The winning point: Determination drives success

design: Gabbey Raney
permission to print photos: Eric Kiekeben

Sports are some of the most complex activities in our everyday lives. For the average person, playing sports may simply serve as a fun pass time or recreational activity they do with their friends and family. For others, sports make up a major portion of their life and determine almost everything they do.

A truly determined athlete persists just as much physically as they do mentally in order to accomplish the dreams set out in their mind. Throw in competitiveness and all of a sudden, the drive to have success as a team, beat the opponent to the ground and accomplish individual goals all kick in at once, often providing for a mental fire which, if left uncontrolled, will spread fast.

This is why patience, focus and overall mental control are some of the most important qualities to have as a serious athlete with specific goals. No matter the physical competence of an individual, these characteristics are truly what separate the good from the great and set an athlete up for success.

Now, I’m not any sort of extraordinary, nationally recognized athlete, but I would consider myself to be fairly decent at the sports I play: cross country and track. Even when healthy, these sports (as do all sports) require great amounts of the traits previously listed; however, running can be quite injury-inducing sometimes, and when injured, as I was almost all of last winter, the presence of these traits must significantly increase.

I’m not trying to write some sort of pity story about myself but rather one that might help other injured athletes alike get past whatever they may be dealing with, or even a story that will push healthy athletes to strive at simply getting better.

I had a knee injury that persisted for about 12 weeks from mid-January until the beginning of April. The worst part of it all, perhaps, was that nothing was fractured or broken, but rather it was an overuse injury, which in my opinion is much more annoying because with these always comes a lot of uncertainty for when it will heal or when it will be safe to fully return to action. For me, it took multiple attempts of running small distances through weeks of physical therapy, strengthening, stretching, etc. before it finally didn’t feel like my knee was going to rip through my skin.

During times like these, for me at least, there are two voices in my head: one is screaming that I’ll be fine as is and I need to get back into running as soon as possible no matter the pain, and the other is saying that that will only make things worse and that I need to focus on treating myself before trying to get back into full training. In other words, one voice is promoting my impatient wants, while the other is providing me with the more reasonable, smarter and safer path: the one with patience, focus and determination to meet the end goal.

So, especially for student athletes like me, whether injured or not, it is important to always remember to constantly focus on getting better – every minute of every hour of every day. And when it comes to injuries, they will almost always try to drag athletes into the ground both physically and mentally, but it is crucial to always keep the mindset of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” because overcoming an injury will almost always make one stronger in one way or another.

It’s truly a constant learning process that most, including myself so far, never get to fully grasp. The best explanation of it I’ve heard comes from the words of Kobe Bryant, one of the most determined professional athletes the world has ever seen: “It’s not the destination; it’s the journey. And if you guys can understand that, then what you’ll see happen is you won’t accomplish your dreams, your dreams won’t come true; something greater will.”