Time for “The HA!!” – This is my mini-series on life lessons I’ve gained through my humbling sports endeavors… I LOVE sports but genuinely suck at most of them, and, therefore, I’m a “HA = Humbled Athlete.” Please check out the other posts in this series at THE HA!! page.

Bill Rodgers at the tape, 1979 Boston Marathon

Bill Rodgers at the tape, 1979 Boston Marathon

Every time we compete there are people who win and those who do not. I searched the “greatest athletes of all time” and found a voting website with a top 10 list. Several of my “heroes” are on there, including Michael Jordan (#1), Roger Federer (#4) and Michael Phelps (#8). While we know all of these and many others to be winners, even they didn’t win every time they competed. Growing up, my favorite runner was Bill Rodgers. There were plenty more, including Craig Virgin, Greg Meyer, and Zola Budd. Bill and many others are still running. In fact, the last Gate River Run that I competed in Bill was there, and way ahead of me in the race.

I think that running gave me, more than anything, an appreciation for how we support each other in our endeavors. Most folks don’t think of running as a team sport. Cross-country, in particular, emphasized how we strive to do our best individually and how our individual efforts contribute to the goals of a team. The common goals of our team instilled in us a mindset of helping our teammates achieve their individual goals, too.

The greatest challenge in any competition is to be a humble winner; second, to be a gracious loser. (Click to Tweet)

Here’s my take on how that works:

Humble winners?

Our high school cross-country coach taught us that everyone who competes is a winner. He emphasized competing not against each other or the other teams, but to strive to be the best we could be individually. THAT made us all nothing short of winners.

We were like the island of misfit toys in our school… until we made it all the way to the State meet my junior year in high school, winning our conference and regionals. We finished 4th in the State of Florida. At that point we were noticed. And we got new uniforms the following year, a request that our coach was denied by the Athletic Director for the two years prior. I did win one race during my junior year, a 1/2 mile junior varsity event. I don’t remember if I was particularly humble about that. Probably not. Personally, I was way back in the pack most of the time. Did we win? Always. Every one of us. The last guy across the finish line did to! Our coach’s philosophy to be the best we could be and to only look within was our measure of success.

Gracious losers?

You know the saying that “winning isn’t everything”, right? I have no clue who originated it, but I did run across a recent story that may illustrate the meaning of being a gracious loser like no other…

Abel Mutai, a Kenyan competing recently in an international cross-country event, mistakenly stopped running about 10 meters short of the finish line. Running a close second to Mutai was Ivan Fernandez, a Spanish athlete. Fernandez realized what was happening and motioned to Mutai to keep running, allowing the Kenyan to win the race.

Fernandez’ comments:

“I didn’t deserve to win it. I did what I had to do. He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn’t have closed if he hadn’t made a mistake. As soon as I saw he was stopping, I knew I wasn’t going to pass him.”

Here’s the video of that event…

[tentblogger-youtube azgL23K_8zU]

The story says you first. And appreciation. It restores our faith in humility, and humanity.

Love it 🙂

Extending grace when we lose? Yep, that’s a humbled athlete. Everyone who competes is a winner!