Franklin County is a rural area on the U.S./Canadian border in northwest Vermont. Some 49,000 people populate the 14 towns and one city across 692 square miles. This county is one of the few in Vermont that can still pass the sniff test (quite literally when it’s time to spread cow manure on the fields) as a farming region. Though not nearly to the degree it once could have.
Join any conversation, and you’ll find the usual mid-summer talk of going back to school, the best spots to swim, whether it’ll rain. There are also the unusual topics that feel all-too-normal lately: the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, will the border really reopen, who has and hasn’t been vaccinated.
In the weeks gearing up to and throughout the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, a name has also been part of the collective conversation in Franklin County: Elle Purrier St. Pierre.
Elle ran in the women’s 1,500 meters this past Friday, and the excitement leading up to that event was at a fever pitch around here. Lawn signs cheering Elle still stand along roadsides, from houses on state routes to camps on remote Class 4 roads. Family, friends, and fans gathered at the Richard High School gymnasium to watch Elle run in both her qualifying races and Friday’s big event.
Watching others watch Elle reminds me of when I was a kid and discovered that someone from Vermont wrote and published a book. Before that time, I’d always thought that this sort of thing was done by people “somewhere else.” I credit this revelation with starting me on the road to becoming a writer. (I’ve written about this experience before, and you can find it here and here.)
The impact Elle had on her spectators is immeasurable. Especially on her younger fans.
A kid from Montgomery, VT, grew up, went to the Olympics, and participated at the highest level. A Richard High School graduate competed on the world stage. A farm girl became a powerful woman.
Elle’s performance on the track will lead others to their own forms of excellence.
Becoming local leaders. Searching more fervently for a trade they enjoy. Pursuing college. Turning a hobby into a passion. Seeking help when it’s needed. Taking personal responsibility when it might have been shirked before.
Everyone has their own definition of success and in what ways Elle achieved it in Tokyo. Only the most narrow-minded would say it was defined merely by how she placed in her race on Friday. Even before the Olympics, this incredible young woman broke records and captured imaginations nationally. Before that, she found success in Vermont, both on and off the track. And before that, she successfully navigated childhood. Not an easy thing these days.
I remember Elle and her group of close friends when they were in high school. They were good kids. Friendly, funny, getting up to the occasional hijinks. Teenagers being teenagers. They grew up together, and each of them, in their own right, is as incredible an example to others as Elle is. They are all conscientious, empathetic, compassionate adults.
And each of these individuals has already done things in their lives that I haven’t. They’re half my age, and they inspire the hell out of me. I hope to be more like them someday when I grow up.
How do I measure Elle’s success in Tokyo?
She posted an update on Facebook yesterday, acknowledging disappointment in how the 1,500 meter turned out. But she also recognized her accomplishments she’s had so far and that she owes it to herself to celebrate them.
Would a gold, silver, or bronze medal for Elle have been amazing? Absolutely. But there’s more to life than that.
There’s the stuff that’s better than gold: coming home to supportive family, friends, and fans; being a positive example to others; and perhaps most importantly, celebrating yourself for all you’ve achieved.
Elle’s race isn’t over. Neither is mine, and neither is yours. What it comes down to every day with every choice is how we choose to run it. When mine is done, I hope others can say about me what I can say about Elle.
I’m proud of you.