Last night I watched the Olympics on TV. And I saw U.S. downhill skier Bode Miller win a gold medal. I had only faint recollections of Miller from the 2006 Olympics, so I did some homework: although he entered those Olympics as America's great male hope, he had a very poor week -- no medals, two DNF's (did not finish) and one disqualification.
In 2007 and 2008 Miller won some races, but in 2009 he had a dismal season -- he didn't win one race. He did however make the U.S. Olympic team late in the year.
And now it's 2010 and he has already won three medals -- a bronze, silver and as of yesterday a gold.
At first I was thinking I would write this column about Miller's amazing comeback. I mean he fell flat (no pun intended) in front of the whole world four years ago, and today he is standing on the podium with a gold medal. But then it occurred to me, no rational person would keep skiing if his motivation was to win an Olympic medal, let alone a gold medal. Rather, what I take from Miller's success is that his gold medal was just the offshoot of a talented guy doing what he was passionate about.
I am friendly with a guy named Dwight Stones. Dwight, a high jumper, was a ten-time world record holder who never won a gold medal (he won two bronzes). When he was at the height of his career (1980), President Jimmy Carter would not allow the U.S. team to participate in the Olympics (being held in Moscow) because Russia had invaded Afghanistan.
Dwight was a huge favorite to win Olympic gold that year. He was the king of the high jump. But, no Olympics, no gold medal. Although bitterly disappointed, Dwight kept jumping.
Did he keep at it because he wanted another shot at Olympic gold? Well, that was in the back of his mind but no, that was not the driving force. I mean think about it: What if you could only really excel in your business or activity once every four years? What if your only real success was highly dependent on serendipity (no injuries or boycotts) and was decided in fractions of seconds (Bode Miller) or quarter-inches (Dwight Stones)? What propelled Stones forward was his unadulterated love for what he was doing.
Hey, medals in whatever form they appear are great. But the real lesson from Bode Miller's comeback, for me, is that the only way you ever stand on a podium is by finding something you really love doing, do it as well as you can, and then hope for the best. And if there is never an Olympic medal, so what? You've spent your life engaged in something you are passionate about ... you've experienced the feeling of pushing yourself to the edges of your ability ... and you've learned the strength that comes from accepting "what will be, will be." That, to me, is what champions are all about.
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