“Without losers, where would the winners be?” Casey Stengel
Charlie Brown once said “Winning isn’t everything, but losing isn’t anything.” I am one of the most competitive people that I know, I hate to lose and that attitude extends to almost everything I do. While I have a good attitude and don’t at least consciously try to gloat when I do well I also am never happy when I know that I could have done better. As a kid I remember reading NHL Hockey great Stan Mikita’s book “I Play to Win” and while early on in life I took things less seriously than I should have I never forgotten that little book.
The most disappointing thing for me is to come close to winning it all and falling short due to my own mistakes or just simply having been beaten by someone better. Since I am not the most gifted of athletes and had to learn the hard way about doing well academically I am one of those guys who have to work doubly hard to do well. When I was in high school I played football for a year before moving on to be a trainer for the team. I had never played organized tackle football before and probably should have stayed with baseball but I went out for the team anyway and through sheer determination and refusal to quit stayed on the team. I didn’t get much playing time in, only a few plays in each of the last three games of the season but still finished the season. At the team banquet after the season I was named most inspirational player. Now most inspirational is not about being the best or even good. I really don’t know why I got it but evidently I must have inspired someone. I realized after the season that I had no legitimate place on the football field and since I was the smallest and one of the slowest individuals in a sport where size, speed and power are paramount I took it all as a life lesson.
In college I did not live up to my potential, I came out with a 2.8 something GPA. However in the classes that I put the effort into I aced, those that I sluffed off because I thought they were boring I blew with a poor attitude and lazy performance. There were also times that I overreached and had to sacrifice grades in order to get the credits I need for graduation, this happened my senior year when I took 21 hours at Cal State Northridge, 4 at UCLA had a job and was in the National Guard. Threatened with incompletes I negotiate to get out with low grades and not have to take the classes again. Not a smart way to go, but once again a learning point taken.
In seminary I worked my ass off both in class, with more than one job and serving in the National Guard. That was the hardest I have ever worked. We had lost our house in the real estate meltdown of 1988-89 and Judy was sick through most of seminary. When it looked like due to financial considerations that I would have to drop out for a semester I called a “prayer line” of a major TV ministry. Some “prayer partner” at the Terrible Blond Network (TBN) had the never to tell me that I must not be called to ministry because “otherwise God would be blessing you.” Somehow that angered and motivated me to get back in the game and finish, I just needed something to motivate me and despite many other challenges I finished and finished well, with a 3.5 GPA in a 92 semester hour program always working at least a full time job as well as being a National Guard officer. Despite this I was not satisfied as I thought that I could have done better in several classes which would have probably had me finish with a 3.8 GPA. In classes that I scored less than an “A” I felt like I had let Judy as well as those helping me down, and we got a lot of help the last two years of school from people at work and church. Since that time I have worked very hard in every academic endeavor as well as in physical conditioning. Since I entered the Navy I have judged and score less than an “Outstanding” on the Navy RPT or Class One on the Marine PFT as personal failure. I may be almost 50 years old competing against myself as well as trying to keep pace with young guys but I hate not to do my utmost to excel. My biggest disappointment coming back from Iraq as that physically and emotionally I have not been at my best. That is changing and I hope that Adolph passes on his own so I don’t require surgery that could set me back in my physical conditioning program. At least emotionally and spiritually I am getting things back together and academically I finished a Masters in Military History with honors passing my comprehensive exams with distinction and keeping a 4.0 through the entire program.
The past few nights while laid up in pain from the damned Kidney stone which I have decided to name Adolf Von GrosseSchmertzen (Adolf of the Big Pain) I ended up watching a lot of the Olympics especially Hockey and Speed Skating. I think this is because I played hockey for a couple of years in junior high school. What impressed me was what used to be called on ABC’s Wide World of Sports “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
While watching these events I again was impressed as just how close the margin is for world class athletes and teams between winning and losing. I wonder how anyone could call any of these athletes’ losers or as in the case of some countries like South Korea have fans send hate mail to athletes who don’t win it all. I could feel for the Dutch speed skater who followed his coach’s directions and ended up disqualified even though he had won the event handily and would have done so without the misdirection. Likewise the angst of Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso whose ill timed crash and stoppage caused Vonn to not finish and Mancuso to finish 8th in an event that they have dominated. Then to see the winner’s who had never won before or failed to live up to expectations in previous games like Bodie Miller who came back from a personal worst at Torino where though heavily favored did not medal. In this Olympics it was great to see the joy on his face when he won his gold medal. There were so many other individual performances that were memorable where athletes experienced triumph and tragedy often exhibiting tremendous grace and sportsmanship even in defeat. From the treacherous Bobsled, Luge and Skeleton track where a young Georgian luger died before the completion and a heavily favored German sled flipped, the chaotic short track speed skating, to the grueling Nordic events and the individual pressure on the figure skaters and ice dancers it was something to watch.
When American figure skater Evan Lysacek defeated favored Russian Evgeni Plushenko his joy as well as magnanimity in victory were in stark contrast to Plushenko who bad mouthed Lysacek and then claimed a “Platinum medal” on his website. It is hard to lose, I guess Plushenko will have “the sorest loser who ever lived” placed on his tombstone. Then there was the beautiful performance of Joannie Rochette of Canada in Women’s Figure Skating who took to the ice just days after the death of her mother and won the Bronze Medal.
However for me the most memorable moments will be the Hockey tournament in both the mens and womens competition. The shock of the Canadian men losing for the first time in Olympic completion to the United States has set up a possible rematch for the Gold medal; while the vaunted Russians were manhandled by the same Canadian team and eliminated from the completion not even reach the quarter-finals. To see the dream of the Swedish women end in sudden death to the Finns was one of the most poignant examples of the thrill of victory for the underdog Finns who had not medaled since 1998 and the devastated faces of the Swedes some of whom sat on the ice in tears while a fear meters away the Finns were celebrating. But the hardest was for the American women who lost to the Canadians 2-0 in the Gold medal game. Finishing second is always difficult because unlike others you always wonder and have in your mind the “what if” and “why” that make of the difference between victory and defeat. That goes for the Olympics, the Super Bowl, World Series, World Cup, High School or Little League championship. Second is the hardest place to finish. Watching the medal ceremony after the Gold Medal game it was a study in contrasting emotions.
First were the Finns who had upset the Swedes in the Bronze medal game in sudden death overtime. They showed elation even though they finished third. Then there were the Canadians flush with victory on home ice, once again joy. Finally there was the American team, the defending World Champion team still in shock and showing the disappointment of their loss while trying to be gracious in defeat. As they received their medals you could see that this was not what they came to Vancouver for, they had come to win and finished second.
Now the Canadians are great people and great Allies. They have stood with us for years and despite enduring a lot of ugliness by various American media types they are our friends. We have two Canadian exchange officer chaplains in our Pastoral Care residency program and I wish I could get them into our Navy. The Canadian Hockey teams sent a letter to their troops deployed in harm’s way. One of our Canadians sent a copy to me and it really stuck me as something very special. I place it for you here:
February 5, 2010
To OUR Troops,
As we get ready to represent Canada at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Februaryand March, we wanted to take a minute to let each and every one of you know how much of an inspiration you will be in our quest for three gold medals in the coming months.
People throw out words like war and battle way too often when speaking about sports such as hockey.,,As athletes, we know that what we do for our country can never measure up to your contributions ‐ the sacrifice and dedication that our armed forces show on a daily basis.
When we take to the ice, rest assured that we will have you in our thoughts and prayers. We are so proud to be Canadians, and owe so much of what we have here to you, the Canadian military.
We will do our best to represent you well in competition, and look forward to a day in the very near future when you will return home safely in Canada, and all Canadians can thank you in person.
All the best,
Jean Labonté Scott Niedermayer Hayley Wickenheiser
Captain Captain Captain
Sledge hockey team Men’s hockey team Women’s hockey team
I thought that the way the Canadian hockey teams did this for their soldiers was really great, they are a classy organization.
Anyone who has ever finished second, or lost in a playoff or championship game can understand. I’ve been on a number of teams that have finished second or lost a playoff game after winning a league or conference. That is far more emotionally difficult than being on a team that is terrible, in fact my best year hitting in either baseball or softball came when I played on the worst team that I ever played on. That season ended when I was plowed over at home plate trying to put a tag on a charging runner and breaking my right wrist.
Over the years I have come to handle defeat better. I still don’t like it but I refused to be a bad sport by either dissing my competition or gloating. I am up for promotion this year, of course it is a competition as not everyone will get promoted. I think my record is solid but you never know until the results are released. When officers are “passed over” or “non-selected” they are often shunted aside by the institution and sometimes even by their colleagues. In the past I have always tried to care for friends who were not selected and help them prepare for a second look or their grief at the end of their career. I am fortunate, even if I a not selected I will be able to retire and count it all as a great career between two services. Hopefully regardless of the outcome I will be gracious, although as Bill “Spaceman” Lee said: “People are too hung up on winning. I can get off on a really good helmet throw.”
So to all those who competed with all their hearts thank you. You may not have won but you are all the best in the world at what you do. Maybe your example will inspire others to greatness in sports and life.
And to the rest of us, me included may we all strive to do our best and treat others well in the process.