Sam shares the heartfelt story of his decision to represent Germany in the next chapter of his running career.
Videography: Asa Bloom Creative Direction: Sam Parsons Special Thanks: Kirk Warner
I’ll never forget the moment.
I was fresh off of my worst race of the year…on paper at least. A 13:47 5k in Heusden, Belgium where I nearly finished in last place. I was racing with this blind ambition that I was ready to run sub 13:15. I was coming off of a huge 1500m PR (3:38.1), a steady progression of shedding six seconds off my 5,000m PR in every race, and was running some 200s in 24 seconds with some of my NJNY friends, (sorry coach). I think I came through the 3,000m mark right under 8 minutes, and man did I pay for that aggressive start. I’ll let you guys do the math on that last 2k, because I sure as hell am not gonna relive that shit.
“I was racing with this blind ambition that I was ready to run sub 13:15.”
After the race, I was pretty deflated and my foot was throbbing in pain. I remember seeing Sean McGorty on my cool down and giving him a bro-hug after he’d just ran a huge PR of 13:18 (aka the &%$!* time I was supposed to run) and here I was...head down, walking, two minutes into my painful attempted cool down. I knew my season was over.
I decided the next day to get on a train to Germany. I wanted to be with my family. I wanted to see my Mom. I just wanted to get away from running. When I arrived home in Diez, Germany, I was greeted for dinner by so many members of my family and community. It was a huge traditional German dinner: made from scratch, filled with fresh meats, and all the carbs I could ever dream of consuming. Little did I know that this dinner would end up being such a pivotal moment in my life.
“I wanted to be with my family. I wanted to see my Mom. I just wanted to get away from running.”
I was sitting there drinking my tall German beer (Licher) next to my Uncle when he asked me a question: “Sam, when will you run for Germany?” he asked, “When will we all get to see you race here with us?” I stared blankly into the distance as I felt everyone at the table slowly quieting all the different conversations that were ensuing as they dialed in with anticipation for my response. Anyone that knows me personally knows that I rarely have nothing to say, and here I was surrounded by my loved ones and I was completely lost for words. I said, “I don’t know.” I sat at the table perplexed, and a little ashamed, that I had never even considered representing Germany before. Time passed, and the dinner went on and on. One of my favorite aspects of European culture is how long the dinners are. Everyone is so present and no one is really there to eat the food—but to connect and interact (and drink, of course). These are the same reasons why I love running, now that I’m thinking about it.
Later on during the dinner, my Uncle leaned over and quietly asked:
“Glaubst du an dich.” (Do you believe in yourself?)
I said, “Yes.”
“Glaubst du, du kannst Deutscher Meister sein? (Do you believe you can be a German Champion?)
I said, “Yes.”
He went on to tell me that he believes in me too, and explained to me that for someone to achieve something special, all it takes is for you to believe in yourself—and at least one other person. He told me that he will be there to see me at the German National Championships and in Tokyo in 2020.
“For someone to achieve something special all it takes is for you to believe in yourself and at least one other person.”
That struck my heart. I was born with dual citizenship—my Mom was born and raised in Germany, but I had never actually considered running or representing Germany. Why? Because everything I have ever done in my life is because I have listened to my heart. My heart was always set on running for the United States. I have a firm belief that you can only compete at your best if your heart is fully invested.
“I have a firm belief that you can only compete at your best unless your heart is fully invested.”
For the rest of the month I was in Germany I was consumed by this idea. I didn’t really talk or console anyone in my family about it after the dinner. I knew it had to come from within. I knew a decision like this had to be 100% in my own heart to pursue and what I thought would ultimately bring me the most happiness.
One morning, after my daily walk to the local bakery to pick up breakfast, I looked at my Mom and said that I wanted to represent Germany for the rest of my running career, and that I wanted to represent her. My Mom burst into tears and was brought to the floor beside herself. My Mom is one of my best friends, and is the strongest women I know. She used to work for children with autism, and now works in a retirement home as a physical therapist. Her job requires her to be stable, patient, and in control. I have never seen my Mom be so emotionally vulnerable. I picked her up and gave her the biggest hug I could. I knew in that moment that I would never need any more validation that I had made the right decision.
“I looked at my Mom and said that I wanted to represent Germany for the rest of my running career and that I wanted to represent her. My Mom burst into tears and was brought to the floor beside herself.”
We went on to talk about why my decision had brought out so much emotion within her. My Mom came to the USA when she was 23 years old. She never went back to Germany permanently. She met my Dad in school in the States, they got married, and had two kids. My sister Molly, then me. Aside from the occasional family trip to Germany growing up, I was an Americanized kid. Sure—my mom spoke German to me growing up and I still speak it to this day, but she explained to me how she always felt ashamed of herself for not instilling enough German principles and “way of life” into us. I can’t image how hard that must have been at times for her. I look back on moments when I would refuse to speak German back to her when I was in middle school because I was to embarrassed to in front of my friends, and feel her pain. That moment with my mom in the kitchen in Diez is a moment I will never forget, and will forever cherish.
I write to you now in this moment, and I could not be more excited to begin this next chapter in my life. I never want to become complacent in whatever I am doing. I want to face new challenges that push me out of my comfort zone. In my experience, facing these challenges and working through them is the purest way of finding out who you really are. And that’s why I run. Running is the most fulfilling endeavor for me to push my emotional, physical, and mental being.
For anyone that has shared in this journey with me so far—to anyone that has supported me, showed me love, believed in me, and helped me pursue this dream...