Testing Limits in Sports

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“Just OK is Not OK”–AT&T Advertising Campaign

At an awards program for an elementary school, a beloved and respected teacher delivered an eloquent address. It seems there was a race where a disabled athlete was participating among throngs of other children. As the running commenced, all the participants surged ahead, crowding into lanes to pursue the finish line. With the deciding final meters ahead of the frontrunners, the disabled runner stumbled and fell. Although it would have had little impact on his finish, already running a distant last place, when the crowd gasped, the frontrunners slowed their pace, turned around and locked arms with the fallen runner and walked toward the finish line together. This was an emotional, memorable story. It was thought provoking for me, because I was uneasy about the message.

A couple of nights ago, my husband and I attended the movie “Ford vs Ferrari,” based on historical events in car racing that highlighted a personal rivalry between Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari. The story unfolds on the track of the 1966 Le Mans. Ford’s team of drivers featured Ken Miles who had also been victorious at Daytona and Sebring, and would have been the first to capture all three titles in the same year if he could cross the finish line first at Le Mans. Ken Miles was decisively winning the 24-hour grueling contest when toward the end of the race, the Ford executives ordered him to slow down and allow the other Ford cars to catch up and cross the finish line together. It was a dominant finish by Ford and no doubt boosted the brand and Henry Ford’s ego. However, Ken Miles’ dream of a record breaking performance was upended.

This is what I believe about sports. It is by nature a venue in which an individual can literally test her own limits. Limits of endurance, skill, fortitude, mental strength, character and will may be revealed during intense competition. It requires courage to face fear of failure in these circumstances. The result could be devastating. It could be exhilarating. But I believe it is innate to want to know ourselves and what we are capable of. Untapped potential not only robs individuals of self discovery, but the rest of us also. We are inspired when we witness what is possible against the most difficult of challenges. It is a great encouragement to see others break their own “glass ceilings,” and inspires us to do the same.

In the movie, Ken Miles has a choice to make. Will he ignore the wishes of the Ford executives in lieu of reaping his just reward? Or will he be satisfied with what he has discovered about himself and allow others to share the limelight? He chooses the latter. History tells us he was killed in a crash before he was able to return to Le Mans and chase another opportunity.

It has been said that God must love ordinary people since he made so many of them. Jimmy Valvano referred to this in a speech. He was an ordinary man with an extraordinary dream: to win a national basketball championship. At times, he would devote an entire team practice to cutting down the nets, which is the custom following a championship game. In 1983 his dream became a reality. As head coach of an underdog North Carolina State, they became unlikely national champions. Jimmy climbed the ladder with a pair of scissors and put his practice into use. A decade later he would succumb to a terminal illness.

These provocative stories have led me to several conclusions. To not commit or try, is not okay. But for those who have sacrificed for a goal, sometimes there is more than one good option. There are times when by one’s choice he exchanges one reward for another. Most of us are ordinary, but what possibilities lie within us? When a person has exceeded perceived limits, it lifts us all, and that is a good thing for society. Sports offers a venue where this opportunity occurs with regularity.

Key Tips

  • Sports allows people to pursue dreams, overcome fears, and learn where their limits lie.
  • Self discovery is a by product that enhances one’s life.
  • Exceeding perceived limits is inspirational.
  • Sometimes unexpected choices bring rewards.
  • Not trying is not okay. As Coach Valvano famously said: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

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