"To everything there is a season ...a time to win, and a time to lose...."
- Ecclesiastes 3:1 and 6
To those who watched the Winter Olympics, all those falls and spills on slope or rink may be just as memorable as the daring speeds and heart-stopping leaps, twists and somersaults that cued passionate national anthems and accrued rings of gold, silver and bronze around proud necks.
As thrilled as I was for the athletes who night after night posed on podiums, my heart went out to those whose ring color wasn't what they expected, or who didn't win any medal at all.
As a long-time admirer of the graceful Michelle Kwan - how fitting that her name rhymes with swan - I grieved that an injury kept her from competing at all. Later in the games I felt a similar sympathy for silver medallist Sasha Cohen who, ironically, stood in her idol's second-place shadow. Second best was Kwan's Olympic best, too.
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 both Kwan's and Cohen's head, diminishing the otherwise thrill of being judged second-best female figure skater in the world.
Almost winning, way down the achievement ladder by far, I still recognize the feeling.
I was ahead in a ping-pong match once, had my opponent cornered 20-15 and needed just one more point to capture the tournament prize. Do you think I could get that one point? Nerves, the noise of the crowd, or desperately wanting to win robbed me of my concentration, and I blew the game. I can still remember the humiliation, and slinking dejectedly from the room.
Baton twirling was my sport in high school, and I was better at it than most of the other girls trying out for drum majorette. But I didn't look as nice in the short skirt and strutting pose as they did, and my name was left off the list when winners were announced. I've 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, it's somewhere down the pack from first place.
The time I've spent agonizing over near-wins would probably win a medal of its own - in the "most wasted energy" category. That's something like winning the pennant race and then losing the World Series. (Atlanta Braves, I really do feel your pain.)
How I wish I'd had the attitude of my younger son when he was still a pre-schooler. His slightly old brother was a chip off his mother's block, always wanting to be first, but he usually managed to do so. Those two little boys went through the same ritual whenever they played a game together.
"First!" yelled the older brother.
"Thecond!" chimed the younger with just as much pride in his status as his brother had beating him to the draw. It didn't matter that there were only two players and that, in this case, "thecond" meant last. For him, the fun was having someone to play with or getting to play at all.
As those who didn't take home a coveted award from Italy may already know, winning doesn't take place only on ice, the stage or in a judge's 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 you've ever done before, or merely bringing pleasure to those who come and cheer.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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