the power of championship
“No human is limited” said Eliud Kipchoge, the Kenyan marathoner, Olympic gold medalist and the first human in history to run 26.2 miles in under two hours. I watched him as he broke through the barrier and I had tears in my eyes. Not because I’m an athlete (by any stretch) but because of the power behind his message. That with confidence and concerted effort, you can achieve anything. As an aspiring writer, his words rained on me like the monsoon on parched lands.
behind every man
I was overwhelmed when I heard that 41 athletes would support Kipchoge to achieve this world record, knowing that the event they were supporting would never really be about them. These weren’t just unknown runners looking for a bit of recognition or air time; they were some of the best distance runners in the world, Olympic and other decorated medallists.
Their sole focus in this task was to help Kipchoge to achieve his.
That is, their success was inextricably linked to and defined by whether Kipchoge would create a new world record or not. Their role was to ensure they executed their V formation meticulously to reduce drag; a single second’s delay could impact the final result. They would have trained for months, probably missing other athletics competitions and opportunities as they did so. But they did it – successfully. Whilst people may not immediately think of them, there is no question that they were essential contributors to creating world athletic history on 12 October 2019.
are you a pace setter?
Watching them reminded me of several articles I’ve read about the importance of championing others – with the often unexpected result of some personal success for you. We don’t have to specifically set out to do this or search for opportunities, but if we’re aware of the power of championing others, we’ll be more inclined to do it. I’ll share a recent example with you.
In the summer I was in Mexico and had the once in a lifetime opportunity to swim with a whale shark – only I don’t swim well at all. Nevertheless, conscious that I may never get this chance again, I donned my snorkelling gear and life jacket and boarded a speedboat which took over an hour to get to the point in the ocean where the whale sharks congregate to feed. I was instructed to jump off the boat and swim hastily behind the guide who would lead me to a point where I could swim alongside a whale shark. Every possible alarm bell was ringing in my head; what if the vegetarian whale shark upon seeing me today, decided that he’d like to try some meat? What if I bob away with the current and can’t keep up with the guide, ending up somewhere I can’t be found? What if my life jacket deflates? It’s possibly the most counter intuitive thing to do for someone wracked with fear, to jump from a boat and plunge into the ocean – but I did it.
And it was the most horrendous experience of my life.
My heart was racing so fast that I thought it would burst out of my chest, simultaneously I wanted to vomit but needed my snorkelling tube to breathe and whilst I was paddling quickly, I was barely keeping up with my guide in his red wetsuit some feet ahead. I saw the gentle giant that is the whale shark (fortunately it was around 10 ft long so I couldn’t exactly miss it) and was ushered back to the boat where I resigned that this experience wasn’t for me. I relayed this to my husband and said I wouldn’t do my second dive and he could have an extra one instead. He looked at me and knowing me as he does said “you’re one of the strongest people I know; you’ll regret it forever if you don’t go back in”.
As I was deliberating what to do and conscious that my name would be called in a matter of minutes, a lady climbed the ladder into the boat, visibly flushed, upset and bordering on hyperventilating. In an attempt to show some solidarity, I said “it’s tough out there isn’t it? Took my breath away too having to keep up”. She replied “I don’t do the sea, swimming pools are fine, I can swim for ages but the sea, no way. I knew it would be difficult but my husband insisted I give it a try because he loves these things but there’s no way I’m going back in; I don’t do the sea”.
I looked at her and responded: “that’s not true. You can’t say you don’t do the sea. You just jumped off a boat in the middle of the ocean and swam alongside a 10 ft sea creature; in fact, I’d say you didn’t just do the sea, you rocked the sea”.
She looked at me and for the first time since she’d returned to the boat, she smiled at the realisation of my words. It was fact, I hadn’t made it up; I’d just pointed out the magnitude of the achievement she’d just accomplished.
Why is this relevant?
Because when we champion each other, we grow ourselves.
In the above situation, my husband championed me and I championed the lady. By pointing out her achievement I realised my own in plunging into the ocean despite every instinct telling me not to.
So what happened next? I jumped back in for my second dive, this time consciously switching off the negative internal chat and focusing on the beauty I was surrounded by; the crystalline ocean, the graceful whale sharks, the warmth of the beating sun on my shoulders. It was utterly incredible; I jumped in right next to a whale shark and swam with it, admiring it as we travelled together. I actually started laughing when we were face to face, marvelling at this most extraordinary situation.
It was a truly exhilarating experience and one I’d happily have again.
Selene Kinder* says:
“I wish that more women realised that helping another woman win, cheering her on, praying for her or sharing a resource with her does not take away from the blessings coming to them. In fact, the more you give, the more you receive. Empowering women doesn’t come from selfishness but rather from selflessness”.
Traditional images of masculinity at work subscribe to brutishness, crushing others to get to your goal, the end justifying the means and all that, but as many have attested, it can be lonely at the top if you’ve trodden on everyone around you to get there. Kipchoge’s pace setters defy this image; they were running for someone else’s glory.
Comparatively, women have been depicted for centuries as self sacrificing, subservient and inhibited. We know the tide’s changed and to a degree, it’s a more level playing field with opportunities abound for those that strive, irrespective of gender. But as we collect our baton, it’s important for us to also consciously bring others along with us on our journey so they may follow in our footsteps and eventually take over from us.
can you feel it?
There seems to be a subtle movement underway, bubbling away under our feet so gently we barely know it’s happening. Things are reverting from the complicated to the simple.
We’re moving away from highly processed food to growing our own vegetables.
We’re scheduling our screen time to make way for more wholesome pursuits or to be more present.
We’re stepping out of the whirlwind of commercialism to pause and question what we’re spending our money on and the true meaning of our existence.
We’re realising that true happiness comes not from obtaining but by yielding, in direct proportion.
We’re starting to see each other not as commodities to achieve a decided aim but wholehearted beings, repositories of infinite talent and potential.
Coach Emily Madill*, articulates this:
“…When I see the goodness and potential in you, I’m recognizing that it also exists in me. When I champion you, I also champion me – we rise together.”
So it seems that there is something ethereal yet completely practical about using our language and intention to recognise the efforts of those around us, to acknowledge them for it and to champion them in their cause.
We can be a voice that celebrates the victories of others regardless of gender for in doing so, we are retraining our own internal language and behaviour to:
- exemplify the qualities and attitude which will ultimately feed our own inner contentment;
- not use others’ perceived failures as the basis upon which we measure and extol ourselves and our abilities but instead create a foundation based on knowledge of our true worth;
- be a living example of authenticity in thought and action, thus enabling ourselves to feel truly aligned and live our ideal life.
This all may sound pretty deep and arguably intangible, however when we break it down to its simplest form, all it means is that:
♦ we do our thing to the best of our ability; and
♦ we champion those around us who are trying to do theirs.
When we reach our destination, we’ll see that along the way we’ve created our own community of well-wishers whose happiness is genuine and directly drawn from our accomplishments.
Being a pace setter actually seems quite glorious when you see it through this lens. Where do I sign up?
photo credits – whale shark: copyright Walt Stearns, https://underwaterjournal.com
Kipchoge and Pace Setters: https://news.sky.com/story/eliud-kipchoge-marathon-star-bidding-to-make-history-with-sub-two-hour-run-11832252
Selene Kinder: https://empoweringwomennow.com
Emily Madill: https://thriveglobal.com/stories/when-women-champion-each-other-they-rise-together/