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How Failure can Propel You to Success

The following is what I wrote up for a monthly article contribution for BMW of Austin, one of my sponsors.

I thought it came out well and even though it is similar to my previous post about Kona, figured it may be a good read.

Enjoy & thanks for stopping by…. Kelly

How Failure can Propel you to Success

Everyone wants to be successful; it’s human nature. We are taught from a young age that if we work hard enough at something, commit to a goal, we will eventually succeed. We eagerly believe in the mantra ‘Anything is Possible’ and while we  know that may not entirely be true, it gives us all hope that we will eventually do what we may have once believed to be unattainable. And all of this is great; it gives us a reason to get up in the morning, helps motivate us to work towards a goal. But one thing I have learned through having been a professional athlete for 12 years is, the times I have often seen the greatest success’, they have been on the heels of some of the biggest disappointments.

I recently competed in the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii (an event that entails a 2.4 mile ocean swim, 112 mile bike and 26 mile run). I don’t often talk about ‘myself’ in articles; however this race seemed particularly relevant to this topic. It was my third time to race Kona as a professional, my sixth Ironman race, and I was coming off of my best season to date. I was one of the ‘off radar’ picks to fare well on race day. I say ‘off-radar’ because the other top picks had won multiple Ironman’s or had finished among the top 5 in Kona the previous year. The previous year, I was 13th. The year before that, I was 15th. But I knew, coming off of a stellar season, this one would be different. I could feel it. All of the signs were in place. I was excited, relaxed, primed, confident… I felt like I was ready for a breakthrough at this distance. I wanted to be Top 5, on a great day Top 3, and I figured I would be at least Top 10… knowing of course that there was still work to be done, and nothing would come easy. When all was said and done, I was 15th. And while that does not sound ‘too bad’, the worst part was my bike…the one area I have focused on diligently all season long (and season upon season prior)…and it was the slowest bike split I have yet posted in Kona, by far. Granted conditions were tough, but it was awful; embarrassingly slow. I exited the bike and headed out onto the run in nearly last position; the positive part was I ran my way into 15th, posting the 4th fastest run, but I knew that no matter how fast I ran, the end result would be a huge disappointment for me, topping off a great year. Why? What happened out there? What went wrong?

We don’t entirely know. In hindsight, I may have been a bit tired. Maybe. I hate to make excuses;  I would rather own a performance, good or bad, and learn something from it. And that is where this performance was actually beneficial. I asked myself the hard questions the ensuing few weeks, and learned so much.

1) This performance reinforced in me that I truly won’t quit even when the end result may be far, far off of what I had hoped for; when I know it will sting. Quitting will sit far worse in my conscience than knowing I gave it all and ‘all’ wasn’t quite enough. It forced me to swallow my pride, and for that, I am proud.

2) It forced me to ask myself what I can do to become a better athlete in 2013. Change is essential for growth. I am implementing off-season strength and conditioning, something I have not yet (consistently) done in my 12 year career. The program is in place, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

3) It made me ask myself “Why am I racing Kona; why am I here?” It’s so easy to go through our lives and one day we wake up and realize we are on a path without direction, without a specific reason.  I am re-assessing my goals in the sport, and will likely take a different trajectory in 2013. Just like a ‘regular’ 40-hour a week job, being a professional athlete is far too demanding to not be doing it out of passion. I am going to get back to the kind of racing I am passionate about.

4) It taught me how to be resilient. Resilience is defined as “the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation, caused especially by compressive stress”. After I got over feeling sorry for myself for a few days, I realized, this one result does not define me. I can let it, or I can rise above it. It taught me how to bounce back from failure; that even though I felt like I failed, I am not a failure…it forced me to remember all the success’ from the year, and to appreciate the good with the bad.

Winning is great; success is awesome. But success does not force you to ask yourself the hard questions. I’ve learned far, far more from the failures I’ve had in sport than I ever have from the successes. Some of my biggest wins have occurred immediately following a disappointing race. So the next time you find yourself consumed with frustration, as we all will be sooner or later, make something out if it; it’s entirely up to you; and to me, that’s exciting.

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