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When Champions Fail

September 10, 2017

I was watching the Jamaican athletics legend Usain Bolt the other day on TV and was surprised to realize he retired from athletics. Actually I’d heard about this before but thought it was only a rumor and since the last few months have been quite eventful for me, I didn’t have time to follow up on that story and so I forgot about it. It wasn’t until a few days ago when I saw him being interviewed by some TV station while he was in some Asian country (though can’t quite remember which one) that this story came to my mind again.

So after listening to him being asked by reporters about his plans for the future, my curiosity got pricked and I went online to see how his last performance of his athletics career went. Of course being Usain Bolt, I was expecting to find some broken world records, and some final surprises as he made it to the finish line to take his final gold medal. Alas! What I found was something completely different.

To quote USA today, “Usain Bolt had not lost in a decade, and with such consistent dominance over the rest of the sprinting field, it was assumed the Jamaican runner would cruise to his 12th world championship and win his last 100-meter race before retiring. But not only did Bolt lose, he finished third to Americans Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman in a shocking upset and sour end to his soaring career”.

I am sure this is not the finish he had in mind. As BBC wrote about the fateful finish, “it meant the 19-time global champion, recently described by Lord Coe as "a genius" akin to boxing legend Muhammad Ali, bowed out in unfamiliar fashion - helped off the track by his team-mates, barely able to stand upright.” 

When interviewed by the same BBC, Bolt had this to say, "For me, I don't think one championship is going to change what I've done".  I remember after losing the 100m, someone said to me, 'Usain, no worries, Muhammad Ali lost his last fight also, so don't be stressed about that'.

"I've proven myself year in, year out, throughout my whole career. I was saying goodbye to everything. I almost cried. It was close, but it didn't come," he added.

He may not have bowed out in the fashion he had envisaged, but I believe nobody alive today will ever forget “The Bolt”. He will forever be remembered for the many records he broke in the track.

Actually, depending on how you look at it, he broke is own record by losing instead of wining.... (hope you get the joke).

The Bolt story reminded me of yet another athletics related story that I read about one Derek Redmond; actually I use the video of this particular event a lot during my motivational sessions, to encourage people to never give up on their dreams, no matter how tough the going gets. For purposes of understanding here below is a brief recap of what happened to Derek.

It was the summer of 1992, in Barcelona, and the Olympics 400m semi-final race was about to start. Derek Redmond was at the starting line, fully confident, as one of the favorites for gold. And he was entitled to feel that way.

Seven years before, in 1985, he broke the British record for the 400m race. In 1986, he was already seen as a rising star, having won the 4×400 metres relay gold medal at both the European Championships and Commonwealth Games. And the awards kept on coming.

But nothing comes without a price. His career was interrupted several times because of injuries. In fact, before the 1992 Summer Olympics, he had undergone eight surgeries. His mental strength and perseverance brought him back on the race track every single time.

In Barcelona, he was at the peak of his career. When the race started, he sprinted forward, focused on getting the gold. Then something unforeseen happened: he tore his hamstring, mid-track. He fell to the ground, in agony, but after a short moment of despair, something unbelievable happened. He picked himself up, with his hand on the injured part, he started limping around the track with an aim of finishing his race. Suddenly his dad broke through the crowd and came to try convince his son to leave the track. His son refused and insisted he must finish his race and so he decided to help his son and when he was just a few inches from the finish line, he left him to touch the finish line alone. Of course it was a very emotional time and all the 60,000 plus people in the sports arena stood up to give him a standing ovation.

The injury turned out to be much worse than anyone expected. After seven interventions over the course of two years, Derek was forced to retire from his career as a professional athlete. Yet, he continued to excel and went on to play basketball for England. Derek Redmond now continues to inspire people around the world. He is an acclaimed motivational speaker and trainer who uses his experience in sports to encourage others to achieve greatness in whatever they do.

How did he manage to pull himself up after such a fatal incident? The answer lies in his own quote where he said, To be a true champion you need to be physically strong but even more importantly you need to be mentally strong” – Derek Redmond

There are many things that will not go the way you want them to in life; a broken marriage, bankruptcy in business, illness in the family, misunderstanding among siblings, harsh economic times, etc. All those are things that can easily put you down but if you are determined to see your goal through, you will find ways of overcoming them. As long as you finish your race, you will never be a loser, but the moment you quit, you become a loser. Today Derek is not remembered because of his previous performances. Actually, those performances now come secondary to that one time he refused to give up but instead finished his race despite his massive injury.

What injuries are you suffering from today?

You could be suffering the injury of a very unreasonable spouse, one who calls you names and undermines your every move no matter how well intentioned you are. Well, as tough as it might be, consider that as a temporary setback and focus on being who God created you to be. Like Les Brown, my favorite motivational speaker, says, “someone’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality”. When someone says something negative about you, instead of thinking about it and letting it mess you up, use it as motivation to succeed and prove them how wrong they were. Like the saying goes, “when they throw stones at you, use the stones to build a bridge to take you to your destiny”.

Or maybe you are suffering from the injury of bankruptcy. It is a tough position to be in but let me tell you, there are many other people before you who have gone through that road but after determining not to stay down, today we read about them and the successful people they became. Walt Disney is a classic example of this. His resilience ensured that today, Disneyland is because he never gave up. He is dead but his legacy lives on after him.

Or maybe it’s the injury of lack of education. Are you wondering how you will ever make it in life without a degree? Well, the late Steve Jobs (and many others) never had a degree either, but today Apple products are everywhere, thanks to him. Certificates should never be a reason for you not to excel in life. If they are so important, what stops you from joining an evening class, or an online class?

Remember, it is not how you start but how you end that really matters. Your beginning may have been rough but you can decide to have a completely different ending if you decide to do something about it from this moment.

Failing in one area of your life does not mean you are a failure. Like my spiritual father Pastor Peter always says, each one of us was born with more than one talent in us. However, you will never know what else is in you if you do not take the time to explore your potential. Unfortunately many people are too lazy to take the time to discover the other talents they have in them and so when one thing doesn’t work in their life they conclude they are failures.

Today my desire is to encourage you to lift yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again. It doesn’t matter what you are going through in your life, as long as you are still breathing, as long as you are still alive, there is always hope for you to make it in life.

Be Ignited. Be Inspired. Be Influenced. Become the best version of yourself you can ever be.


PS: This article was originally published in Tanzania's Guardian On Sunday on the 10th of September, 2017, under my weekly column "Thoughts in Words". 



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