Sports as a Teacher of Life's Lessons: Finding Happiness Even in the Face of Defeat

The team. One of my favorite parts of sports has always been the sense of camaraderie

Many of life’s most valuable lessons are learned through sports. We are taught social skills like teamwork, and sportsmanship; we learn the value of hard work, dedication, and patience; we learn how to win with grace and lose with dignity; we come to understand the feeling of heartbreaking disappointment, and joyous triumph; we make bonds and memories that last a life time with people whose names we may come to forget, but whose presence will never be gone. 

This weekend was a rollercoaster of emotion and feeling. I had the privilege in participating in a Strongman competition with several of my good friends. For those of you who don’t know, Strongman is a competition where the main objective is to either lift the heaviest weight possible, lift a heavy weight as many times as possible, or to move a heavy object from point A to point B as quickly as possible. It is absolutely grueling, and I love it, the feeling of accomplishment I get when I can lift something I previously thought impossible brings me great joy. We trained for several months for this event and last Saturday was the culmination. I have mentioned several times now that exercise is something that enriches my life, and brings me a sense of happiness, as I know it does for many others. I want to talk today about my thoughts, feelings, and emotions from this past weekend. 

When we talk about exercise, we so often think of it in terms of vanity, with only surface level appreciation. We fail to remember or appreciate the beauty of moving, enjoying the gift of being alive and having a healthy functioning body in which to enjoy the world. We often lose sight of this blessing, thus taking it for granted without stopping often enough to be grateful for our health. This reminder was sadly driven home on Saturday, as a fellow competitor, a man named Shannon Willits passed away after collapsing during one of the events. I don’t know the official cause of death but he seemed to suffer a heart-attack. Why exactly he passed isn’t important, the important part is that a man lost his life on what was supposed to be a day of fellowship and friendly competition amongst family and friends. I did not know Shannon, but I knew of him, having seen him at several previous meets. He was a mountain of a man, and a hell of a competitor. More importantly, he seemed to always be smiling and based on the outpouring of love and kindness I have seen following his passing, I can clearly see that he was kind and loved by many. I hope that there is some comfort in the fact that he died doing something he loved, but there is no doubt that he was taken too soon and that the world is made darker by his sudden absence though brighter for having had him on this earth to begin with. I like to think that he died doing what he loved and that he would have wanted to competition to continue, which is exactly what we did. The event organizer called us together for a moment of silence and prayer. It was a moment where everyone, regardless of faith, background etc. came together in a moment of solidarity as a group of loving humans, where we joined in thought and energy to feel compassion for one of our fellows. We wouldn’t know until later that he had passed. Everything about this post and what happened at the contest pales in comparison to the lesson we all learned to remember to be grateful for the blessing of life, and to tell those close to us how much they mean, we never know which moment is our last. 

I knew I would write about this event no matter how it went. I thought I could discuss the role that exercise and sport play in many of our lives. I had two scripts written in my head: script 1, where I write about how great and happy I felt to recognize all of my hard work come to fruition, where I talked about the joy of victory not over one’s opponents but over one’s self; and script 2, where I write about a disappointing performance wherein I would have to remind myself that victory isn’t everything, and that one has to perseverance and choose to remain joyful and optimistic, even in the face of disappointment. To be completely honest, I was full of confidence and had no real expectation that I would need to write my concession speech, as it were, never doubting for a second that things might not go the way I planned. 

At some point during this event 
I felt my arm give out for good

It turns out, I am not writing either script, though it unfortunately more closely resembles script number 2. I did not win. But neither am I disappointed. I worked my ass off with my training in the gym and did everything right with my recovery and nutrition for weeks on end. On the day of the performance I met or exceeded my own expectations on 3 of the 5 events, ultimately just missing out on a top 3 finish and a trip to nationals by only 1 spot, with a 4th place finish. But I am not upset. I got beat fair and square by 3 athletes, one of whom was a friend and training partner, all of whom went in there and performed amazingly, earning their spots on the podium. 

I’ll admit, I wanted to win, badly. But deep down, despite my confidence, I had told myself that should I not finish as well as I wanted, I would do so graciously, and I would accept my finish so long as I went out and performed my best which is exactly what I did. Furthermore, I knew I was pushing through an immense amount of discomfort throughout, but not until 2 days after the contest did I realize I was competing with a torn biceps muscle, limiting my arm to only 50% strength. I say this not as an excuse for where I finished but more of out of pride in myself, if I may be so bold to say so, that I was able to finish the event and to compete at a respectable level despite the injury. This is one of the things that I have always enjoyed about sports, pushing oneself further than we previously believed ourselves capable of. I have not felt that sense of pride in competition within myself for quite some time. 

The world often works in mysterious ways, and while I can’t make any sense of Shannon’s passing and probably never will, I do believe that finishing the contest the way I did may have been the best thing for me. I think at this particular point in my life that not getting what I wanted was something I needed to experience. There were more important lessons I needed to learn that meant more than the joy of winning. I needed to be reminded that sometime, even when you do everything in your power, things still don’t go your way, and that that is totally fine. It’s just the way of things, we don’t always get we want and we don’t even always get what we deserve, but life goes on. It was important that I be reminded to be happy in the here and now, and not delay satisfaction or gratification for some abstract future which may never be realized. I needed to be reminded to take a moment to be grateful for the things I have in my life and be shown that there is more to life than winning trophies and glory, that quality time and simple joys with our loved ones mean more. I was reminded of all this on Saturday and I am grateful and happy for it. 

I also needed to be reminded that in many cases, it isn’t the destination that matters, but the journey. We don’t always know where or what the destination will entail, what it will look like, or even if we will actually get there. If we don’t enjoy the journey, the parts we are so often wanting to fast forward so that we can get to the happy ending, we may miss the whole thing. I didn’t get the result I wanted after the weekend but as I sit here and write this I realize that I am happy. I am proud of myself for my discipline and hard work. I am thankful for the opportunity to share a good time with friends and to make new friends in the process. I am impressed by my ability to persevere. Lastly, I am grateful, because I was reminded that there are more important things than recognizing our ambition or achieving our goals. 


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