Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Power of the "Near Win"

Nothing gets the competitive juices flowing quite like a second-place finish. That was one of my chief takeaways from reading The Rise by Sarah Lewis - a fascinating exploration of how so many of the world's greatest achievements are rooted in failure. The bronze medalist is just happy to have made the podium. The silver medalist, however, seethes with restless dissatisfaction for nearly winning, which often turns into unstoppable motivation to do more, to do better, to win. One of the prime examples of this dynamic was Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who in the 1984 Olympics in LA won the silver medal, losing out by just five points to Australian Glynis Nunn. Four years later, in Seoul, South Korea, Joyner-Kersee won gold in the same event, setting a world record (7,291 points) that still stands today. She also won gold, and set an Olympic record in the long jump (7.4 m). She was later voted by Sports Illustrated as the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century. Here's a recap video of her in Seoul:

The other story that really stuck with me was of 23 year old Julie Moss in the 1982 Iron Man Triathlon. A total unknown, she came out of nowhere, surprising everyone - including herself - by being far ahead and on track for a win by the marathon portion of the race. But then, her stride started changing, something was wrong, and she collapsed to the road, in total exhaustion. She waved off spectators, who came to her to help her stand (it would have disqualified her if she let them). She tried standing a few times, and fell each time. Finally, she started crawling, hand over hand towards the finish. In the dark of that evening, with the TV screen trained on her, making her slow way forward, you can see the feet of the second-place runner overtaking her only a few yards from the finish line. An unbelievable picture of grit and determination. Millions tuned in to that race. And Moss is credited with being the catalyst for the explosive growth in her sport, especially, but not only, among women inspired by her example.

Here's her race:

In a small way, I had my own near win experience on my long training run this past weekend. In preparation for running Boston, I splurged on a GPS watch, and have enjoyed loading and tracking and studying my data on Strava - one feature of which is that it compares your performance not only to yourself (and I will have some future post on the Marathon Zen wisdom of "run your own race" - not here), but with others on various segments of your runs. A few months ago, after a run through the Stony Brook Reservation, in Boston's Hyde Park neighborhood, I came home to discover I'd run the 2nd fastest time on a 3/4 mile climb through the woods. It's been goading me ever since.  I tried again and closed the gap just before Thanksgiving - but still came in second. This weekend, I ran the segment twice. And beat the record the record twice. And got my first little Strava crown icon.

A little silly I know. But it called to mind again The Rise, and these amazing stories.

Somewhere out there is a girl who has never yet tapped the power within her of that "near win." The equipment and coaching fees that you and I would never hesitate to pay for our girls are simply too much for her parents to absorb. Times are just too tight.

This Holiday Season, would you give to Dream Big! so she can play?

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