Only Good Days: Redefining Success

author : Scott Tinley
comments : 1

To succeed in a multisport event is to sign the entry form and show up to the start. If you put but a toe in the water consider that a bonus. This sport is hard.

by Scott Tinley
  
Ironman World Champion, 1982 & 1985
Ironman Hall of Famer; Triathlon Hall of Famer

           "Man, the only game I really want to lose is strip poker.”

                   - Jim Riccitello, Triathlon Coach and Amateur Sport Philosopher

          It lures you with the promise of its’ reward. It cares not about your age, gender, race or religion. It never defines itself, instead allowing you to constitute its meaning and worth. This you do in different ways and at different times in your life.

          When you find some, you will want more. Many are addicted to it. A positive epidemic some would say. Just so long as you don’t step on others in your quest. Some of you will want to share it. Indeed, you couldn’t even accept it unless it was a cooperative effort. Others will want it for themselves quietly or publicly. They earned it, they claim. And they did.

          It will drive you to do things you never thought possible. It will remain forever just beyond your grasp or always and already in the palm of your hand. It can make you a king or queen. It can kill you quickly or slowly. And you get to decide consciously or not.

          It has driven athletes to achieve the unachievable, to scale tall buildings with a single bound. And it can never be taken away unless you let it go. It’s contagious. You want to be around others who have it. Maybe it will wear off on you. Like Pixy Dust. It can teach us things as we lust after its sociopolitical value. But sooner or later we realize that Success is both student and teacher.

          Success. That ephemeral notion of having attained a place or a thing or way of being in the world. To be successful, an ontological trap that ranges in scoping definition from laser focus to muddled confusion. If you think you have found success then you are successful. At what, only you might know.

          The concept of success in sport is for many, a fairly simple concept. If you win the game, you have succeeded. But if we reduce the idea of success down to a W or an L, aren’t we also suggesting that competition is inherently bad because 50% of the time someone fails? If a goal of competitive success is to advance oneself at the expense of others, a moral critique would suggest selfishness.
But not all sport is selfish.

          The sport ethicist, Robert Simon suggests we might reconsider competition as a “mutual quest for excellence”, a vehicle to test oneself rather than achieve victory over another. This notion requires us to define success not in winning but in striving. Seems simple enough. Put into practice, however, we experience the hurdles.

           Let’s assume that you never achieve the athletic goals you create. To consider yourself “successful”, will you alter your goals to something more doable or will you reconsider how success is defined? Can one ever find satisfaction if not pleasure in losing if it’s never balanced with victory?

          “Good competition,” Simon would argue, presupposes that each competitor challenge the other to the best of their ability. The goal is to meet the challenge, not win the contest. Hmmm. Well, what about the Mercy Rule in youth sports that ends a game when the score is grossly lopsided? No reason to win 100 to 1 when it’s 50 to 0 at the half.

          And if you can find success in the process itself but others cannot? For them, achieving victory is success, not the pain in preparation or some concept of appreciating the ride. Do they gain a competitive advantage with this strategy?

          Or do they lose something in their inability to see that sport and physical culture can provide a host of options to find your own idea of victory?

          Participating in triathlons may not overtly require a response to these questions but at some point--2 weeks or 20 years on—they will surface like a long lost uncle asking for a place to stay for the weekend. To succeed in a multisport event is to sign the entry form and show up to the start. If you put but a toe in the water consider that a bonus. This sport is hard. And in our freshman fame we might take that finisher’s medal and bronze the plastic to Olympic Gold because in the eyes that matter—our own—that’s what success is.

          But sport, as socially constructed as it is, will not allow us to retain the same definition of success. The weekend after we may have to lower our times as we upgrade our standards. It’s a drug of sorts; this cranking of the dial. And so we hit refresh and pause and hold on there, bruddah…what am I really here for?

          Defining “success” in our world of sport is equal parts self-knowledge, pragmatics, and experience. It can, will, and should shape-shift as our orientation to the sport changes.

          A low point of my career was in feeling that I had lost the Hawaiian Ironman when I finished 2nd. A high point was 20 years later when I realized how wrong I had been. It isn’t a case of “I wish I knew then” but more that I hope I know now.

          Like my neighbor, Fred, a Vietnam War vet, claims, “any day I ain’t dead is a good day.” I can only imagine how he would feel about winning 2nd place at the Ironman.

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date: February 27, 2012

Scott Tinley

As the sport of triathlon gained in popularity Scott turned pro in 1983. Between those early years and his move back to the amateur ranks in 1999, Tinley competed in over 400 triathlons, winning close to 100 of them, making him one of the top three winning triathletes of all time.

He won the Ironman World Championship twice (1982, 1985) and the Ironman World Series three times. He was inducted into both the Triathlon and Ironman Hall of Fame upon retirement in 1999.

Near the end of his professional career he helped found and develop the sport of offroad triathlon and continues to co-own and manage the longest running offroad triathlon in the world, Scott Tinley’s Adventures in San Luis Obispo, California.

Scott Tinley's Website

avatarScott Tinley

As the sport of triathlon gained in popularity Scott turned pro in 1983. Between those early years and his move back to the amateur ranks in 1999, Tinley competed in over 400 triathlons, winning close to 100 of them, making him one of the top three winning triathletes of all time.

He won the Ironman World Championship twice (1982, 1985) and the Ironman World Series three times. He was inducted into both the Triathlon and Ironman Hall of Fame upon retirement in 1999.

Near the end of his professional career he helped found and develop the sport of offroad triathlon and continues to co-own and manage the longest running offroad triathlon in the world, Scott Tinley’s Adventures in San Luis Obispo, California.

Scott Tinley's Website

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