RIDGEFIELD, Conn. -- When faced with a challenge, embrace it, value it and believe it's possible -- that is the way you will conquer it, three-time Olympic runner Deena Kastor told a crowd of about 220 people at the Ridgefield Library on Tuesday night.
Kastor, 43, is the American record holder in the marathon and half marathon and has held American records in a distances from 5K to the marathon.
She has made 19 U.S. teams, won 18 U.S. titles and earned two silver medals at the World Cross-Country Championships.
She traveled to Ridgefield from her home in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., to give the talk, which was on staying positive when the going gets tough.
Kastor, a petite woman who wore her blonde hair in a ponytail and a blue denim jacket over her dress, said the most valuable thing she has learned from her running career is that of optimism.
"Optimism is like a muscle. Your mind is like a muscle. It's adaptive, it's malleable, it learns and grows and strengthens," said Kastor, who has been running since the age of 11. She lives with her husband Andrew, her 5-year-old daughter Piper and her two Mastiffs.
She explained that optimism is trying to find solutions to problems. "It's not wallowing in self pity but finding a way over the challenge, over the hurdle to the other side so you can consider the pursuit to your goals."
Kastor explained that to pursue positivity, it's essential to "1 - have a goal, try to find a better version of yourself; 2 - believe you deserve to be better; and 3 - believe that it's possible."
She explained that staying positive is hardest to maintain in situations that are difficult -- since those are the times when we are put to the test.
"When something is hitting the fan is when positivity is at its most prime -- when you are challenged by something, when you are threatened by something -- that's when you get to rise up and become stronger or wiser or more tolerant."
She said in those times, it's essential to embrace the challenge "because that is when we get to grow as individuals, those are our springboards for growth."
She described what sometimes goes through her head when she's having a tough day. "There are so many times I'm out there and I'm exhausted and I just want to give up, and in that moment, I think, 'what would serve me better here, giving up or digging down?' So, I dig down."
She said this lesson applies not to just running but to every challenge in life.
"Instead of throwing in the towel, drop the hammer and get going and get the job done," she said."There is nothing more satisfying than the human spirit in giving your all to a difficult task.
"My positivity makes me better at running as well as a a better wife, mom and contributor to my community," she said.
She said having positive thoughts are the key to success. "The only thing we can control are our thoughts. Pay attention to your thoughts. The thoughts we have become our actions. The actions become behaviors.
She explained that natural talent, in and of itself, doesn't mean anything. "I would take drive, commitment and passion over talent any day of the week over talent. All it takes it trying."
Kastor said she continues to learn from the sport of running. "Although my fastest days are behind me, by being positive and being challenged, I'm becoming stronger every single day and running is my avenue to do it."
New Fairfield runner Caitlin Balint, who came to Kastor's talk, said she learned valuable lessons. "I always get the sense that running advice applies to the rest of life. Stay positive, believe in yourself and dig deep when things get tough had the most impact on me.
"I was surprised by how similar her mental experience is to my own. You think Olympic athlete and sometimes forget they are people too. Life is complicated but running is simple. You get out of it what you put into it."