“The ultimate is not to win, but to reach within the depths of your capabilities and to compete against yourself to the greatest extent possible. When you have that, you have dignity. You have the pride. You can walk about with character and pride no matter in what place you happen to finish. – Billy Mills, 1964 10k Olympic Gold Medalist
No one predicted that William Mervin Mills would win the gold medal in the 10,000 meter run of the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. A member of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux Tribe) from South Dakota, Billy was a United States Marine who attended the University of Kansas on an athletic scholarship for his considerable running abilities. Billy faced poverty as a youth, was orphaned at age twelve, and experienced repeated racial prejudice that led to suicidal thoughts. On top of it all, Billy had hypoglycemia, which affected his performance on the track. No one predicted Billy would win in Tokyo — no one, that is, but Billy....
It had never been done before. El Capitan — the famous 3,000-foot granite face in Yosemite — once seemed impossible to climb at all, let alone solo and without ropes. But on June 3, 2017, Alex Honnold posed for a National Geographic photo — climbing shoes in hands, wide grin on face — atop the mammoth monolith after 3 hours and 56 minutes of flawless execution that crisp morning. His many years of meticulously detailed practice and planning had culminated in the realization of a dream that, three years after the fact, remains unthinkable to the lion’s share of humanity.
Why did he do it? How did he do it? Journalists around the world covered the incredible, death-defying feat, and the Free Solo documentary has netted almost $30M as of this writing. Nathaniel Rich of The Atlantic claimed that what we envy in Honnold is not so much his climbing ability, but rather “his ability to forget about death.”
It may seem...
Unconscious. The flow state. In the zone.
These terms describe how we comprehend incredible performances — in athletics, the creative arts, and elsewhere — during which the protagonist transcends the mundane to momentarily enter another dimension.
Witnessing the zone in others is powerful; experiencing it ourselves can be literally breathtaking.
We have all seen the phenomenon in the sports world: swimmer Michael Phelps winning eight gold medals in one Olympics; runner Joan Benoit Samuelson besting the field to become the first women’s Olympic marathon champion; sprinter Usain Bolt annihilating the competition in both the 100m and 200m at three consecutive Olympics. While these are inspiring examples, the zone or flow state is not limited to the Olympic Games, winning medals, or even the wide world of sports. Instead, one can “flow” in a seemingly unlimited number of realms and disciplines, to include one’s profession as well as one’s...
Goals drive me. When I visualize a dream and begin to believe I can make it a reality, I get excited (my wife might say “obsessed”) and immediately start making plans for how to realize the ambition.
In the gym — and specifically in the sport of powerlifting — these goals tend to fall into two main categories: (1) personal records (PRs) in the squat, bench, deadlift, and total; and (2) competition goals, such as placing first in the Master’s (40+) category at a major meet or making a national team to compete in the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF).
While having my eyes on a specific prize is immensely motivating to me, over the years I have come to realize that finding “joy in the journey” (a phrase attributed to singer Michael Card) is ultimately more important than achieving the very goals that propel me forward.
What do I mean by this? To quote former Philadelphia 76ers guard Tony Wroten, “trust the process” and...
“In the pain, the agony, and the heroic endeavors of life, we pass through a refiner’s fire, and the insignificant and the unimportant in our lives can melt away like dross […].” – James E. Faust, April 1979
Training with a purpose is in my DNA. Whether it was my first marathon in 1992, the U.S.A. bodybuilding championships in 2001, or the North American Powerlifting Federation championships in 2019, my eyes were always on the prize as I pushed myself during the preparatory phase.
Truth be told, I have never understood the practice of exercising without a specific goal in mind. If I am going to dedicate hours of my life to an athletic endeavor week after week and year after year, I want to know that I am on the path of progress. You may have a different mentality—and that is fine by me—but I relish the heightened focus experienced when each training session is seen as part of a larger whole.
Speaking of focus, goal-oriented...