Updated: Oct 4, 2018
What if I told you a 77 year old Colombian Janitor toed the line with a 41 year old 4 time Ironman triathlete in a foot race, and you could place your bet on it? With your wager in hand, who would you put your money on? Would you bank on the 77 year old who works at the local YMCA emptying trash cans or would you place your wager on the 41 year old athlete with World Championship racing experience who trains 6 days a week? This question is intentionally rhetorical in nature, as the answer for most is clear and obvious. Logical deduction based on age, experience, athletic conditioning and just the overall physical appearance of the two competitors greatly favors the younger triathlete. You'd even notice the athletic attire of the triathlete, in contrast to the jeans, Timberland boots and YMCA issued t-shirt of the ill prepared older underdog. You'd place your wager with sheer confidence on the assured clear winner, already having spent those guaranteed winnings in your mind.
If you placed that wager, you would have lost.
I am that 41 year old triathlete, and I want to share with you the beautiful story of a named Faunier and something amazing we can ALL learn from him. What you can't see, as we toed the line, is an insatiable quality within Faunier that defines the very nature by which he lives his self attested blessed life. His powerful story, perspective, and outlook is something I want to share with you as the Columbian born native shared with me. But first, let me provide a little back story on how the spirited Faunier entered my life!
Fitness is a huge part of my day-to-day, providing me with mental sanctuary from the rigors of life. It's my medicine. Four to five times a week I head into the local YMCA to train vigorously, and every single day I see Faunier. There is not a day that goes by that I don't see him as I walk into the locker room in preparation of the days training routine. Faunier’s presence is as consistent as the sunrise and equally as persistent as his unbelievably positive, passionate, and infectious personality. Here is a 77 year old man reaching into garbage cans at the YMCA with moxie and a smile like you’ve never seen. Most, sadly, turn their head to him, pay him no notice, and carry on with their day. I was fortunate to have said hello to Faunier on my first day after joining the YMCA. I simply said “Hello” as I walked by his rolling janitor station and into the pristine mens locker room that he affectionately manages. Faunier stopped me and gave me an introduction i’ll never forget. He cordially and eagerly removed his plastic gloves, and with a firm grip shook my right hand while simultaneously clasping my left shoulder saying
"GOOD MORNING CHAMPION!!!!” in his thick Columbian accent.
The intensity in his voice, the grip of his hands, and the passion in his eyes captivated me. This man was intense! Shortly after that brief, yet memorable introduction he skipped away with a smile, whistling as he often does, and continuing his sanitary duties leaving me to think “Wow, he must be having a good day”. However, it wasn’t just a good day, it was just Faunier .
For the last year and a half Faunier has been a staple in my YMCA workout routine. His aspiring peps talks, zealous pats on the back and vigorous thumbs up often fueling my workout and cementing a smile on my face. Our conversations for those 18 months had been short in nature, until just recently. It was then that I came to understand his simple, but powerful secret.
Just this week I stopped a whistling Faunier as he intently mopped the entrance to the indoor track. For some reason, that day, I had to know how someone most pass by and only acknowledge him to hand their empty Starbucks cup or half eaten banana peel was so infectiously positive and endearingly friendly.
I asked "Faunier, you are one of the friendliest and most positive people I've ever met. Every day you greet me, and everyone, with such energy and a huge smile. What’s your secret?"
His answer was a simple, yet profound. “Make a choice to ALWAYS live your life with PASSION, and everyday will be amazing Champion!!”
He quickly put down his mop, removed the plastic gloves, wrapped his his arm around me and stated "let's go for a walk". In that 1/8 mile trip around the indoor track Faunier reminded me of something so many of us forget. He reminded me that our time on this planet is limited. At 77 years old he knows his mortality better than most, yet it doesn’t phase him. He explained that life, now matter how difficult, is beautiful and that we need to live each and every day with PASSION. Passion to him was defined as how we view and interact within all aspects of our lives. From how we address others, to how we do our job, to how we care for our loved ones, to something as simple as brushing your teeth in the morning.
“If you are going to do something Champion, damnit, do it with a positive PASSION or don’t do it at all.”
He was convinced that his 77 year old body was as youthful as anyone's in that gym because he chose to live his life with love, passionate and gratitude every single day like it was his last. "Stress and negativity will kill you" he said, "make the conscious decision to focus and elevate the good and find the good in the negative". Approach every single interaction with passion and you’ll rarely have a bad day. From shaking my hand and saying "good morning champion" to mopping the floor, do it with positivity and do it with passion. That passion, he says, will grow and metastasize within and permeate from you like it does him. That fire in the belly acts as a gift that lifts those around you to live a more fulfilling life. That exuded enthusiasm had done just that in the 1/8 mile walk around the track with Faunier. It was contagious. Then came the proof!!
"CHAMPION, passion can accomplish everything. I challenge you to a foot race. One lap"
After our inspiring 1/8 mile walk I couldn't turn down the thoughtful challenge of this older man, as he seemed so intent on racing. Normally I wouldn't advise a wind sprint with someone nearly twice my age, but his eagerness to run had me accept with a loving smile. Much like when I would race my kids in a friendly gallop, I planned to playfully trot side-by-side with Faunier. He had given me such an incredible lesson that morning, I wanted to give back in his joy of racing, but I figured i’d take it easy because …. how fast could he really run?
"Ready - set - go" and he was off
Immediately I was shocked and smiling like I've never smiled. Faunier took off like Usain Bolt running the anchor leg of the 4 x 1 Olympic finals.
“Do everything with PASSION” he shouted.
With his jeans, t-shirt and work boots he was off like a cheetah. I was amazed by how I had to enter into a full-out sprint to not only catch up with, but keep up with Faunier. The breeze hit my face as we picked up the cadence, and I was overcome with the infectious intensity of his sprint. 77 years old shouldn't run like this. I shouldn't have to work this hard to keep up with his legs. It wasn't his legs I was chasing, it was his passion I was chasing. Passion has no governor of age and carries no limits of what it can overcome. Passion allowed his Timberland knock-off’s to excel past my over priced New Balanced racing flats. Passion wins the race and wins in life.
While this experience was short, I learned much from it. Faunier is clearly not your average janitor. Aside from his attitude and new found sprinting skills, he owns a beautiful home, is an accomplished artist, and author of inspiring poetry. All things he engages with an impenetrable enthusiasm. My Columbian track star friend showed me that passion can take you to the next level. He demonstrated to me that if a 77 year old Janitor from the YMCA can live the most infectiously beautiful life, then all of us can.
Passion can make the impossible possible in your life.