I loved this article I read today and couldn't help but post this to share with you all! Given my past experiences, I can relate so much to all these athletes in this article. All three of the athletes featured (including the author who is also an Olympian) are such an inspiration to us all to keep fighting even when things don't go as we want or expect. Enjoy!
Simon Whitfield’s crash and Paula Findlay’s last place struggle in the Olympic triathlon have brought back painful memories of my own Olympic failure. After I finished 5th in Athens, depression and sadness dulled the vibrant celebration of the games. I did not want to see other events; I avoided the crowds. I wanted to get away. In fact, I avoided closing ceremonies, a decision I regret to this day.
My old multi-variable calculus professor, an ancient east-Indian man, would often tell me, “Success is a function of your expectations.” How true is that? Paula and Simon were our best hopes in Triathlon. They expected the best from themselves. Heck, many Canadians including myself expected the best. Their disappointments will be as large as their hopes to succeed.
What do you say? Really. There are few words that felt comfortable in my history of sporting failures. The best words came from a fellow commiserator on the rowing course. Marcel Hacker was the German single sculler and medal hopeful in Athens. He raced poorly and ended up in the B-final. Marcel looked at me with his stern German eyes, “Sport ist Scheisse…” he said. I nodded. Our dreams had just been flushed down the toilet. There wasn’t any more to say.
There is a hidden benefit to failure, though. Athletes are young. They have lives, businesses, families and careers that follow their athletic experience. Athletes must let go of their elite athletic identity to find their best life. Athletes must transition, reflect upon their past, learn from it and grow. Paula will go to medical school or law school. Simon will run a triathlon outfitting business and be a super-dad. Both will take their lessons of sport beyond sport. I find that inspiring. Paula and Simon are both wonderful, full-hearted people, and great role models for our children.
Athlete success and failure is a perfect model for life. Rarely, if ever, will you reach the top. And once you get there, the peak is small and short lived. Failure is far more common, but we should still embrace challenge. Ironically, the beauty of life is enhanced through struggle, and the peace found after failure.
Paula, Simon or the dozens of Canadian athletes who will see their dreams flushed down the toilet this Olympics won’t care about future enlightenment or the success their heart-breaking experience will breed. These young Canadians will discover their strength later. Our future leaders will pick themselves up and let go of their elite athletic identity. For now, though, they must live the basic truth: Sport ist Scheisse.
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