For any athlete, achieving the goals you set yourself at the beginning of a season is wonderful. The feeling of fulfilment and satisfaction that all the hard work really did pay off. Earning the right to gorge on wonderful food once it’s all over. Spending lots of time with friends without having to cut things short to go training. Sleeping in when usually you would be up well before the rest of world. You’ve earned it!!! And at the same time getting super excited about setting new goals and what it will take to achieve them.
For me, it’s been an incredible season and it finished just as I’d targeted with a top five finish in the elite field of the Powerman World Championships on the infamous Zofingen course in Switzerland. For those unfamiliar with this race, the great Ironman champion Mark Allen once described it as being even tougher than the Kona World Championship Ironman.
Normally I would be keen to give a blow by blow account about how the event went and how destroyed I was at the end. However, I’d rather talk about a single moment that brought home to me why I love sport so much and will be doing it the rest of my life.
2km before the end of the gruelling final 30km run section, I was closing in rapidly on the 5th place athlete. As I exited the final tree lined section above the town of Zofingen, my target came into view. He looked absolutely spent – body struggling and running form gone. With my body feeling good and my mind focused on the goal, I was closing in on him quickly. A short glance behind, he knew I was coming.
As I came up on his shoulder, my rival stretched out his right arm to me. As I came past he shook my hand. His look, from one athlete to another, gave a clear unspoken message directly to me ‘you have the strength, go and finish it.’ What an incredible gesture in a moment of such pressure and intense competition.
We, along with the hundreds of other competitors in that race, were there to race. It’s a ferocious and brutal 6/7 hours of attritional competition. However, even within that environment, this athlete, along with countless others alike, can find the humility and grace to recognise the power and determination of another and encourage them. That is beautiful. The great American sportswriter Grantland Rice once famously wrote,
For when the One Great Scorer comes
To mark against your name,
He writes – not that you won or lost –
But how you played the Game.
That moment with my fellow athlete on the hills of northern Switzerland reminded me that there is something so much bigger and more important than the goals we set ourselves. It is the true traits of sportsmanship which I love and will sustain my passion for sport long after the medals, trophies, and times have been lost to distant memories.
We are so lucky to do this amazing thing that we call sport.