Thursday, June 10, 2010

Failure is Not an Option

A few folks have emailed and asked me what got me through my 5th marathon last week. One word = FINO.


Yes, I realize I have "borrowed" this phrase from the Apollo XIII mission, but it's what has seen me through some tough cancer battles...and sometimes equally tough marathons. You see...the whole Apollo XIII drama starts with the simple statements:

Swigert: 'Okay, Houston, we've had a problem here.'
Duke: 'This is Houston. Say again please.'
Lovell: 'Uh, Houston, we've had a problem.'

Ok, so, I didn't have a cyrogenic oxygen tank explode -- but I did have to hear the words, "You have cancer." And years ago, as I stared at my doctor, I suddenly found myself thinking,... "Houston, we have a problem."

As the history books reflect (at least in the movie), as Apollo XIII approached the critical earth-to-moon decision loop, Gene Kranz (the lead flight director) announced to his crew in Houston :

"Failure is not an option."

Somehow, this all made sense in my cancer battling world -- and seems to translate to the world of marathoning for me now. Yes, I do wonder if Kranz had meant that failure had been an option at one time but wasn't any more??? The mission was beyond testing physical limits. It was far more than testing athletic endurance or engineering prowess. It was an unfolding study in problem solving --- a solution-finding, keep-the-faith-against-all-odds sort of spectacularly rare, defining moment.

My sisters and I were trolling through some old slides, and this one of the three of us visiting my dad in his aerospace engineering work days made me smile (see pic). Yes, this past weekend, as I ran my 5th marathon (3rd marathon this year!), the word "FINO" was written in indelible marker on my arm in huge letters. I draw on the strength of that statement in tough moments. You see, creativity and the willingness to solve life-threatening problems doesn't always have to be inspired by a "muse." Sometimes it's a sheer force of reaction that is triggered when all else fails, when you hit the "dark night of the soul."

Over the past few years, I've found that it's those moments in my life, when *everything* is at stake and failure is possible (but not an option, of course) --- when our assumptions about life are being challenged and how things "should be" just won't work anymore -- it is then that we launch new plans...

Kranz said, "Forget the flight plan. From this moment on we are improvising a new mission. How do we get our men home?"

For all of you out there hearing those words, "You have cancer" --- or for those that have heard it before --- or for those running your first marathon races --- just remember, "FINO." While you may have to adjust to the challenges of a tough situation, learn to forget your current flight plan. It's easier to quit (but don't). I've found that tough and unexpected moments can evoke such creative change in our lives, but only if we're not allowed to "abort the mission." Launch a new mission in your life, and dream bigger than you could ever imagine.


(From L to R) Me, Jenny & Angie at my dad's aerospace work as kids.


  1. You are such an inspiration! What a wonderful post :-)

  2. Cures Rock, and so do you! Art
    PS: I am picking up some purple hair dye on the way home today! :)

  3. Thank you for your comments! You both ROCK too! Art-- I am looking forward to seeing that purple hair (just make sure it won't drip in your eyes while running!).

  4. Love this! Doing TNT in San Diego was an absolutely magical and life changing experience for me - I will NEVER be the same... Thank you for being such an inspiration to me and for representing TNT with such courage, strength and determination. I officially have the running "bug" and have decided to do at least one event/year with TNT. It has taken my work in oncology to new heights!

    Here is my race re-cap... So sorry I didn't get to see you after the race, but it was so fun to meet your sister! Keep up the amazing work Julie!

  5. It's true...I saw her write FINO on her arm the morning of the race. And trust me, those markers stay on because I still can't seem to get "Cures Rock!" scrubbed off of the back of my calves. :) Fun, fun race this weekend, but ending it with such an inspiring blog is even better. Thanks!

  6. Tiffany, I sooo wish we could have met up! We will DEFINITELY meet at a TNT event someday, and if you're ever back in CA, please call me!

    Angie - it was awesome running with you those first day, we'll do the whole race together, mi gemela! I am so proud of you, and glad you met Tiffany and Cori, even if I didn't get a chance to!


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