Merriam-Webster provides a definition of “winner” as the “one that is successful” and as “a victor, especially in games and sports.” By the limitations of the English language, there can only be “one” technical winner in a given situation. In individual sprots, there will always be one overall winner; the individual that could out-perform the other athletes that showed up that day. For obstacle course racing, the winner would be that singular competitor that could run and complete the most obstacles the fastest.
The pressures of our society coins phrases such as “if you are not first place, you are last place,” “second place is the first place loser,” and “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing (Vince Lombardi).” By the literal definition, our language limits the judgment of our performance, daring us to believe that if you are not the winner or victor of the competition, then perhaps you are not successful. Essentially, the interpretation of the word “winner” means that unless you are designated as the overall victor, your performance may be without merit, excellence, or success. As a habitual third to fifth place finisher in competitive obstacle course races, I decided to re-evaluate my definition of “winning” and to alter my perception against the constraints of societal norms.
To me, “winning” does not necessarily equate with how I perform against external competitors and athletes; winning is a term to define how I perform against myself, as well as how I allow the experience on course to shape and develop my character. To me, winning means putting in the full effort and mindset of victory, even if my finish line ranking falls short. Obstacle course racing (OCR) has taught me that I can still be victorious, I can still be successful, and I can still “win,” regardless of my final placement in an event. I have learned that the only way that I can “lose” is within my own mind: when I am unable to withstand the challenges and I choose to give up on myself. My victory is defined by how I confidently persevere through the obstacles and terrain; my ability to continue to pick my feet up in spite of pain and doubt; and how I use each failure or mistake as an opportunity for learning and growth. For one athlete, “winning” might mean that they successfully complete the monkey bars for the first time in a race, or attempt an obstacle that they previously feared. For another, “winning” could be defined as simply being brave enough to start, or the life-changing accomplishment of crossing the finish line of a race.
Through my years in OCR, some of my most significant and proudest finishes have not been races where I was crowned first place, or even made it to the podium. Some of the most profound experiences that I have encountered are the events where I refuse to succumb to self-defeat and I win against myself: when I fight back against the voice in my head that is taunting me to quit; when I am able to complete an obstacle that previously kept me stagnant on course; and when I am able to overcome my own demons to cross the finish line. Most of the race performances that have developed my mindset, taught me important lessons about myself, and built my confidence are events that have resulted in “sub-par” finishes by the standards of our language and society.
This article is not intended to dissect the English language or to try to change the general view of “winning vs. losing,” but to encourage people to approach obstacle course races (and life) under their own terms. My intent is to help dissolve the black and white thinking that can easily categorize us as “losers” and devalue our efforts, based on a comparison of ourselves against others. The way that you approach your performance in life and the mindset that you choose serves as the lens in which you perceive and evaluate your experiences. Every day, you can make the intentional choice to live in the grey area, outside of the pressures and conformity of what others may define as your path to success and winning; this is your life, your journey, and you get to decide and define your own victories.
Merriam-Webster also provides an interesting definition for “losing” as “to fail to gain.” Interpreted, this means that as long as you gain, then you can never lose. Simply put, the choice is yours: regardless of your placement in races, in your career, in your finances (in anything), what did you gain? Did you gain in knowledge, confidence, experience, or ability? Did you walk away from life’s finish line empty handed because you were not crowned as the victor, or did you choose to gain, learn, and grow from your experience? Whenever that answer to the latter is “yes,” that is when you win.