This is a book review and reflection on Norwegian Junior National Nordic Ski Coach Monika Korra’s book, Kill the Silence. I found tremendous satisfaction reading the book, and have many excerpts from it I found valuable and would like to share. For this reason, I’ve decided to break up my review into multiple parts. Enjoy. – Ryan
On December 5, 2009, Southern Methodist University sophomore cross country runner and Loten, Norway native Monika Korra was brutally gang raped by three men while coming home from a social gathering during finals week. While this event and its aftermath are the centerpiece for the book, her contemplative meditations on relationships with her friends, family, and her running career, invites readers of all backgrounds to the table. In peering into her resilient mind as she detailed the physical, emotional, and spiritual struggles in recovering from the attack, I was amazed at how much I could connect and relate to. Ultimately, this is a book about overcoming adversity, and it is a captivating and gripping read – absolutely worth your time.
Monika’s writing style pulls you in with understandable syntax and diction that infects the reader with the very feelings of skiing through a Norwegian forest to burn off steam and also the exhausted, anxious feeling accompanying a victim seeing their attacker for the first time to testify in court. As I read this, I found myself at times feeling as though I could perfectly imagine exactly how Monika felt, tracing my own thoughts about things like school work, dedication, training, and being outside, but even in moments that I had no bearings to begin to comprehend what she was feeling, such as her vivid retelling of the attack, her descriptions had my heart literally racing (difficult to do when your resting pulse is 41 BPM) with anxiety.
In lieu of a traditional review, I want to share some specific excerpts from the text that stuck with me. I found myself jotting down notes as I read through the book, and I hope they are edifying to you and rewarding for Monika (if she sees this) in knowing her story has impacted such a wide ranging audience.
“Training for an endurance sport demands that you be comfortable being alone -whether that isolation is in your mind or literally so in your training. Your coach can provide you with guidance; your family can stand on the sidelines and cheer you on, or cheer you up later when you have a bad result, but ultimately the responsibility for how your perform lies on your shoulders alone. You’re the only one who truly knows your own limits; you’re the only one who can truly assess how much you tested them.”
If that statement does not resonate with you, then you have not gone to the depths….. you have not, as the fictional character in John L Parker Jr.’s Once a Runner talks about, endured the “trials of miles.” The only people who authentically get this are the people who have done it. There are less and less every day. In fact, I would argue elite athletes today are not being brought up as much that way as they were back in the 70’s and 80’s. Many are training as hard or harder than those who came before them, but they are not “alone,” and I don’t just mean physically. With social media, news outlets, blogs like this one, and apps like Strava, we can literally follow an athlete’s internal physiological reactions to the workout they are doing – as it’s HAPPENING! And in case you missed it, don’t worry, many athletes will take it upon themselves to post a hip picture or video that captures them at their best as they fly, glide, hop, and cruise through their workout. I could be wrong, but when Quentin Cassidy retreats to his solitary confinement cabin to run 140 mile weeks, stretch, eat, and rest, I’m pretty sure he stayed off of social media. (I can only imagine his Twitter feed after a post acknowledging his legendary 60×400 workout).
Probably the best example of someone who does still live out this monk-like lifestyle is Eliud Kipchoge (go figure, the most dominant endurance athlete in the history of sports). He sleeps on a basic bed in a basic dorm room in Iten, Kenya (even though he could be living much more lavishly at this point), and partakes in the same humble but necessary chores as the other members of his training group. Yes he has training partners who accompany him, but Eliud Kipchoge takes care of Eliud Kipchoge, and he does not need to have the Instagram world know about how he looks, his latest workout, or what he plans on eating, to get him through the day. His performance is his responsibility, his mental focus is on him, and his very attitude, a humble confidence, sets him apart.
Ironically, when his training plans do get posted, as they have on Letsrun.com message boards, people are astonished by how…..normal…they are. Nothing fancy. Nothing easy either, but nothing flashy. Consistency. Bill Bowerman once said, “The magic is in the man, not the 100 miles,” and I think this is what he meant. At the end of the day, the workout you have laid before you isn’t as important as what you decide, individually, that you will get out of it. The only physiological rules we really think we know, are hard/easy and laws of specificity. There isn’t a magic formula….but young athletes especially, don’t like to hear that….
Too often I meet exuberant, talented, young athletes in endurance sports. They come from great youth programs and phenomenal high school teams. They’ve won championships and they have been immersed in excellent training principles and great culture. But, they have never taken it upon themselves to OWN their training and racing and performance. They’ve always relied on the strength of the pack. They never really “grew up” and went on to maturity, so that one day, they could lead their own pack. Instead, when they leave and go off to college or join a new program, everything falls apart. Why? I believe the answer lies in the essence of what this quote is saying. This of course in no way diminishes that team player who feeds off of the energy of teammates. The element of support from a team is absolutely, 100% critical, and the strength of a team can elevate an individual to heights they wouldn’t have been able to reach on their own. But if coaches don’t do their job in the same way a parent ought to in raising their kids, enabling them to one day leave the nest and flourish, then they are not giving them the true gift of sports – to be enjoyed and learned over a lifetime.
My brother has commented that I reference Pistol Pete in every article I write – this would be the appropriate place. Pistol didn’t need AAU teams and traveling camps/tournaments 45 weekends of the year. He invented homework basketball – with a driveway, a ball, a list of basic drills, and a dad who encouraged him – and with 10,000 hours of practice in said driveway with said ball and drills, he became the greatest scorer in NCAA history and revolutionized the NBA well before Steph Curry had even been born.
Being alone. It takes patience, which we have deprived our current generation of. It takes mental stamina, which, in my job as an elementary music teacher, I saw in very, very few kids but also saw potential for growth in almost all (when pushed).
Gosh – I love this quote, and it happened on page 4 of the book. There are other reasons it stuck out to me at this point in my life, but a lot of those are almost too personal to share, and I will have to wait until I’m 90 and I write my autobiography.
The next paragraph piggy backs off of it:
“By inclination, I’m a social person and love the company of others, but I have always needed my independence; I need to have time by myself and with my thoughts. When I’m alone with my thoughts I’m better able to solve problems, put events into their proper perspective, do all the work necessary to build the kind of mental strength you need to succeed as an athlete and as a person. At those times I’m both my harshest critic and my most caring comforter – I know when I need a kick in the butt and when I need a shoulder to cry on. Too often I’ve struggled with communicating those needs to others.”
Yes. So, four pages into this book, I already felt as though in some way, I could connect to the author. The farther I read, the more I realized how this shared connection to athletics and self-analyzation enabled the deeper meanings within the text to really come alive.
(End of Part 1)