Sometimes You Can’t?

Sometimes we can’t accomplish what we set our minds to do.

Sometimes impossible isn’t an illusion… it is real.  Or, at least it seems real.  We strive, we reach, we try – and we fall short, we stumble, we fall.  We reach and try again.  And fall and fail.  We fall and fail and fail again.  Or so it seems…

Sometimes the goal, whatever it is, seems too hard, too distant, too impossible.  We say, “I can’t.”  We say, “It’ll never happen.”  

What then?


This year, I quit something.  I never quit, but this year I did.  I had to.  This year the goal seemed, and actually was, impossible.  In the immediate, I can’t do it.  

But that doesn’t mean that I won’t succeed in the future.

Impossible can be a stumbling block.  Challenges can daunting and frightening.  Failure can be seen as permanent. 

It’s not.  Failure is not permanent.  It never has to be.

And even though I quit this time, I’ll succeed again in the future.


This post has been written in my head a million times over the last nine or ten months. It’s taken different themes in a variety of ways, it’s been rewritten, revised, modified, put to bed…and it came back again and again.

At times, this has been an “I can’t do it” post. 

At other times, it has been an “I can overcome anything!” one.

I didn’t know how to write this because each day I felt differently.  I didn’t even know quite what I was driving at.  Or towards.

When I was feeling strong, I thought I’d write a post that shared by exuberance.

When I was in pain and down, I needed to write to share my despair.

I am a marathoner.  That’s who I am.  I’m the guy that can run through pain and discomfort.  I’m the guy who ran the NYC Marathon with a stress fracture in my foot.  

I’m the guy that can run forever – always. 

I’m the guy who was Superman.  

Except, I’m not super right now.  I’m just a man.  And self-doubt is the worse kind of doubt.


I have never really doubted myself before.  I’m they guy who wrote “Impossible is an Illusion” (both the book and the quote).  I believe I can do anything.  I believe we all can.

And we can.

And I can.  

Just not this year…


2017 has been my worst year physically – in an athletic sense especially.

I have long written and prophesied that running is hard and that running hurts.  It is and it does.  Running is hard.  It’s always a struggle.  Even when I was running fast and I had youth and vigor and energy, each run was a challenge.  Running hurts.  Always.  That was a lesson I taught my own children.  I told them, “Even the easy runs are hard.”  And they are.  

I don’t think I ever had an easy run in my whole life.

And, I think, that’s why I love running.  I don’t like easy.  Running, running marathons especially, is something that the faint of heart can’t comprehend or do.  The only way to run a marathon is to push through pain and misery and self-doubt.  The only way to do it is to be better than yourself.  

I am used to being better than myself.

I liked digging deep and finding something inside that I didn’t know was there.  One might call it an “inner resolve.” Others might call it heart.  

Whatever it is, it’s what helps a runner push through the misery when his body and mind say to stop, when his energy is depleted, when his focus is gone, and when he knows he cannot take another stride forward – until he does!

I used to feel like I had an endless reserve of this ability to push through anything.  I felt that I could dig deep whenever I needed to, and that, when I was at my worst and most desperate moments, that I could always, always,  find that inner strength to go further.

That endless reserve finally abandoned me this year.


I’m pushing 50-years old.  I never want to get old.  I don’t want to be sedentary.  I can’t be. Most often I can’t even sit still anyway.  (That’s not my greatest trait in long meetings at work.) 

I’m am looking forward to a vigorous old age.  An old age of travel and of exploring and an old age of excitement.  I  ain’t gonna be sitting on the couch watching TV, that’s for sure.  

But this year my body has felt more like an 80 year old than a guy who is just 49.  

I’ve always had pain.  That comes with running and from hard work. This year it’s been different.  The pains, the stiffness, the sore Achilles, the physical stuff that comes from being older…

My body doesn’t recover as it used to.  

I found that things like running and playing competitive softball don’t necessarily mix well.  Trying to run the day after a hard ballgame (or even the day after the day after) is hard. My legs are heavy. Everything hurts.  Every step is a struggle.  A mile is an eternity.  The thought of 10 or 12 miles is absurd.

This all made me realize that I’m as young as I used to be.

Worse, this all made me realize that I’m not as young as I think I am.


I was registered and getting prepared to run the 2017 New York City Marathon. But, because of all of the above, I was way behind all my running plans and goals.

Because I was running slower than in the past, even my short runs became long runs.  

I was hoping that my experience in the marathon and the fact that my body knows what’s coming would help me gear-up well enough to run the race.

But it wasn’t to be.  

And I had some good long runs.  I did a 15 miler.  On another occasion, I reached 14 miles.  I had a few other 10+ mile efforts.  But I struggled through these like I never struggled before.  And, the days after?  Not good.

My body, which I have pushed hard for the last two decades just didn’t bounce back as had been typical before.

My almost-fifty year old body told me that I’m not ready to run the marathon.  If you can’t train properly, you don’t deserve the ultimate prize – the marathon.  

So I had to quit the charade.


My body is telling me different things.  

Over the last year, when I have pushed myself, the results haven’t been what I have always experienced.  

My body is telling me different things.

I know what a hard run feels like.  I know what an easy run feels like.  I know what each effort should feel like – on good days and bad days.  Most often though those feelings are not what I am experiencing.  It’s all different.

My body is telling me different things.

There used to be a bounce in my step…

Runners have to listen to their bodies and over the last year, mine has been speaking a different language.


In the short-term, it would be impossible, given my training and tired body, to run the 2017 New York City Marathon.  That’s not an illusion – that’s real.

But to say that I’ll never run a marathon is just simple thinking.  I can and I will again.

I just need to learn some new things about myself.  I may need to run differently.  I may need to find a new balance, new ways to push, and find a long-term strategy that works.

I think I will need more off days between long or hard runs.  I just need a new strategy.  

I need to learn how my close-to-middle-age body reacts to the stresses of life, to the rigors of exercise, and to the experience of running.  

But, before I do that I’m taking a few weeks off from running so I can heal, come back stronger, and run again.


“A marathon?” you ask.  “Will you ever run a marathon again?”

Of course I will.  But not just that.  I plan to do just a little more…

I will get back out there soon.  I plan to relish in all the experiences of running that include suffering, pain, and the joy one achieves when he overcomes.

I’m looking forward to overcoming!

I’m looking forward to finding the joy.  I’m looking forward to discovering what I can do now and not thinking about what I did before.  (Maybe that will make me better than ever!)

I ‘m looking forward to enjoying the struggle and the hope that comes with giving one’s best.

I’m looking forward to training.  I’m looking forward to racing.


A marathon?  No, not just a marathon.  I’m thinking of more than that…

I’m gearing up to compete (if only against myself) in a silly collection of races in Disney World in 2019 called the Dopey Challenge.  (That is four races in four days – a 5K, a 10K, a half-marathon, and a full marathon.)  I can do it.

I will do it.  

Impossible is an Illusion!


The Judge

(The following passage was included as part of the monthly newsletter that I send out to the parents of my school community.)

It is no secret that I enjoy sports, mostly baseball, and that I have always been a big fan of the New York Yankees.  There is something about baseball that resonates with me.  The ebb and flow of the game, the simplicity, the day-to-day consistency…  Like a good friend, from April through September, baseball is a constant companion.  I love it.

One of the big stories that has come out of this year’s baseball season has been the fact that a rookie on the New York Yankees, a certain Aaron Judge, recently set the record for the most home runs ever hit in one’s first season.  No player had ever hit 50 home runs as a rookie until Aaron Judge accomplished that feat.  Amazing.

Continue reading “The Judge”


Often times we say, “I can’t do that” or “I’m not good at that.”  (I am as guilty of this as anyone.  There’s a lot I sometimes believe I can’t do.)

When we say the words, “I can’t,” we are limiting ourselves.  As a result, I believe that some of the most damaging words in our language are “I can’t.” 

When we say we can’t, we make our own lives poorer – not richer.  When we say we can’t, we eliminate the possibilities and the learning that comes with and from new experiences.  When we say we can’t, our world becomes smaller, our interests become fewer, and we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to learn more about ourselves.

Continue reading “Limits”

The Houston Astros and You!

(The following is a modified (slightly shortened and less school specific) version of the message I sent to my teaching staff as we begin to prepare for the opening of the 2017-18 school year in a few weeks.  The message applies to all individuals in all walks of life and all professions.)

When I was a child growing up in the late 1970’s, the Houston Astros had very cool uniforms. 

I was a Yankees fan (that is deep-seated in my blood), but there were times when I wished the Yankees could at least be a little more colorful.  I, of course, love the Yankees’ midnight blue pinstripes and the interlocking NY, but for a kid, that Astros rainbow uniform was a lot more eye-catching!

The Astros also were also a pretty unique team.  They played in the only domed stadium (The Astrodome), they played on fake grass (Astroturf), they had exciting players like Nolan Ryan, J.R. Richard, and Cesar Cedeno (pictured above).  The Astros were even featured in one of the Bad News Bears movies!

None of that influenced me enough to be an Astros fan, but it is undeniable that there was a certain appeal to rooting for the Houston Astros. 

Continue reading “The Houston Astros and You!”

Running Currahee

Ever since my son Ryan had the same thought I did for an activity during our visit to see him in Georgia (“Three miles up, three miles down…”), I had been thinking of running Currahee Mountain.


Currahee Mountain is the (extremely) large hill that was used as a (very difficult) physical fitness activity at Camp Toccoa during the early stages of paratrooper training during World War II.  The stories of the training, and the success of the troops, has been immortalized in the book and HBO miniseries Band of Brothers which tells the story of Easy Company from the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne.

Continue reading “Running Currahee”

Our Words Matter, Always.

The words we use matter, always.  

When we offer kindness, love, and support, we build people up.

When we are critical, or unkind, or mean, the words we deliver bring people down.  

On the pages of my blog, in educational journals, and in other forums, I have often shared stories of how kind words make a positive difference.  It happens all of the time.

When I run races, especially marathons, the words of encouragement shouted from the spectators makes an absolute difference in my mental state and my performance.  When people call out, “You look great” or “You can do it!” I believe them – sincerely and absolutely.  Positive words from people I don’t know and will never meet have helped me in each of my twenty marathons.

Just yesterday I was playing softball in the league I compete in.  I was fortunate, I had a good day.  It seemed that every ball hit to me at shortstop, I handled cleanly.  Each time, my teammates shouted, “Great play” or “Paul, you’re doing super today.”  The confidence from my teammates helped to make me have more confidence in myself, and, as a result, I played better.  

Words matter.  Absolutely.  Always.

A while back, I wrote a column titled Newton, Autographs, and the Teacher.  (That essay is contained in my new book Impossible is an Illusion.) In that passage, I wrote the following:

“I sometimes sit in awe of the tremendous power a teacher possesses – the tremendous impact that a teacher has on a child’s self-image now – and in the future. A teacher can use his autograph, the imprint he leaves on a child, to change a life. The positive words teachers leave inspire children to work harder, to give more, and to always strive to be their better selves.”

And, while I sincerely believe all of that to be true, I think, sometimes, we forget the impact we have on others and the simple fact that our own words matter.  It’s easy to point out how other people have brought us up or down, but it’s more difficult to examine when we have a similar impact on others.  (After all, I didn’t say to my teammates, “Keep telling me how good I am, it’ll make me even better.”  All I did was smile and give high fives and fist bumps – and hope that I would continue to catch everything hit my way.  Similarly, in a marathon, I don’t stop when people cheer for me.  I never go back to the spectator to say, “Your kind words are helping me through the race.”)

But, sometimes, out of the blue, a word is said, a card arrives in the mail, or an e-mail comes through that reminds us of our impact on others.  Again, I think this is especially true for teachers and other educators because our words impact on the people who are the future.  By providing support, kindness, affirmation, and even love, educators can help to shape a positive world and a positive future.  

I was reminded of this fact just the other day when I received the following message in my e-mail:

Good afternoon Dr. Semendinger,
I am not sure if you remember me, but I was a student of yours in the Seminar Class at William Paterson in the Spring Semester of 2014. 
After a rough experience with my cooperating teacher during my student teaching, I took some time off to do some reflecting on where I wanted to head career wise.  While I was cleaning off my desk, I found a paper I wrote for your class and you wrote “always be the positive difference in the classroom.”  At that moment I realized I shouldn’t let a bad experience ruin my dream of becoming a teacher. 
This past school year I took a paraprofessional aide job at my former middle school to help me become acclimated again in an educational environment.  It was by far the best decision I have ever made!  I was an in-class support aide, filled a maternity leave position, got recommended for a tutoring job, and even chaperoned numerous field trips.  Most importantly I found my passion again that I was missing!
Thank you for your time and everything you have done for me.
With sincerity,
(A Former Student)

I taught this student over three years ago.  It wasn’t yesterday…

But my words mattered.


And it was only eight words.  Eight.  That’s all I wrote.  I didn’t write a paragraph.  I didn’t write even ten words.  I wrote eight.  And yet, those words made a difference to this former student.  A huge difference.  In a way, I helped to change a life.  In a bigger way, as this former student becomes a teacher who hopefully spreads kindness and a positive message, those eight words will influence many more people.

This is the power that good can bring.  It is the impact of kindness.  It is what truly matters.

Henry Adams once said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

As educators, our biggest job is helping our students learn to believe in themselves.  Our job is to build up others.  We need to encourage.  We need to support.  We need to set the highest standards.  We need to be kind.  We need to love…  

These are the simple elements that truly make a difference.  

And so…

As we plan lessons, and programs…

As we design assessment tools and grading formulas…

As we create curriculum and input data into on-line programs…

We must never forget that our most important job as educators is to reach the hearts of our students.  We must bring passion to our classrooms.  We must look to the good.  

And we must never forget that our words matter – and as such, we must use them, today and every day, to build others up in a meaningful way.

One Day Yankee – Floyd Newkirk

(This passage comes from my upcoming book, “The Least Among Them,” a unique and original history of the New York Yankees.  The manuscript is in the editing stage.  Literary agents and/or publishers interested in learning more about this project are encouraged to reach me at drpaulsem AT hotmail dot com.)

Mordecai Brown was an ace pitcher on the Chicago Cubs teams that dominated baseball in the earliest days of the Twentieth Century.  Brown won twenty or more games in six consecutive seasons between 1906 and 1911.  One of baseball’s great pitchers, Mordecai Brown won 239 games.  He was elected to the Hall-of-Fame in 1949.  But none of that is why he is remembered today…

As a youngster, Mordecai lost one finger and damaged another during an accident with a feed chopper on a farm.  It was because of these “deformities,” that he became known as “Three Finger” Brown.  Many believed that the unique grip he had on a baseball contributed to his success. But Mordecai Brown was not baseball’s only three-fingered pitcher.

In 1934, the New York Yankees had a prospect named Floyd Newkirk.  Like the great “Three Finger” Brown, Newkirk had only three fingers on his pitching hand.  Like Brown, Floyd lost his two fingers in a childhood accident of his own.  Also like Brown, the injury did not dissuade Floyd Newkirk from playing, and ultimately achieving success, through pitching a baseball.

Continue reading “One Day Yankee – Floyd Newkirk”

Book Review: Patrick Henry by Jon Kukla

When one thinks of colonial America, the American Revolutionary period, and the birth of this nation, many great names come to mind.  Among these, of course, are Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and, George Washington. Stories of America’s founding fathers and brothers abound.  All of these men, and so many others were instrumental in the birth of our country.  Sometimes, the legends of these men outshine the other patriots and influential members of society who also played an important role throughout these important periods.  One such often overlooked giant of the time period was Patrick Henry.

Continue reading “Book Review: Patrick Henry by Jon Kukla”