I love competitions. It's not that I am some sort of bulldog or cutthroat, but competition is fun and I love to win things. But I don't win very often. For each Scrabble game, bike race, chess match or tic tac toe game I win, there have probably been a kabillion defeats paving its path.
A couple of years ago I raced in the Sunflower Games - a cycling criterium, 7 miles/laps around the Heartland Speedway which, by the way, is really a race car track. I got 2nd place in my division. Or last. Potato, potahto. The funny thing about this race was that the REAL car races were to start as soon as the Sunflower Criteriums ended. So we cyclists were sharing the parking lots with big trailers and noisy cars and race car drivers who started revving up their engines even as we were pedaling like MAD going around their racetrack.
Since there were only two women racing that day, the Criterium officials put us in the Men's race, just to speed things up. Those race car drivers were getting antsy. So zoom! off we go, and I was dropped right after the first of many, many curves. I quickly saw my race goal change from winning the race to simply not getting lapped - which would mean getting pulled from the race. I spent the next 6.75 laps pedalling like the Wicked Witch. The last lap was something I will not soon forget. No, I did not get lapped, but I did spend my last lap out there on Heartland Speedway riding my bike ALL BY MYSELF. Not many people have experienced something like that. It could have been embarrassing, and perhaps it SHOULD have been, but it wasn't. I started noticing, near each curve, these race car drivers standing by the track, cheering me on! Clapping! No doubt they were thinking, "Get this lady OFF our track!" But they were certainly nice about it.
So...even though I got 2nd place (or whatever), I did feel a teeny tiny bit of thrill. Victory? Perhaps. I had done something a wee bit out of my comfort zone.
What about someone who is really GOOD at what they do? That person who is gifted and works hard and earns their just rewards, whose end results generally end jelly-side-up? I suspect the thrill of victory for them is every bit as wonderful for them as it is for me. I suspect maybe their rarer defeats are harder to swallow than my frequently-occurring ones.
Defeat can be agonizing. What separates the "real" competitor, the "real" athlete from the likes of me, the one who is thrilled just to be racing around a track? The real deal gets back on the proverbial horse and makes it happen next time. Me? I think that "real" gene skipped a generation with me. I am just happy to be out there.
Malcom Forbes once said, "Victory is sweetest when you know defeat." Mr. Forbes knew what he was talking about.