In Celebration of the Pacemakers Among Us

by Alyssa Voigt, Makerspace and Media Center Coordinator for Secondary Schools, Kettle Moraine School District

This past summer, a good friend of mine decided she wanted to run a half-marathon. With very little running experience, she found a training plan online and little by little built up her stamina. On the day of the race, her training had paid off and she ran across the finish line with a huge smile on her face. For a split second I thought how awesome it would be to run a full or half-marathon…until I realized I have zero desire to run that far. Heck, I have zero desire to run at all if it’s not after a child with a Sharpie in his hand. This explains my reaction when I watched a news story about a man named Eliud Kipchoge who recently ran a full marathon in under 2 hours. Watching the video, I felt a mixture of amazement, shock and disbelief as to why anyone would ever want to do that.

The first time I watched him cross the finish line, I fully expected him to collapse in exhaustion, medics running to his aide with water, a wheelchair and a thermal blanket. Instead, he looked like he just went for a quick jog and could do a couple more miles. Crazy. After Kipchoge sauntered across the finish line, a group of seven men trailed behind, cheering for him as they also easily finished the race. I watched the video a second time and thought if it’s so difficult to finish in less than 2 hours, how come eight men just seemed to do it with ease?! This is when my librarian superpowers kicked in.

A quick Google search explained that the men trailing Kipchoge were pacemakers. And there weren’t just seven throughout the marathon. There were 41! Teams of seven pacemakers – in a phalanx formation, 2-1-2-2 – not only kept Kipchoge on pace to finish in 2 hours but they also protected him from what little breeze existed. They told him how fast he needed to run, they blocked him from the elements, they encouraged him when he accomplished his goal. They eased off at the end and allowed him to run ahead on his own. They trained with him every step of the way yet their names won’t go in the history books. They won’t be interviewed or filmed or touted as one of the best athletes to ever run. You can’t even make out their faces in the pictures. But they were there, running with their hands raised in excitement, huge smiles spread across their faces.

I couldn’t get those pacemakers out of my head. Yes, what Kipchoge did was amazing and deserves to be applauded for accomplishing something no one else has ever done. Yet, I think it’s important to note that he probably wouldn’t have been able to do it without the 41 people running by his side at different parts of his journey, protecting and pacing him as they went.

I want to be a pacemaker for my students and co-workers. I want to figuratively run alongside those with big dreams or those who might be struggling to get to the finish line or those that are running but aren’t sure where to go. I want to protect them from the elements, I want to pace them so they can accomplish their goal and, most importantly, I want to cheer them on every step of the way. I want to celebrate them even if it means I will be blurred out in the picture, out of breath, sweaty and probably forgotten.  

There is a place for the Eliud Kipchoges of the world. The people wearing white, breaking records, being championed. The ones winning Teacher of the Year or Most Innovative. The students with the perfect ACT score and a 4.0 GPA. Sometimes that might even be us and, like Kipchoge, these achievements should be celebrated. But more often than not, we will be sitting in the audience while someone else wins the award or gets the recognition. It’s important to remember that there was only one Kipchoge and 41 pacemakers. Great people are only as great as the people around them. Presidents don’t get elected alone, celebrities don’t become famous by themselves, athletes need coaches, famous authors have editors, famous chefs have tasters (at least I tell myself this is a job because I really want it).  

Even leaders need followers to make change. Hitler, Stalin, Amin and more all commanded great genocides but they did not do so alone. Each had armies of men and women following them, carrying out their plans. I mention this because it’s easy to get caught up supporting the popular or the loudest voice. A pacemaker must make sure they are running alongside the right person. Here is how you can tell the difference: If the thought of that person, the one you are running alongside of, accomplishing their end goal doesn’t put a huge smile on your face, you are not running alongside the right person. You are wasting your time and energy. Move on.  

Who are you a pacemaker for? Who do you want to finish the race so bad that you are willing to run alongside of them? Sweating, out of breath, probably forgotten about yet gladly cheering on every step of the way.  

Go find your person.

Start running.

Alyssa VoigtAlyssa Voigt is the Makerspace and Media Center Coordinator for Secondary Schools at Kettle Moraine School District in Wales, Wisconsin. As a certified Library Media Specialist, she works with teachers and students to create authentic, interdisciplinary learning experiences through the use of design thinking, competency-based education, and hands-on making. Prior to her current role, Alyssa helped create one of the first elementary school makerspaces in Wisconsin. She is passionate about building relationships and promoting a positive school culture. Outside of school, Alyssa can be found running after her four children and puppy, attending high school sporting events, or reading Young Adult realistic fiction. Follow her on Twitter at @AlyssaVoigt13.