Is there such thing as almost winning?
This concept for me goes back to my first grade spelling bee. Prancing proudly into the house at 7 years old with my second place ribbon, only to reach the realization that second place was really just the first loser. In this situation being the first loser may have been prevented if I had asked them to use the word in a sentence. I had difficulty pronouncing the difference between “ripe” and “wipe” so I spelled the wrong word. Even so, this is a lesson that I will always remember. But then again, my favorite food was tuna casserole so I had a lot to learn.
Our whole lives we are taught to strive to win, to be the best. Be the best in sport, school, careers and even family life. At one point some of us settle for the 80% or even just completion credit. If not, just use a clever filter and crop on Instagram and play the part. No one can be on top form all the time, right? No one is perfect. But the athletes who we idolize and the CEO’s who we google stalk, are all considered winners in our book. We want to be winners too. Honestly, that’s why I like being in sport. There are clear and concise deliverables. Whoever crosses the line first, wins. Although this may not guarantee your Olympic bid, you had a moment of winning. But what about the people that really tried? That gave their best effort. Whose struggle captured the crowd’s heart? The underdog with the compelling story. What about those who almost won? Is there such a thing as almost winning?
Almost winning sounds like an oxymoron. I have tried to look at this without bias from both angles. I believe I can because I have been on both sides of the results and scoreboard. I have been the rider who even though was victorious, was close to being upset and the crowds murmured about the possibility of dethroning the queen. And I have been the rider that almost won with courage and gusto, but was just passed at the line in dramatic fashion. Ultimately, I have won some spelling bees but have lost quite a few.
The concept of almost winning has been floating in my mind since my return from the Aviva Women’s Tour in Great Britain. Perhaps I am more sensitive to it now because I still feel the burn of almost winning. Almost winning a Women’s World Tour race and donning the leader’s jersey! Can you imagine!? But, I didn’t win. It was close but as the sprint whooshed by it was an 8th place finish and a special award for my courageous effort. Can you use the word disappointed in a sentence?
I attacked solo 25k to go in Stage 1 of the race, only to be caught within a few meters of the finish line by a charging field. I did have three broken ribs from an early crash, but that is beside the point. Pain is nothing when you are fulfilling your duty. When you strike out on these brave missions, the victory isn’t motivating you as much as the fact that you are going to do something. You aren’t going to be just a statistic of cycling, you are going to be a difference maker and boldly go where, well, the race course tells you to go. But you will be there first!
You go through four stages in this process. In the initial move, it doesn’t matter if you win, it just matters that you can feel satisfied with your race. You are judging yourself on your effort. The middle part is where you find your rhythm and your sweet spot. You commit to your move. Then, you see the finish line and for a split second, you think, I can do this. I can do this! Honk. Bam. A couple of riders sprint by you. You hang your head in defeat, you fight through to the finish. You are consumed with feelings of exhaustion, regret, and doubt. Then the “what if’s” creep in and you wonder about all the things you could have done differently. The agony of losing is heightened by the low blood sugar and burning lungs. Insert broken ribs here if it is applicable. Three to be exact, from a crash earlier in the stage. Oh the pain. It isn’t fun to not win. Disappointment doesn’t even begin to describe your feelings. Pain just is normal regardless of the outcome. We all have pain and suffer, that doesn’t make you special.
But was it worth it? Absolutely. Even if you didn’t win, you were a crucial part of sport. Sport is dramatic and beautiful, and not life. You showed courage and tenacity and maybe a little stupidity, but that is what it is all about. Why else do you line up to a race?
Winning isn’t everything. Almost winning is something too. Even if it is just against yourself. At least you tried, gave an effort. You risked, you raced. You put yourself out there to either succeed or fail. That’s why we spectate and participate in sport. We don’t compete to just get a gold star for finishing. We compete to push our limits. To test ourselves. Sometimes this may not be the result, but your overall effort. You know when you almost beat yourself, and when you played it safe. I would rather almost win, then just survive. Of course I can say that now with hindsight clarity, and in the moment I wanted to crawl into a hole. The end result is only one part of the endeavor. You have to have courage under fire and be bold. By doing this, you will have a hell of a story, and you also may surprise yourself and those around you.
Race bikes. Use it in a sentence. Win. Almost win. Lose. But make it count.