If you’ve ever stepped up with some trepidation to the squat rack, assisted pull-up machine, battle ropes, or other heavy duty piece of gym equipment, here’s your sign to go for it.
Because imagine if what you were facing down wasn’t a fitness apparatus, but a series of literal hurdles getting jumped at unbelievable speed by world-class racers on every side.
That’s what Belgian shot-putter Jolien Boumkwo experienced Saturday at the European Team Championships track meet in Krakow, Poland. Boumkwo is a member of the Belgian track team who competes in strength events including the shot-put, hammer throw, and discus—not sprinting or hurdling.
But the Belgian team found itself without a hurdler to compete in the 100-meter hurdles due to injuries, which meant the team would lose out on the two points gained by competing in the event. In a track meet, every point counts toward the total, and Belgium hoped to do well enough in terms of total points to maintain its standing as a Division 1 team in the European Team Championships.
So facing event disqualification and a loss of points, Boumkwo raised her hand to step in. She would race the 100-meter hurdles, despite it being decidedly not her sport.
As seen in a video of the event, the hurdlers take off like race horses out of the gate. Hurdlers maintain their speed and do incredible mid-air split leaps to pass over the obstacles. And getting over those hurdles is no easy feat. They clock in at two feet nine inches, which makes them a challenge to clear at any speed.
Boumkwo also starts running at the starting gun, but when she gets to the first hurdle, she hops over it one bent leg at a time. She immediately falls behind but she keeps on going, hurdle after hurdle, until she crosses the finish line—and is greeted with high fives from fellow racers.
Sadly, the two points Boumkwo got for competing weren’t enough for Team Belgium to maintain its division status. However, the story has nonetheless captured the world’s attention and gone viral. Seeing someone step up for the good of her team, doing something outside of her expertise and comfort zone, and not doing it perfectly but still finishing it—on a world stage, no less—might resonate with anyone who has volunteered to help cover for a coworker who’s out, taken on new task for the PTA, or filled in as outfielder in a kickball rec league.
For “hand raisers,” setting boundaries with your time and availability might be necessary to maintain mental health and wellbeing. But every once in a while, maybe we can indulge in the heart-warming spirit of teamwork and sportsmanship on display.
Your solo gym time might not be about contributing to the good of the team, but it is about feeling good and pushing yourself—while not worrying about what you look like to the outside world. Which is why Boumkwo might serve as such an apt role model for your fitness goals and gym inspiration. Trying something new in the gym, fitness studio, or on a walk or run around the block, isn’t about doing that thing perfectly. It’s about giving it your best effort.
So the next time you’re wondering if you can take on that new exercise, piece of equipment, or rep or weight goal, let Jolien Boumkwo be your gym inspiration. Think of her staring down those hurdles—and give it a shot.