To everything there is a season... a time to win, and a time to lose....
- Ecclesiastes 3:6
To anyone remotely interested in the just-completed Winter Olympics, the story of figure-skater Michelle Kwans bid for a gold medal had reached Olympic proportions long before the Games began. Already a world champion, and winner of the silver medal four years ago, the graceful skater was the favorite not only of the home-country fans, but of most of the world.
Alas, the pressure, the hunger to win, or perhaps the sad truth that she wasnt the best skater after all, denied her the top spot on the medal podium. Smiling through disappointed tears, she congratulated the other medal winners, and accepted the bronze with her still-accustomed grace.
Almost winning, watching a lead slip away, finding the courage to face an also-disappointed crowd - all those anguished emotions must still be going through Kwans head, diminishing the otherwise thrill of second place once before, and now third.
Almost winning, way down the achievement ladder by far, I recognize the feeling.
I was ahead in a Ping-Pong match once, had my opponent cornered 20-15 and needed just one point to capture the tournament prize. Do you think I could get that one point? Nerves, the noise of the crowd, and desperately wanting to win must have robbed me of my concentration and I blew the game. I can still remember that gut-wrenching humiliation, and slinking dejectedly out of the room.
Baton twirling was my thing in high school, and I was better at it than most of the other girls trying out for the drum majorette squad. But I didnt look as nice in the short skirts and strutting pose as they did, and my name was left off the list when the winners were announced. Ive also placed second in a county spelling bee, a school essay contest and, more recently, in two different manuscript competitions.
I did win a blue ribbon once - when I was 11 and my apron was judged best in the 4-H style dress revue - and sometimes I get the word game prize at a baby shower. But more often than not, if I place at all, its somewhere down the pack from first place.
The time Ive spent agonizing over near-wins would probably win a medal of its own - in the most wasted energy category. Thats something like winning the pennant race and then losing the World Series. (Atlanta Braves, I really do feel your pain.)
How I wish Id had the attitude of my younger son when he was still a pre-schooler. His slightly older brother was a (brighter) chip off his mothers block, always wanting to be first, usually managing to do so. Those two little boys went through the same ritual whenever they played a game.
First! yelled the older.
Thecond! chimed the younger with just as much pride in his status as his brother had beating him to the draw. It didnt matter that there were only two players and that, in this case, second meant last. For him, the fun was in having someone to play with, or getting to play at all.
As Michelle Kwan and others who narrowly miss a coveted award quickly learn, winning doesnt take place only on ice, the stage, or in a judges mind. Neither are prizes confined to medals, Pulitzers, or the roar of a crowd.
Proud moments come in all sizes, all sports, and in many things non-academic and un-athletic besides. They come from being a member of a team, doing something better than youve ever done before, or merely bringing pleasure to those who come and cheer.
To determine the real value of a prize, it may be more authentic not to look at the goal achieved, but to measure the distance the courageous competitor has already come.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to seabara@ aol.com.)
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