What makes a champion?

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.


Last year, I listened to a TED Radio Hour podcast episode titled Champions. I wanted to write about it at the time but never got around to it. That episode ran again last week and I’m not going to let it slip by again.

In the podcast, the host interviewed three speakers, two athletes and a sports journalist. All had some interesting comments on what makes a champion. I highly recommend listening to the whole episode but I’d like to highlight a few points raised.

From Diana Nyad (first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage) on what makes a champion:

The fear of failure is stronger, more motivating, than any other fear they’ve got.

What a great answer! They don’t let anything stand in their way because their biggest fear is not accomplishing the goal.

What can we take from this? Well, we may have fears that are greater than our fear of failure. Not everyone is trying to swim from Cuba to Florida or become an Olympic champion and that’s fine. However, I always think of the Michael Jordan quote here:

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

If we put ourselves out there, we’re going to fail. Fearing that failure will hold you back from taking the chance at success. Sometimes you have to take risks. Of course we need to consider the pros and cons. I’m not telling you to show up at the Boston Marathon next year and run with the elites because you no longer fear failure. However, be willing to take a chance. Push the pace a little harder than you normally would at your next race. Challenge someone you always seem to finish right behind. You can’t succeed without risking failure.

From David Epstein (sports journalist and a great speaker and writer – I highly recommend his talk and reading some of his other work) there were several interesting topics but I’d like to focus on this one:

Actionable goals: Set more proximate goals that tell you what you need to do today.

There were other parts but I’m going to focus on this. Listen to his whole talk because there is a lot of good material in there.

What can we take from this? We all (hopefully) have goals for our next race. Those are great and we need to have those goals. However, we also need to have more immediate goals. What are you going to do today to get to that longer term goal? Think about that every day when you wake up.

Also good advice for other parts of your life.

From Amy Purdy (amputee snowboarder, Paralympic medalist):

Instead of looking at our challenges and our limitations as something negative or bad, we can begin to look at them as blessings. Magnificent gifts that can be used to ignite our imaginations and help us go further than we ever knew we could go. It’s not about breaking down borders. It’s about pushing off of them and seeing what amazing places they might bring us.

Another great line! I love this!

What can we take from this? I know it may seem a little cliche but try reframing "obstacles" as "opportunities". At the very least, don’t let an obstacle block you. Find your way around. If possible, catapult off that obstacle and find a way to use it as a positive.

For example, you can’t run in the evening because you have to practice soccer with your child. Why not turn this into a training opportunity? Get some running in. Practice some agility drills that will improve your strength and neuromuscular coordination, making you a better runner. Maybe the run can happen in the morning and the evening soccer session with your child becomes a second training session.

We can’t all be Olympians or do amazing feats that seem impossible to the normal person. However, we can take ideas from the people who are doing these things or have achieved those levels of greatness and apply them to our lives. Above are just a few things we can take from this episode to make ourselves better, in and out of running. Listen to the episode and you might get even more ideas. I know I did.

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