“Failure is as exciting to watch as success, provided the effort is absolutely genuine and complete.” ~Roger Bannister
Were going in! Every year, as we hurtle headlong into this last full month of ski racing, I re-post “The Long Road,” It’s kind of like reading The Night Before Christmas, but instead of preceding a day of magic it precedes weeks of emotional whiplash. The retelling of the Long Road (with its various preambles) marks the beginning of championship season for ski racers, and all the drama that goes along with it.
When I first wrote the Long Road piece, my kids were 10 and 12 years old. They are now 16 and 18. Given the amount of time, effort, heart and heartache that have gone into these past six years, I can honestly say the message is as relevant to our family now as it was then. The immediate goals and challenges have changed—the excitement and trepidation of college is now on the near horizon—but the takeaway is the same: on the road to success, sports are the vehicle, not the destination.
The Olympics reminded us of all that it takes, even for the world’s greatest athletes, to have your best day at just the right time. When the gears are not meshing perfectly right then it can feel like all the hard work that went in to preparation is for naught. This is where the long road perspective is mighty helpful, reminding us to enjoy the process of continually becoming stronger by facing up to challenges, dusting off after defeats and using failure to fuel progress.
This year, as March kicked off, I was supposed to be in Florida, on a brief and rare warm weather junket. A predawn deer altercation enroute to the airport smashed my car and that plan. Instead of being in Florida with my newly polished toes in the sand, I spent the weekend planted on a frozen mountain, in frozen ski boots.
Good times…really! Pitching in with the army of people who make ski races happen, watching kids explode out of the starting gate in the single-minded pursuit of speed and then absorb and move on from the consequences, all reinforced the long road message. It also answered the “why?” of this crazy sport.
I lost count of the number of kids who thanked me for helping during the course of the weekend. Many of them were collegiate racers, whose chatter held insights about their continuing journey on the long road. They talked about how the discipline and focus of ski racing prepared them for the challenge of college, and how the intellectual invigoration of college refreshed and broadened their narrow approach to ski racing. They described the phenomenon of skiing better with less training, and skiing more freely with more on their plates. Their energy and maturity is a message to kids who are struggling with the prospect of being “done” at age 18: there’s still a whole lot of fun, fast, ski racing ahead.
While I was mulling over the weekend, I read about Roger Bannister, who recently passed away, at age 88. When he reached his peak, Bannister was juggling athletics with full-time medical school, training a mere half hour per day. Bannister’s persistence turned bad luck—no medal in the 1952 Olympics—into an even greater opportunity. Rather than quit, as he intended had he won Olympic gold, he decided to go on, and focus instead on breaking the four-minute mile barrier, which he did in 1954. Had he won Olympic gold, would he be the athletic icon he ultimately became? Your own road, when traveled with purpose, can lead to entirely unexpected greatness.
Regardless of his fame, Bannister does not count his athletic achievements as his greatest accomplishments. Instead, those were his medical career and his family, including 14 grandchildren. Grandparents have perhaps the best perspective for appraising true value, for fully appreciating the marvel of kids giving their greatest effort. It was grandparents last weekend who reminded me of this perspective. Despite results that left kids disappointed, and parents feeling their anguish, the grandparents took in the entire scene—the cheering, sending, crashing, consoling, teasing, rebounding, laughing—with awe: “These are great kids!” Another ski racer grandparent who, through the miracle of livetiming, keeps tabs of her own grandkids as well as many surrogate grandkids across the country, summed it up well: “They’re great kids who love what they do, surrounded by great people who love what they do. They’ll be just fine!”
Enjoy every bit of your time on the Long Road, and let ‘er rip!