A winner’s stepping stone: A lesson from cross country

“The master has failed more times than the student has tried.”
– Stephen Craine

I’ve come to observe that failure is not the opposite of success. Yes, it can contradict success at times. Such as failing to get the girl you flirted with; or losing a big match. Failure is not the opposite of success, but a stepping stone toward it (the opposite of success is inaction).

Some can read this and assess this to be a loser’s mindset, but the fact of the matter is there is not a winner out there who doesn’t lose. What does one do when they face that ever looming L?

I consider a story of my junior year. I ran cross country for Daegu American School and at the end of the year I was named mvp of the season for my team. I placed in the top 15 runners to be considered for the “All-Conference” medal and title in KAIAC (Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference). I placed 15th out of roughly 50 runners and I ran a low 19 minute 5k. But, this story isn’t about me and my barely notable performance. This story is about one of my friends from when I went to Seoul American High School, John Lohr.

The name my group came up with for our little entourage was the pheasants (PHEASANTS! *cough*… sorry). John was on the Halo team we put together, someone who played a shit load of Magic the Gathering, and a damn fine runner. When I moved to Taegu my junior year, I still spoke with John regularly, especially at cross country meets. He was vying for the top spot, to be the fastest runner for the season. He was running low 17 minute 5k races, even 16 minute times. He placed first in most of our meets, if he wasn’t first, it was a dood by the name of Kazuki. By the time it came to the final race at KAIAC, John ran a 16:55 and came in second to Kazuki, who broke the course record with 16:44. John was running with him for most of the race. If I remember correctly, Kazuki had a burst of speed at the last quarter mile, extending the lead he barely had throughout the race with John.

John wasn’t even mad. Sure, he was upset he didn’t win, but he wasn’t angry. He just humbly finished, more upset at his performance than his loss. But he did all with such a modest smile. What is so great about John is how wide he smiles, it’s a contagious affect. When I met him a few months later while I was in Seoul for some reason or another, I saw a quote he wrote, “If you don’t win the race, make the guy in front of you beat the course record.”

This mindset was so profound to me when I first read it. I stewed on it for years (as my readers will see). This mindset is such a great way to perceive loss. It reminds me of an ethic I’ve seen repeated in sports anime. In a tournament, when a team loses, of course, they’re upset they lose (especially if they put in all their effort to succeed). However, the team that loses, cheers on the team that beat them, supporting them to go into the finals and win it all; because at worst, if the winning team wins it all, you lost to only the best.

I think these are two examples of what it means to be a gracious loser. Losing will happen. Don’t be afraid to lose… be afraid you didn’t train or try hard enough to win. If you put everything on the line and lose regardless, that means you only need to work harder to get to where your definition of success is.

Go Warriors

Nicko Kim

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