In 1992, runner Derek Redmond positioned himself on the starting blocks for the 400 meter semi-final at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. He was in great shape, despite an athletic career plagued with injuries that forced him to withdraw from the Olymics in Seoul four years earlier. This was to be his big chance, and he was excited. But just a short time into the race, Derek hears a crack – and feels pain. He thought he’d been shot. As he slows to a stop and collapses on the track, he sees his competitors passing him – and fading into the foreground.
“Everything I had worked for was finished. I hated everybody. I hated the world. I hated hamstrings. I hated it all. I felt so bitter that I was injured again.”
But as the paramedics came running up with a stretcher to carry Redmond off the field, he struggled back onto his feet and waved them off. “I told myself I had to finish. I kept hopping round. Then, with 100 metres to go, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was my old man.” Watch the amazing video of Derek, with the help of his dad, finishing the race:
I don’t know who I’m prouder of, watching this video: Derek Redmond or his dad, Jim. Jim races past the securty guards at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics (I can imagine myself doing this – “That’s my son down there – you really think you can stop me? You really want to try?”) and onto the track. And together, he and Derek finish the race. Although his father’s assistance earned him a “Did not finish” as an official Olympic record, I don’t think anyone would argue with the standing ovation and cheers of a crowd 65,000 strong: Derek Redmond isn’t a quitter, and in that respect, he’s a winner, and this story of “failure” is really a larger story of success.
Imagine “failing” spectacularly in front of 65,000 people. What would you do? If Derek Redmond had lain on the ground, grimacing, and (wisely) allowed the paramedics to haul him off for medical treatment, no one could have faulted him. But few would remember him.
I can imagine Derek’s childhood. My own parents supported and encouraged me at every turn, and would have encouraged me (against their protective parental instincts, at times) to finish the race.
In fact, they did, on snowy day in Akron, Ohio…
The morning we started the walk, it was chilly – maybe 60 degrees – and I was dressed in jeans, thick socks, tennis shoes, a t-shirt, and a sweatshirt. I carried a lightweight backpack with a different pair of shoes, and hoped to be carrying the sweatshirt if the day got warmer.
Instead, less than 5 miles into the walk, it started to rain. By 7 miles, it was snowing. By 10 or 12 miles, it was snowing HARD, and another walker – a teenaged boy – and I huddled together in doorways of downtown Akron businesses for warmth. We couldn’t see anyone walking ahead of us or behind us, and assumed that most had given up. We were tempted to give up, but neither of us were quitters and I guess we were full of adrenaline. Also, there were no cars or people on the street, cell phones hadn’t been invented, and we were not in the best part of town. One thing was certain, though – we had to get warm and dry, and I had to get a change of clothes, or we were going to die.
We looked down the side street; the only business that appeared to be open was the Chat Noir Lounge. We shuddered at the neon sign and decided that was no place for us – especially as it was about a block off the main route and no one was likely to find us there if we ran into trouble. Our only other choice was the no-tell motel nearby. The clerk was gay and openly so; he was also quite gracious about letting two sopping wet, half-frozen kids use the phone and sit in the lobby, dripping onto the vinyl chairs and linoleum floor.
We waited while my parents brought me a change of clothes; I dressed in the back seat of their car. My legs were blue from the dye on my jeans; the jeans had frozen stiff and stuck to my legs, cracking at the knees each time I bent them. My parents explained that the March of Dimes was giving the full 20 miles’ credit to anyone who managed to make it to the 15 mile mark, in view of the horrible weather and hardship involved in making it that far.
The young man with me – I don’t know that we ever exchanged names – and I decided that wouldn’t be quite fair. My parents agreed, though they’d have preferred to take me home right then and there, and to heck with claiming 15 miles, let alone 20. So we trudged onward, though knee deep snow. We checked in at the 15 mile mark, and kept trudging. At 18 miles, the sun came out. I stopped at Wendy’s for a burger; the young man went on, knowing that if he stopped again, his legs would quit working. I hurried to catch up, after wolfing down a double with cheese.
We both made it, and claimed our 20 miles. I saw him briefly, at the mall; we grinned at each other and hugged, as if we’d survived a war. I never saw him again. I was especially proud to collect on my pledges that year, knowing I’d really EARNED every penny. I was 12 years old at the time.
Persistence, the courage and willingness to continue, are critical to reaching our goals. But never discount the value of a loving parent, a friend’s encouragement, or a helping hand. Each of us has to make our own decision to go on; few of us, really, need do it alone.