One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in life is that sometimes no matter how hard you try, you may still fall short. I am going to share a story with you that has taken me years to be open about out of embarrassment. You may wonder, “What the heck is she embarrassed about?” Well, for a perfectionist like me, this particular failure hit my core deep. But, ironically, it helped me succeed in the long run (pun intended).
~ Dr. Trot
Dr. Trot’s Confession #1:
If you’ve read some of my earlier posts or the About Me section, you know that I am a basketball player at heart. I’ve always said, “No matter what I end up doing in my life, I will always be a basketball player.” I joined my first basketball team in the 4th grade and immediately fell in love. I enjoyed being apart of team where people are assigned individual tasks and we have to find a way to work together as one cohesive unit. It’s like an orchestra; every musician is talented and has their own skill set. Individually they can stand out but collectively they produce music that’s magical. But if one musician is off tune, the whole sound is ruined.
Teamwork. Dedication. Hard work.
I loved all aspects of the game and how it tested me on a daily basis physically and mentally. Throughout grade school and high school, I was one of the local “superstars”. In fact, I was the player of the year in high school. I felt like the sky was the limit. So I took my game to the next level and became a collegiate athlete. My childhood dream came true and boy was I proud!
College athletics comes with a sacrifice: it is a significant time commitment that requires daily focus, precision, dedication, and a lot of hard work. And that was just fine with me. I was ready to work!
The summer prior to my freshman year in college, I worked diligently to get my body into top shape. Half of the summer was spent training with my new team and the other half was spent training 1-on-1 with my AAU basketball coach. He was helping me train for a timed mile run that my teammates and I had to run once we got back on campus for the fall quarter; day one of school meant day one of pre-season. I knew the talent at the collegiate level would be a big step up from high school. I would go from being the superstar with a guaranteed starting position to the “new kid” fighting for a few minutes. Well, I wanted to make a good impression and that started with the mile run.
We were placed into three groups (guards, forwards and posts) and were given a time that we had to run the mile under. If you didn’t make your time then you wouldn’t ‘t get your jerseys, which meant you wouldn’t play. “Welcome to the big leagues”they told us freshmen. I never was a distance runner and admit that I have average speed (the “speed genes” went straight to my younger brothers who played college football). To add to that the fastest I ever ran the mile was in the 8th grade, and I think my time was just under 7 minutes. So what did my group (the forwards) have to run it under?
6 minutes and 45 seconds
I took a deep breath when I saw that number. It definitely was possible but it would take a lot of work. And that’s exactly what I did; I spent the weeks leading up to this dreadful day training on the track by running different sprints. The hardest training session I did on the track was run six 800s (timed). Let’s just say I gained mad respect for all you track stars out there! I took a good nap after that one.
Anyways, let’s fast forward to the big day…
It was my first Saturday of college. While students spent their first Friday night out partying, I went to bed early to “get my mind right” for the big day. This was my first real test in college, and I knew I was ready so when my alarm went off at 5:15 AM the next morning, I was up and ready to go!
Everything was planned for that day:
What I ate the night before
What I ate that morning
How fast I wanted to run each lap (4 laps = mile)
When I was going to sprint and when I was going to save my energy
Everything was planned.
I remember it like it was yesterday…
It’s been 9 years since that day but when I close my eyes I remember every moment of it as if I were watching movie. After getting dressed, I left the freshman dorms with three of my teammates and we made our walk over to the track. The run would start promptly at 6:00 AM.
While my teammates and I were making small talk to try to ease the nerves, someone said, “What if someone misses it by a second?” I said, “A second? Come on that’s not even possible.” And right after that comment we reached the track where our four coaches were standing with whistles and a stop watch way too excited for this moment.
We were split into two groups and I was in the first to run. We lined up and for a moment I closed my eyes and said, “You got this. You’re ready.” Seconds later, I heard the whistle blow and we took off!
The first lap went as planned…
I was a couple of seconds behind my goal time but I was close; there was nothing to worry about…until the third lap. Everything started going wrong and it happened so fast that I couldn’t fix it. My timing was somehow off and with each lap I became further behind my timed goal. Worst of all, somehow I was more tired than I should have been which made no sense because I felt like I had trained well.
By the fourth lap, my teammate (whom I had been using as my “lead” runner) just took off! She went from being within arm’s length to 10 then 20 and then 30 yards away from me. As the distance between us grew further, I knew that I was too far behind but no matter how fast I ran the distance between us continued to increase.
I heard the cheers from my teammates who were in the second group waiting for their turn. The head coach screamed the time every 15 seconds and I started to panic: “I’m not going to make it. I’m not going to make it!”
As I came around the home stretch, my teammate who was my lead runner was 50 yards ahead of me and crossed the finish line with seconds to spare. But as I approached the finish line the seconds seemed to be speeding past me. I felt as if someone gave me a handful of sand and told me that I better hold onto each grain of sand and immediately everything fell through my fingers no matter what I did. I was losing control and I didn’t know why.
50 yards away…”6:41″
40 yards away…”6:42″
30 yards away…”6:43″
20 yards away…”6:44″
THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING!
10 yards away…”6:45″
When I crossed the finish line I heard “6:46”. I was stunned. I remember just stopping and putting my hands above my head, bending over in pure disbelief. How did I miss it by ONE second? I had rehearsed the run with my coach over the phone and even in class when I would scribble down the times I was hoping to make for each lap on my biology notes. But I failed. I just couldn’t believe it.
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” Henry Ford
The emotion I felt at that moment was indescribable…
I remember watching the next group run but I felt like I was a in a dream. I just couldn’t believe this. “Can’t I try again? I know I can do this. I just messed up!”
I spent the rest of the day keeping to myself. For hours I had missed calls from teammates wondering where I was; they saw the disappointment and anger on my face after leaving the track. “It’s okay Trot, you’ll make it next week.” That wasn’t good enough. This was my first college “test” and I failed! I just couldn’t believe it.
My dad is the first to say that I am my own worst critic…
As a kid, he’d tell me, “The only person that can stop you is YOU” as he’d walk me to the car after a basketball game where I didn’t play well (to my standards at least). I’ve always been very hard on myself. I can’t exactly explain why, I just know that I expect to perform well especially if I put in the time and effort. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Even the greats like Michael Jordan have failed–but what makes someone successful is having the courage to stand up after you’ve fallen.
Even if you fail time and time again, don’t stop trying. Rather, take a step back to reevaluate to figure out what went wrong. Then readjust your plan and try again. And that is exactly what I did.
After I calmed down, I realized that I still had the opportunity to prove myself…
Because I ran the time within 5 seconds of my group’s time, I was given an additional 5 second buffer (had to run it under 6 minutes and 50 seconds) but I ignored that. I wanted to prove to my new team that I could do this. More importantly, I wanted to prove to myself that I could still succeed after failing. So I came up with a new game plan.
I spoke with my AAU coach and my dad (my lifelong coach) and we came up with a new game plan so I would succeed the following weekend:
Saturday Failed test. Bad day. Just let it go.
Sunday It’s a new day! Team’s day off. Run 30 minutes to work on endurance.
Monday 6:00 AM run a timed mile. Afternoon: weights, conditioning and skills practice with the team. Study. 30 minute run.
Tuesday 6:00 AM run a timed mile. Afternoon: weights and conditioning with the team. Study. 30 minute run.
Wednesday 6:00 AM run a timed mile. Afternoon: weights, conditioning and skills practice with the team. Study. 30 minute run.
Thursday 6:00 AM run a timed mile. Afternoon: weights and conditioning with the team. Study. 30 minute run.
Friday 6:00 AM run a timed mile. Afternoon: weights, conditioning and skills practice with the team. Rest.
By Friday night, I knew I did all I possibly could in this short amount of time to give myself the best shot. I trained hard because I did not want to have to run this mile again. After a pep talk from my parents, I was ready to hit the sack and rest up.
By the next morning, my team and I walked back to the track. About half of the team did not make their respective time. I was determined to get it this time. My teammate, who is a conditioning machine and easily made her time the week prior, was nice enough to be our lead runner. So…once again, we lined up and the coach asked us if we were ready. I said a little prayer and told myself, “Just stay with her. She’ll set the pace. Just stay with her.” And that’s what I did.
After the first lap, I heard the time and I was on track this time. After the second lap, I was a couple seconds ahead but I didn’t let myself get excited because I saw how easily I lost control of the time the week prior. I just kept running.
“Just stay with her. Just keep running.”
My teammate led us the first three laps and right before our last, she veered off to the left and yelled, “Trot you got this! You have time!”
I ran like my life depended on it!
With each stride I could feel the lactic acid building up…
My quads were screaming and my glutes were on fire.
I was breathing heavier and heavier and was sucking in every oxygen molecule around me.
Physically I was spent. Mentally I was determined!
As I was coming around the home stretch, my teammates were screaming and cheering us on. I pumped my arms. I pushed off the ground with each stride.
I refused to give up…
“6:38” is what I heard when I crossed the finish line. My teammate who was the lead runner ran to me and gave me a big congratulatory hug. “Trot, you did it!” The emotion I felt after crossing that line was once again indescribable…but this time in a very good way.
I was elated, on “cloud 9” as they say. To go through such a devastating failure and to turn around within a week’s time and succeed is breath taking. Not only did I make my 6:50 time but I beat my original time. I couldn’t help but smile and that smile didn’t go away. My dad was proud but said, “I knew you would do it. You’re a stubborn Taurus who always finds a way.”
This “simple” mile run taught me a valuable lesson:
If you fail, do NOT give up.
Readjust, ask for help, put in the work and try again.
Don’t ever give up.
It’s amazing how failing at something can make you stronger, better, and faster…
Think about that. After this experience, I learned the power of mental toughness. Trust me when I say, I was not happy when my alarm went off every morning at 5:15 AM to head to the gym to do extra conditioning while my roommate (also my teammate who made the run the first time) slept soundly.
Trust me when I say, I did not want to head back to the gym for my third session of conditioning of the day. But I was determined…very determined. Not only did I run under 6 minutes and 45 seconds, but I ran my fastest mile ever. Wow. And this happened after I messed up? Amazing how that works.
One quote that sticks with me was said by the great Michael Jordan. When you hear his name you equate championships, winning seasons and MVPs with his inspiriting achievements. But his success came after he failed multiple times. And so, I end this post with a very appropriate quote by MJ:
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Failure breeds success.
Remember that the next time things don’t go your way. You may just run the fastest mile you’ve ever ran the next time.
~ Alana aka “Dr. Trot”