Big things have small beginnings.
In 1975, a 27-year-old director watched in vain as his mechanical shark sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Again. The saltwater wreaked havoc on the wiring, and the stupid thing wouldn’t stay afloat. The enterprise was shaping up to be a disaster. The film crew was on the verge of mutiny. Even when the production was (mercifully) finished, critics assailed the film as a cinematic catastrophe.
“The kid has just become one of the few directors who has resoundingly ended his career before it even began,” they scoffed. “No one has ever heard the name Steven Spielberg, and now, thanks to Jaws, no one ever will.”
Well, we all know how that panned out.
Beginnings are crazy things. Beginnings are deceptive. Beginnings are difficult. Beginnings are unknown. In fact, they’re so unknown that sometimes we don’t even recognize something as a beginning at all.
I am the blindest of the blind when it comes to recognizing a beginning. I think it’s because I’m always distracted by the end result—or, more accurately, what I hope to be the end result. Enticed by the ritz and dazzle of grandiose dreams, I graze over present circumstances as something to be endured until the real adventure begins. Because, of course, I’m gonna know when I’m on the path to success. Because, of course, I always know when things are about to get exciting.
In 2007, I applied for a job at FLEET FEET. I was a fledgling writer and a runner who should have known more about the sport than I did at that point. I sat at a table in the back room of FLEET FEET St. Charles, being interrogated by Dave and Debby and feeling rather out of my league. The other workers I met were experienced marathoners, former collegiate runners, and Ironman finishers. I was an ice hockey player who had been tricked by a friend (a FLEET FEET customer, as it turned out) into running two marathons. I had never run competitively. I had applied on a whim. Debby said my resume was “unusual” (which, by the way, didn’t strike me as being particularly advantageous at the time.) Dave agreed. And then, for reasons unknown, they hired me.
I thought I had signed up for a little part-time gig. Clock in. Clock out. Make a few bucks. And then go back to real life—you know, the part of life during which all the exciting stuff happens. The part of life that would advance my dreams and get me a Pulitzer Prize, an Olympic medal, or a spot on Oprah’s favorite things. The part of life that didn’t involve wearing a nametag.
And so, I studied shoes and feet and wondered when I would start pursuing my literary dreams. When Dave mentioned building the store’s newsletter, I started writing the Flyer, adding a little column called “The Lola Papers” into the mix and worrying that I would never find enough material to continue Lola’s exploits. When I decided I wanted to race my next marathon (even though I had no idea what “racing” a marathon actually meant), I asked FLEET FEET’s race timing manager for some advice, never expecting that in return I’d get a coach, a training partner, and a lifelong friend.
And speaking of lifelong friends, FLEET FEET gave me a lot of those, too. I ran with them before work and after work and battled with them for a slot in the post-run shower lottery. (Yep, there are employee showers at FLEET FEET.) I raced with them on the weekends and hung out with them in the evenings and engaged in all sorts of retail shenanigans in between—marshmallow wars, phonebook Jeopardy, fashion show Tuesdays, measuring-stick skiing, lace-lock baseball, and foam roller bowling (just to name a few). We fitted shoes. We talked about shoes. We talked about running. We made ridiculous jokes. We assessed injuries. We laughed a lot. We cried sometimes. We discussed philosophy. We discussed faith. We discussed life. We talked about running. And we talked about shoes.
Before I knew it, over two years had passed. And when I finally hung up my nametag for the final time, I did so not to pursue my writing career, but to continue it.
You see, far from being a detour in the pursuit of my passion, FLEET FEET had given my passion substance and a platform. FLEET FEET had made my writing career tangible. It took me a while to realize what was happening, but FLEET FEET was the beginning of a great adventure.
I remember Dave once telling me about the infant days of FLEET FEET, when he and Debby first opened the store. They were their only employees—the shoe fitters, the re-stockers, the buyers, the accountants, the maintenance crew, the marketing team, and the everything else. Some days, if they were lucky, they sold a pair of shoes.
Such is the nature of beginnings.
Beginnings are sneaky. They don’t announce themselves with great panoply and fanfare. They don’t grinningly allude to greatness to come. If anything, they do just the opposite. Beginnings can be quite scary, because more often than not, a beginning can feel like an end. I’m sure when Dave and Debby struggled to make ends meet and keep their fledgling business afloat they never imagined the day when they would open a fourth store. They never imagined the thousands of runners who would take part in their training teams or the tens of thousands who would cross under their finish line banners. And I’m sure they never imagined that one day they would give a certain pony-tailed girl who dreamed of being a writer the opportunity to make that dream a reality.
Beginnings are exciting because they are harbingers of unlimited potential. And even though we may not be able to see where the path is leading us—or even the next step, for that matter—no experience is wasted. Big things have small beginnings, after all, and the smaller the starting point, the greater the opportunity to rise.
Congratulations, Dave and Debby. Here’s to you, your newest store, and the St. Louis running community you so passionately and devotedly support. May FLEET FEET be the source of new beginnings for employees and customers alike for another twenty years (and more).
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner. Her second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story, will be released in 2014.