Thursday, March 27, 2014

Winning Isn't Everything

Vince Lombardi quoted the old adage that “winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” Since then it has been played with by many people I know to where I’ve seen the adage transformed to various things like

1)      Whoever said winning isn’t everything probably lost
2)      Whoever said winning isn’t everything obviously never had cancer
3)      Winning isn’t everything but it beats anything that comes in second.

Anyone who believes they are not not have ever been competitive is well… tricking themselves at best. Because as an old preacher once reminded me, for almost all of us, “at the beginning of life there was a swim meet and there were millions of other swimmers all racing for the goal, and you won.”

The balance of the counter phrase of it’s not whether you win or lose it’s how you play the game. The truth, to me, lies somewhere in the middle. In school I won some competitions both athletic and academic and even broke some records. But as an adult, it occurred to me after the Gusher Half marathon win that there have been ZERO wins and PR’s on the same race. Every time I’ve had my fastest time it wasn’t one I won, it was in a race where someone was close and I was trying to catch them or not let them catch me. Every time it’s been a win, some have been close to the fastest but none have. Even at track workouts, my friends have noticed that when I pass a group of people I speed up for a short burst. In races even if I’m feeling tired, I never ever look back because anyone whose ever done that to me ‘inspires’ me to run up next to them for a while and see which one of our competitiveness breaks first. It’s perhaps why one of my absolute favorite gifts is the “make him work for it” shirt that I wear for Spartans.

But competiveness doesn’t just occur in sports for those who criticize it there. There are no job interviews or elections or restaurants that unless they are the only choice aren’t obviously competing to be the choice. We may try to make those more polite than calling them a competition by saying this was the best fit but there is still still someone who walks away with the prize they were seeking and someone who doesn’t.

The balance of when to turn that competitive fight down matters to me. Every year since cancer started I sign up for a new event that I’ve never done before to remind myself that no matter how good of shape I may be in running, one of the other events quickly reminds me, I’m a long way from Kansas. Two years ago it was the 100 mile bike ride, last year it was the Spartans. There is no commitment yet this year (and I’ll be doing those other ones again) but the one I’m considering is trying my first triathlon. I went and did laps for the first time in 14 years a couple of weeks ago (not once since then, perhaps reminding me that no matter how good your heart and lungs are, you still have to remember to breathe). A few laps into it, I definitely questioned how I was a good enough swimmer to be the one who came out the winner out of a few million ever.

And I’ve been reprimanded for this but I try to also have a balance of the competitiveness that I encourage in Kiana. In anything where I have simple advantage of winning just by size or age, I tone it down but when we play Uno or this pick up stick game she likes, she has won but never by me letting her. When she’s frustrated at something, I let her do it as long as she will and then some to where she learns to be independent because whether or not I’ll be around, I believe my job in parenting is first to give her roots and then give her wings… Still, some of the simple things I’ve learned to do like braid her hair or read, she now wants to do by herself most of the time and I can’t say I’m not a little heart broken each time she passes on the opportunity. But the one thing she still likes the competiveness in me and where she always wants to win is where when I joke that I love the stroller or the puppy more than she, she jumps in immediately and says “No you love me more than anyone in the whole world.” And she’s right and I appreciate I suppose the simplicity of her being an only child. 

[With that said, there isn't a single time I've talked where I haven't bragged about my mom doing her first 5k and half marathon at age 60. And while we're bringing up family, I’ve been trying to challenge my little brother David to a Spartan sprint. I’m the middle child and while he’s taller, stronger, smarter, cuter and probably my mom’s actual favorite,  we’ll see how we compete in a race that’s throwing us both off balance. He hasn’t accepted yet but maybe he will now that I’ve called him out on my blog ;) I’ve been trying to get other people to do Spartans as well. It’s not as clean or predictable or nice as road races but somehow it feels like my life; I suck at dealing with the messiness and I screw up some of the obstacles but you keep going.]

I even add this competiveness to simple things. When Kiana had school pictures, I took one that day saying I was sure it’d be cuter than the one the school photographer took. Well, turns out I was wrong… his was better but they were both good pictures so I’ll take it as a win/win. And when she came home with her class picture the same day, I said (perhaps with bias), you’re the cutest smartest girl in your whole class. She pointed at a little boy and said “he said I was the cutest girl in the whole school.” Half serious, half jokingly, out of protective fatherhood, out of realizing that I’d been one upped by a first grader, I said smiling “Don’t ever talk to that boy again.” And clearly she has no respect for my authority because the very next day she was talking to him!?!  Her next report card is coming soon and on the last one she had perfect attendance, straight A’s and was noted for sometimes having a little bit of attitude. I think this one will be somewhere close and I’m hoping she keeps all three attributes but just aims them in the right direction.

March Madness has not gone the way I hoped as I picked Duke to win it all again and they got eliminated in the first round (since Duke treated me for brain cancer I keep picking them hoping to get a refund but when they lost I comfort myself by saying they were too focused on saving lives). Either way March, I assume will start and end will, with a half marathon win. Last night, one of the older guys at the ship who qualified for Boston (with a slower time than me since it’s age graded) poked at my competitiveness and said that he was faster than me. Let’s just say it riled me up enough to where I turned on the jets for the timed mile and for the third year in a row broke a 5 minute mile at 4:59. That gets a little less impressive to people because in 2012, I said for the first time since high school I broke a five minute mile. Last year I said for the first time since last year and this year well it’s just the third year in a row.  The first year was the only year I trained out right for it and all three years I’ve coughed longer after than I did to run it. But somewhere that competitive streak it feels good to still be keeping up with me.

But last week I did a radio interview for this weekend’s race the Head for the Cure race ( and yesterday I did a tv one. As I said there and here, last year I took second in that race but this year I’m running it not behind a stroller but next to Kiana. And this year will be a lot more fun. I looked way better in the radio one but then afterwards Kiana did a track workout of two miles. And when she was done, she said, I hope to do this one about as fast as I did the last one but I don’t want you to tell me till the end… and I nodded ... and smiled.

I certainly am not of the camp that winning is or isn’t everything. I am actually fairly proud that the records I made that none of them stood too long because I generally interpret records sometimes show an exemplary individual but normally just an atypical one anatomically or circumstantially. I’d rather be the who worked hard enough with what he had to get to the next level and then someone similarly said, I’ve got what it takes to beat that and then they did. But as I’ve said in many interviews and on here is that if all I’ve learned from all this is that if everything goes wrong and I’m not standing in a few years or if everything goes right and I’m thriving and all I did was spend more time with people I love, that’s a win/win. I've been there in the hospital trying to figure out finances or the tournament I was supposed to be running or the race I was supposed to be training for. And those things mattered but I've also been at the hospital both at the beginning and the end of people's cancer journeys... and those with friends somehow were more comfortable at both than those that were just looking for laptops or remembering trophies. It doesn't have to be one or the other but to me,
as long as I've got to keep loving someone, putting one foot in front of the other, I hope I keep remembering those are my winning's and that is everything.

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