“The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”. These words are known to everyone over a certain age as the intro to ABC’s Wide World of Sports back in the last century. Here in Ohio, every year on the first weekend of June we get to experience our own version of this with the ultimate track and field event for any high school athlete. Having been the girls’ track and field head coach at St. Thomas Aquinas for the last 16 years I have had a ringside seat for this track meet. In 15 of those years we have had girls from Aquinas qualify for the meet and the last 4 years we enjoyed a very high level of success. There were highs and lows. But it has been pure excitement to watch. These girls have definitely experienced the thrill of victory on occasion and the agony of defeat on others. But each one, no matter the outcome, has experienced the opportunity to take part in the dream of every high school track athlete in Ohio.
Who gets to participate in the meet? It’s only those kids who through a combination of natural talent, hard work, and good luck qualify at one of the four regional meets. Make no mistake, natural talent is a prerequisite. On a talent scale of one to ten, it’s the coaches job to turn fives into sixes or sevens. Take an eight and turn them into a nine, nines into tens. The nightmare is when a coach takes a nine or a ten and turns that athlete into a solid seven and ruins their love for the sport. Fives don’t make it to the state meet no matter how hard they work. There must be a decent level of natural talent. Fact of life, accept it.
Hard work is a no-brainer as necessary on the road to the state meet. There might be someone out there somewhere with SO much natural talent that they can skate through to the state meet but that would be rare and they don’t last long. Work is required both on the track and in the classroom to remain eligible to compete.
But let’s not underestimate the role of luck. Luck comes in a lot of areas. First, a child needs to be in a situation where there is a track team with a decent coach. They need to be lucky enough to live in an environment where they are supported in their efforts and not consumed by trying to survive a hard life in rough circumstances. Some kids might have to work to help their family put food on the table instead of indulging in sports. Some might be responsible for helping with their younger siblings or an ailing parent. Not everyone is free to pursue school sports.
Luck plays a role in keeping someone healthy. Stepping in a rut and spraining an ankle the week before the state meet can happen. Having a classmate who brings their germ ridden body to school when they should be home and passing on their cold or flu happens all the time. Underlying medical problems like asthma can flare up at the wrong time.
We have been through it all. Pulled hamstrings, asthmatic attacks, lack of willingness to work, you name it. These are frustrating. But when it all comes together and that magic strikes, you can forget all the rest and just relish the moment. In 2015, the girls team from St. Thomas won the state meet with a fabulous showing, winning 5 of the 17 events and scoring 69 points. In 2016, they went one better. Both the boys and girls track teams from St. Thomas won their state track meets. Only four times in Ohio history has that been done. What an awesome feeling! The miles logged in the middle of winter, the gut wrenching interval workouts, the repetition over and over trying to get a movement in the field event correct, and what seems like a long, long road becomes worth every painful minute.
2017 was another story. We had natural talent. The girls definitely worked hard but the luck component didn’t kick in for them. They had some great moments with their fourth straight win in the 4×800 relay and finished 2nd in the 4×400 relay but illness raised its ugly head and kept them from doing as well as they might have in the individual events. What do you do then? What comes next? Well, the sun did actually come up the next day. Nobody is expected to just forget all about not doing as well as they hoped. But before anyone starts getting too down, it’s time to add some perspective here.
The next morning, my family all gathered in downtown Columbus for a 10k race. Before the race began, we were watching the customary kids’ fun run and the kids were having a great time. Some were putting it all out there while others were distracted by the fanfare and stopping with the hope of being carried by a parent to the finish. They aren’t stupid. They were tired and wanted a ride on the mom or dad express. But towards the end of the line of kids coming in was a mom pushing a jogging stroller with a kid who looked about 4 or 5 in it. He was happily waving his plastic sword around to make sure the way was clear. Then about 50 yards from the finish line, Mom stopped and let the little boy out of his stroller and he proceeded to run to the finish……. on his two prosthetic legs! Not a dry eye anywhere in the house after seeing that. So good that those parents were raising him to participate. He looked as happy as any other kid in the race. So, I was reminded that no matter what my time would be in the upcoming 10k, it just didn’t matter. I am so happy to have been able to participate and gain a huge portion of perspective.
(Pictured above is not the actual boy we watched)
So, if you set your goal and reach it, congratulations to you. If you make your attempt and it doesn’t go the way you want, keep your head up and be glad you had the chance. This leads me to conclude with one of my all-time favorite quotes and it comes from Teddy Roosevelt.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Keep running my friends, the sun will rise no matter your finishing time!