Denise Grace Gitsham
GO / NO GO
As a triathlete, one of my favorite moments in sports history is Julie Moss’ iconic finish at the 1982 Ironman World Championship. Julie was an undertrained but gifted athlete, who took an unexpected lead in the final leg of the race: a grueling marathon through the
blazing hot lava fields of the Big Island. Like so many others who’ve raced Kona (including me, in 2012, at the half-Ironman distance), she got severely dehydrated during the run, causing her to slow to a run-walk, and zig zag on the course like a drunken sailor. Nevertheless, she maintained her lead into the final stretch, and seemed to be the inevitable champion.
A hundred feet from the finish line, however, the unthinkable happened. The same legs that had brought Julie so far, suddenly buckled beneath her. Every time she stood up, she fell back down. Up and down she went, over and over, until she could no longer stand.
Moments later, the most embarrassing thing that could happen to anyone between the ages of 2 and 90, happened to her: she lost control of her bowels, in very short shorts, in front of live spectators and a globally televised audience. Adding insult to injury, her closest competitor passed her less than fifty feet from the finish line, taking the championship title everyone thought would be hers. The video clip of this heart-wrenching scene captures every emotion you’d expect: Julie on the ground, dazed, humiliated, and defeated – and a wider pan of an audience that stood stunned and silent.
What happened next changed triathlon history forever. A very smelly and broken Julie, who had wanted to win so badly, decided to finish the race. The world held its breath as she rose up on all fours, crawling the last 50 feet of the race. As she crossed the finish line, everyone erupted in cheers. She became an instant icon, and an inspiration to millions, including me.
In a recent interview, Julie recounted the Go/No-Go moment that changed her life. She admitted that when she collapsed, she wanted to “surrender to the disappointment and the pain,” believing, in her 25 year old mind, that winning was all that mattered. Her inner voice, however, refused to let her quit, and as she crawled toward the finish line, she discovered that winning “wasn’t about beating someone [else], it was [just] about finishing.”
That statement struck a deep chord with me. Like Julie, I’m the kind of person who loves to win, which I define as getting what I work towards. I give everything I do 1000%, and find great pleasure in outworking others. This is true, even of my spiritual life – if something big is on the line, I’m all over it with God, 24/7.
The downside of my personality is that whenever I realize I’m about to lose, I’m tempted to quit on the spot. I justify this temptation by telling myself it’s smart to cut your losses, but really, I’m just a poor loser. I’d rather say “I quit!” any day, than admit that I gave it my all, and fell short.
The root of this temptation is an ugly little thing called pride. Pride makes us focus on who we are in relation to others, rather than who we’re becoming. Pride strips us of our ability to focus on the process, and focuses us, instead, on outcomes. Pride stops us, mid-race, to tell us we’re losers – when really, the victory was won when we got out there and just did it (h/t Nike).
Pride not only prevents us from achieving our immediate goals, it causes us to give up on our future goals as well. So as someone who loves dreaming and goal-setting, I’ve resolved to root pride out of my life. I refuse to let pride keep me out of the race, regardless of the anticipated or inevitable outcome.
Today, I consider punching pride in the nose one of my “spiritual gifts” – largely because I’ve had so many opportunities to practice on myself. The most effective way to beat back pride, I've learned, is focusing on my heart’s desires. Thinking back on Julie, her “Go” decision in a decidedly “No Go” moment, stemmed from a decision to refocus her goal: from beating someone else (which you pick up on at the beginning of the clip, where she kept asking spectators how close her closest rival was), to finishing the Ironman at any cost. The moment she tapped back into her motivation for entering the race, she found the will to continue - even when her body screamed “STOP!”
We all face Go/No Go moments like Julie’s. Mine was during my campaign for Congress, when I saw poll numbers that indicated my race was over, one full week before final votes were tallied or cast. In that moment, I had a choice to make: quit and feel sorry for myself, or fight on.
I’ll admit that I wavered. One full year of 24/7 campaigning had taken its toll on me, my staff, and my league of faithful volunteers. We were all exhausted. But this was my calling in life – perhaps not to win, but to throw my hat in the ring, and stand up for what I believed was best for our country, and the people of California’s 52nd Congressional District. So fight, we did, right to the bitter end, leaving no lingering “what ifs” to be asked.
I was obviously crushed the night I lost. But there was so much dignity in the losing. We never stopped hustling, never stopped believing for a miracle, and never gave up. Whatever I may have “lost” that night, I won by finishing the race. And that’s all God or anyone else has ever asked of us – to run our race, whatever it may be, with endurance, faith, and perseverance.
Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us… - Hebrews 12:1
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith… - 2 Timothy 4:7