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Count on a comeback

Updated: Aug 4, 2019

It really isn't over, until it's over.

This is Heather Kampf (née Dorniden). She is an American middle-distance runner and four-time United States National Champion in the 1 mile road race. The reason I know about her is due to this video from the 2008 Indoor Track Championships.

Falling flat on your face

If you watch the video, you will see that Dorniden takes an early lead and begins to lead the runners. Somewhere in the transition, it appears one of the runners clips her heel and she stumbles. The runners are so close together that she is unable to regain her balance. She falls to the ground, flat on her face, before one of her fellow runners steps on her head.

It is unfortunate. The other runners continue to race. Not because they lack sympathy, but simply because they are in the race. It is a fixed window of opportunity to secure a desired reward. There's nothing they can do for Heather, except console her after they've crossed the finish line. Falling on your face is embarrassing. Painful. Humiliating. Perhaps Dorniden should never have started the race. At least then, she would have avoided the physical and psychological pain of failing so publicly. But this was not Dorniden's thought process.

It's not over yet

In a split second, Dorniden must have reminded herself that the race isn't over. She instantly gets back up and begins to chase the runners who are now some distance away from her. What did she have to lose? As it stood, she would finish last. As it stood, she would have a bruised face. As it stood, she would have to deal with the embarrassment of having fallen so publicly. But the race wasn't over. She proceeds to pursue the runner in third place. She overtakes the runner and secures third place. At least, she wouldn't be last.

But the race still wasn't over.

She proceeds to overtake the second and first runner, her teammate, in order to win the race. Every time I watch her secure the victory, it gives me tingles. It's inspiring. Everybody would quite rightly have written her off. Perhaps her family and coach had already began rehearsing their words of consolation. But in Dorniden's mind, the race was not over. And if the race wasn't over, there was everything to play for.

Count on a comeback

There is no effort without error and shortcoming

Too often we give up when there is still everything to play for. Failure is not final. Did she have run faster than everyone else? Yes. Did she get over the embarrassment of falling in her race? Yes. Did she win the race? Yes. But even if she hadn't won the race, she is still an example of grit, perseverance and a growth mindset. It might not always end with a happy ending, the desired outcome, but she could leave the track knowing she gave her everything. It's easy for people who have never run before to critique her performance, just like it is easy for observers to criticise those who are actually doing the stuff.

This quote, by Theodore Roosevelt, sums it up perfectly:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

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