There is no end of pride I had for Gina Melnik as she competed at the 2014 Strongman Nationals in Reno in October. And as I was impatiently awaiting news and photos to celebrate on the site, one nifty (Gina's pet word) little dispatch came through about a wondrous experience she had.
No it was not a PR. Nor was it some massive victory. In fact, it was a moment that had nothing to do directly with her competing. It was a side moment that so many competitors experience, yet we so often overlook as valuable.
Let me share it in Gina's words:
Why is this so remarkable? Well, all of us who work in physique sports are subject to being representative of many different symbols. Our bodies and strength represent everything from strictness to delight, from doughiness to dignity. And while can't control how people "read' us, nor what symbols they ascribe to our work and looks, we can meanwhile at least contribute to what we would hope would be perceived, understood and absorbed. When we are in situations where our muscle or power is being directly observed – as opposed to those uncontrollable, everyday moments – we can choose to do, say and represent things to couple with our image. Couple an idea with a symbol enough times and eventually a few people might connect the two. And if the idea is a good one, man, can that symbol be a powerful took for good!
This is especially true among children. It's called "imprinting." Children mimic, admire, investigate and generally pay a boatload of attention to us adults. What we connect with out image stays with a child a lot more potently than with it does our peers. In short, those of us with exceptional qualities (which, in some arguments, may just be everyone in the world) have a brilliant opportunity to use those qualities to influence positive or productive attitudes to children.
In Gina's case, just think of the message, and how profound it is. A young girl – old enough to be aware of her world yet still young enough that she is putting it together – sees a friendly, happy woman who is damn strong. Not only that, the woman has big muscles, and that is somehow an admirable thing. The message is clear and so needed in today's world: a girl can become however powerful she wants, and it can be a fun and beautiful thing.
Did Gina change the direction of this girl's thinking? Add to it? Influence it at all? Of course we will never know, but seeing as the girl went out of her way to send the grateful comment, I think we have good insight to the answer.
This – THIS – is why we shouldn't hide our successes! The imprinting upon others – especially young ones – is profound. When we belong to a marginalized population – say, women in strength – our fully-present self-representation holds deep and valuable messages that far outweigh any accolades or winning positions.
Too often I see competitors "focus-for-a-competition" and turn overly myopic. We too often forget our "real roles" as athletes in society. Via our sports we're just more visible, and being humans, we spend far more of our time in regular society than we do in the tiny, microcosmic fishbowl of our sports communities. So it is these simple yet phenomenal and heartwarming moments that can serve to remind us: it is not how well we did it that makes our work vital, but just that we attempted to do it at all.
Sure, the wins and championships hold value and weight. And we are psyched Gina kicked butt. (3rd place on a national level is not too shabby so soon after having her first daughter!) I would never insinuate that great feats in competition and big wins don't have weight – or even that they shouldn't. Our wins damn well should be seen as awesome and even important.
But it is not the wins that make a competitor great. It is what a competitor can do with them. It's my proverbial coaching question to athletes gunning for a win: "Well, that'll be great, but then what are you planning?". Having an answer to that question makes our efforts hold so much more weight than just some self-entertainment or an ego-stroke.
Your best work represents something. And a good job represents an idea well. making what you do important. Just continuing the work – with great responsibility towards how it can be perceived – is beyond a win. It is a genuine, vital contribution to the whole world.
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