It was a cool, sunny and wet Saturday morning, and I was preparing to run yet another cross-country race. This was typical my freshman year of high school, trading in precious hours of sleep for the chance to die a slow, painful, three-mile-long death. Little did I know, this particular day, my agony would increase seven-fold.
It started off as any race did for me: slowly. And it continued that way for the next three miles.
The bags under my eyes were only lighter than the sandbags that seemed to be tied to my legs. For three miles, I labored through hill and plain, desperately hoping to make it to the finish.
The finish was the best part of the race: a 400-meter straightaway with more than 500 screaming parents, friends and coaches, pushing the runners to give everything to finish strong.
In a race with more than 200 runners, you would always find yourself neck-and-neck with another runner as you came to the finish, no matter how slow you may have run. You could look each other in the eye, give a wry smile and race through the tunnel of cheering onlookers.
That is the way it normally goes.
On this fine morning, however, as I galloped up to speed, my yellow-jerseyed opponent forced me in the direction of a big puddle. I knew that would not phase me. I clamored through the puddle, eyes narrowed on the finish.
The first step: water up to my ankles. The second step: water up to my knee.
My mom had her camera out at the perfect time to capture me falling face-first into a puddle of mud and regret.
Losing sucks; just ask Vinko Bogataj.
Although you likely have never heard his name, your parents have likely seen his story.
A ski jumper from Yugoslavia, Bogataj entered a competition in West Germany. Midway through one of his runs, Bogataj realized the conditions were unsafe for him to jump. He tried to abort his run but wiped out instead, rolling head-over-ski down the mountain.
The spectacle was caught on camera and was featured in the ABC show “Wide World of Sports” behind Jim McKay’s classic line, “The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat.”
Now, Bogataj is not remembered for his successes on the hill, but rather for the agony of his defeat.
Almost two weeks ago, when Harding football lost to Southern Arkansas University, the pain of defeat stung. No longer ranked in the top 10, Harding was forced to re-examine its preseason expectations.
As I laid face-first in the puddle, I had two options: drown in misery and the agony of defeat or get up and beat the next guy coming behind me. There is always a chance at redemption, and on that day, I got mine.
Vinko Bogataj went on to compete in many more competitions and now works as a coach for Slovenian ski jumpers. His redemption came when one of his pupils, Franci Petek, won the 1991 World Ski Championship.
Now, Harding gets the chance to continue its path to redemption, following a 42-0 blowout of Southern Nazarene University.
Losing sucks, but we have to understand that sports present the constant opportunity for redemption. There is always a next game or a next year to turn “the agony of defeat” into the “thrill of victory” once again.
Even in defeat, delusional optimism still rings true.