn’t, I mounted my own horse and set out to win the war.

Fast forward again to nearly dying, losing my feet and my entire identity. No one came to save me, though I longed for it with every ounce of me.

If no one comes to save you and in most cases, I hope they don’t, it’s because you were meant to save yourself.

You are the one you have been waiting for. YOU are waiting for YOU.

We are all capable of superhuman feats when we are called to them. In problems, there is promise and provision. It is not irrelative that my life demanded or allowed me to gain inspiration from adversity; to learn alchemy and turn tragedy into triumph.

I come from distance runners, yet I am a sprinter. I guess I have a foot (or blade) in each camp. My favorite race has always been the relay, particularly the 4X400 relay. I was always the anchor, and I have to tell you, I loved it. In fact, I craved it. I never knew why until writing this now. I loved the pressure, and if I am being totally honest, probably a little of the glory. I think my inner hero always craved existence.

While it’s fun to receive the baton from the front of the pack, there is nothing quite like the hunt. Receiving the baton from behind tapped into my inner animal — my wolf. I think she loved the pursuit. My senses sharpened and sensations heightened.

My father was my relay teammate. He ran his race to the best of his ability, and while far from perfect, he has handed it off to me to finish well. I don’t know ‘quit’ and I don’t know ‘half effort.’ He may have been the heartbreak of my life, but he has also been my hero. And today, because of him, I have become my own.

Photo courtesy of SaraMae Hollandsworth

When I run, I feel his heart beat strong within mine. When I run now and in the future, my veins carry his hopes and dreams. I am a runner who has no feet, but my wings span wide.

My ultimate goal is to run in the 2020 Paralympics. I will put myself to the test and see just what my body and my spirit are capable of. It’s something I have to do for me and for us all.

I recently accepted the honor and invitation to serve on someone’s crew for Badwater, a 135-mile race through the Death Valley in July.

I can’t help but champion the irony. Aside from assisting in “The World’s Toughest Foot Race” sans feet, I am literally climbing out of Death Valley — something I happen to be an expert in.

So, who inspires me? The micro answer is my father. The macro answer is the underdogs. Time and time again, I have watched men and women overcome every odd. I have watched the most downtrodden, rise up and live well.

As for me, I simply try to do my part to win my own race. I do that by taking what those who have come before me have accomplished, and raise the bar and push the mark to a place where I feel like I’m in the hunt. After all, that’s what my heart beats to.

SaraMae Hollandsworth is a transformational speaker and writer, empowerment coach and no-limits adaptive athlete, trainer and blade runner. Having faced unimaginable challenges which she views as blessings, SaraMae fiercely believes that life is always happening FOR us rather than TO us. She has been a featured speaker at The Bliss Project, Soul Sister Retreats, The Blissful Hearts Project and recently at the Heather Abbott Foundation Boston Marathon Fundraiser. Her purpose is to guide those who are lost into a new perspective, and champion those who are hungry and committed to uplevel their attitudes and lives. 

If you’d like to book her for a speaking engagement, you can email her at: Saramae777@gmail.com.

You can also follow along on her blog: SaraMae.co