Winning isn’t everything
March 5, 2014
The Olympics have come and gone and they always leave a mark of inspiration. My family and I watched religiously. The athletes who have dedicated so much time and energy to their respective crafts amaze me; the best of the best whose success and glory came with a price. They haven't always been winners and they haven't always been the best. And even at the Olympics, there is still only one gold, one silver and one bronze medal.
My son is a skier with the Buddy Werner League and, I have a learned, a fierce competitor. He wants to win, and he is good enough to win. He medaled in two of three races he competed, but the last race is the one he will remember forever — the race in which he did not medal. That is the day he cried out of a frustration so pure that I honestly did not have the words to help him feel better. He cried because he felt the shattering reality that every single competitive athlete has felt. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
Granted, he is 8, and has a long way to go in his quest for medals. And next year, he moves to the top of his age category and will kill it. But for now, he is a disappointed kid who bested his time and worked his hardest to medal and didn't. This is real. At least I was able to tell him that I know how he feels.
I have run 2 marathons. The first was the Run Anyway NYC Marathon in 2012. I worked hard and sacrificed a lot to prepare, only to have the race canceled. I melted into a puddle of tears when I found out. Not because I felt the decision was wrong, but because of everything that went into getting me to that point in the first place. The second was the Chicago marathon in 2013. Again, I worked hard and sacrificed a lot. I had my eye on beating my time in NYC. At mile five, my calves seized so greatly that I tore them because I continued to run the race. I was in tears for the next 21 miles. Not because of the physical pain; although that was excruciating. The tears were emotional. I had 21 miles to feel sorry for myself, be angry at the situation, and to question, "why this was happening to me?"; to feel the absolute crushing blow of disappointment.
People congratulating me for finishing in spite of what happened didn't take that feeling away. There really was nothing that anyone could say that would have made me feel better. Who knew that my experience would come in handy to help my son through something so hard for him. I had a way to relate something to him that actually helped him feel better.
We have spent many hours discussing the race and his lack of perceived success, and what I am the most impressed with is his desire to achieve. To complete a goal and fulfill a dream — a dream to make it to the state championships.
He didn't make the state team. He came in 5th overall and they took the top 4 kids in his age group and he once again had to deal with that anguish of disappointment. And once again, I stressed the importance of what he had accomplished; to be number 5 out of 49 kids is pretty great. Regardless, he still isn't going and he still doesn't get to fulfill that dream. But, it has made him more determined than ever and he will continue to work to get there. And in the end, isn't it the journey that matters … not the destination?
Gabrie Higbie is the publisher of online magazine GEM at http://www.gogem.co, and host of GEM radio on KSKE and KKCH.