Behind, or one lap ahead? There are instances in life that we may feel we are either ahead of the “race,” or flailing helplessly behind everyone else. To the one at the back of the pack, there is courage and honor in not giving up the fight. There is glory to be had for all that make it across the finish line—simply for not quitting before reaching their destination… Sometimes we fly, sometimes we run, walk, or crawl, and sometimes, we are carried…

These past thirteen months have given me cause to take a deeper look at every facet of my Boi’s miraculous life and unwavering strength of character. His peculiar traits and qualities have pulled me forward during a time in which I have possessed absolutely ZERO strength of my own. By embracing the suck—as he notoriously did—I have come to know his own heart and mind more intimately. My admiration for this tremendously, and innately good soul that I call, Son, continues to increase as I experience more and more of life’s challenges through the eyes of his unique, albeit heroic, mindset.

This past month in particular, I experienced the bitterness, shame, and disappointment of defeat, after having worked towards a particular snowboard instructor certification goal that I have had for several years now. Knowing there is a nearly thirty percent fail rate, I poured my heart and soul into every aspect of my training and study in order to pass this exam. I had many personal breakthroughs in my riding this past season—accomplishing things I never dreamed possible at my age. I truly felt on course to succeed this season in passing my AASI level 2 snowboard exam.

However, only a few weeks shy of my exam date, I misjudged my speed going off a big jump—undershooting the landing, and badly injuring my lead knee in the process… Sadness quickly set-in at the instant realization that the rest of my season could very well be over. I prayed for quick healing!

My grapefruit-sized knee began to improve over the course of the next few weeks, and I felt reluctant to withdraw from my exams—even though I was still nowhere near one hundred percent with my injury. I had worked so hard, and for so long!!!! Besides, this exam was never about the certification for me—it was about conquering my fears, and doing hard things. In essence, it was ALL about my son, Julian… I wanted to make him proud.

My Boi was the one who got me back into my sport in the first place. By the time he was twelve years old, those former snowboarding days had long since passed, but he had heard all of the stories, and wanted to know when I would finally take him riding. I joked that he did not want to get me back on a snowboard, because if he did, he would never get me off again!!! That is precisely what happened.

Even though I love snowboarding, snowboarding is not really about snowboarding for me… It does, however, have everything to do with how it helps me to process “life.” It has gotten me through many dark times—especially the days, months and years following my daughter’s death.

Interestingly enough, after my Boi was killed this past year, I did not have any desire to return to the mountain environment that had become such a powerful and beautiful bond between us. It was part of what kept me going while he was away from Colorado for so many years serving his country—knowing that when he came back home, we would ride together again. His absence was too painfully present now…

Before, he was often the first person I would talk to before going up the mountain in the morning, and also who I would message throughout the day while at work. He would also frequently call me as soon as I got done and headed back down. Many days I had little desire to go, but I knew it meant something to him that I kept at it. For him, I would not quit—even though I felt numb inside and so utterly broken-hearted over Josie’s passing.

He was both my courage and inspiration.

The very first day of my exam at Copper Mountain, the wind was harsh, and the snow was icy and unforgiving against my tender knee. I was determined to tough it out, though—for my Boi. After battling through a mogul field that resembled tipping glaciers and deep crevasses, then taking a hard landing off a feature in the park, my knee was definitely feeling the pressure. Still, I was fairly confident that I had passed the first part of my exam.

That night, I could barely sleep because my knee was hurting so badly. By the time I got out of bed the next morning, I could barely walk… I was devastated. I did not want to pull out of my exams under any circumstances, but I literally could not even get across the room without being in extreme pain.

As I sat on my bed, with tears in my eyes, contemplating how to proceed, I decided to check my scores from the day before. I had previously not wanted to open the email, because I preferred to not know until I had completed all three exam days. Upon opening my scores, I was in complete shock and disbelief when I saw that not only had I failed, but I had failed pretty good!!!!

As I reflected on what had gone wrong, and how, my emotions were so complex that it has taken me a few weeks to process what I was actually experiencing—and why. While there are many reasons that contributed to my failed attempt, I am beyond grateful that I had this moment in time. It was an experience that endeared my Boi to me in ways that I cannot adequately express in words…

You see, I had been praying to understand my son more intimately—to comprehend at a very deep level what his own experience had been over the past several years of his life. He was a warrior of the purest kind, and it was the mindset he honored that lifted him above and beyond his greatest disappointments and even failures. These very things that appear as set-backs or obstacles to most, in reality, only served in propelling my Boi forward…

If his life were to be compared to a long-distance race, there were times that may have appeared as though he were near the back of the pack. Upon looking a little more carefully, though, it becomes very apparent that instead of being behind, he was actually many laps ahead of the rest… This is my Boi. That is the warrior within him—the UNCONQUERABLE SPIRIT

He ALWAYS kept going. He ALWAYS tried again. He NEVER quit. He NEVER gave up hope. He only stopped if the guy next to him needed a hand…

It began to register with me how my prayers had been answered quite literally. As I relived over and over in my head the events leading up to my failed exam, I also began to draw countless parallels to my son’s own attempts at becoming a MARSOC Marine—his long-time dream. He had sacrificed and trained for years to become selected, but circumstances beyond his control prevented the outcome for which he had so long worked, hoped, dreamed, and prayed.

The sadness and discouragement loomed large in his mind when he was forced to pull out early from his own exam. Much like my knee had I tried to “stay in the game,” his severe case of swimmer’s ear, in both ears, could have had long-lasting consequences—even permanent hearing loss, if he had continued to swim during his Assessment and Selection course for MARSOC. I know that his disappointment was thousands of times worse than my own, but nevertheless, I am glad to have a taste of what he experienced when he ultimately pulled out, packed up, and then flew “home” to Japan to face his fellow Marines and those that had put such high hopes into his success…

It was hard for him in ways most will never understand, but he dared to keep going. His plans to go back to A & S were interrupted by an untimely covid exposure days before he was set to fly stateside for the second time. The bar was then set even higher for him as the date was pushed farther out with more time to train, but no doubts—he would be ready… It was never a matter of “if” he became a Marine Raider—it was always “when” he became a Marine Raider.

His dream did not die with him—I will carry it proudly, as will all of us that knew and loved him. He will forever own the MARSOC motto—SPIRITUS INVICTUS—Unconquerable Spirit. He earned it.

Even in his death, my son radiated a tremendous spirit of peace and confidence. Nothing about his character has changed, except that everything that was good in him before became even greater. He continues to stand behind me, and carry me when necessary. I will always do my best to make him proud, as I keep pressing forward in all things good—even when it hurts.

Though things did not go according to his plan, I sensed great calm and strength as he visited me in spirit shortly after his death. Clearly, his disappointments, sorrows and “failures” here only served to strengthen and enliven the warrior within—not diminish EVER. I know his hopes and dreams are still very much in the works, even if a bit altered!

As I continue to embrace and cherish this sacred experience I have had, I feel more closely bound to my sweet Boi and Heaven. As the world looks upon our failures, and sometimes even laughs, goodness and love knit kindred souls together more tightly—in spite of them. There is a special blessing that washes over the hearts of the humble, and this is truly the place where I am able to feel closest to those I love most…

Where this all-encompassing love exists, life ceases to be about a race, and the only failures are those where it is no longer present. I am certain that my Boi understood this concept deep within his soul—from a very early age, and that sacred part of life, called goodness and love, is what he fought so valiantly to defend… He was always many laps ahead of me—both figuratively and literally!!!!

May we always keep in extra-sharp focus those things which matter most.

2 thoughts on “SPIRITUS INVICTUS—UNCONQUERABLE SPIRIT

  1. “Nothing about his character has changed, except that everything that was good in him before became even greater. …..May we always keep in extra-sharp focus those things which matter most.”
    O, Michelle, thank you. As ever, I cannot imagine YOUR pain…. but i needed this message this week. Your writing has moved to look and move onward and upward to a better version of myself.

    Thank you.

    Mother to mother, you are in my heart always.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing, Ann. Your comments give me strength and courage to keep going… 🤍 I hope that I, too, can come up with a better version of myself before my time is up here. 🙏🏼

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