In 2002 I went to Korea with a few intrepid Taekwon-Do classmates. We went to train with the national selection team, which included World Champions and at least one Olympic Gold Medalist. While they practiced more of a sport than a martial art, their training was absolutely brutal. It wasn't any particular exercise they did, but rather the sheer volume of kicks. Between the morning and afternoon sessions, we were throwing over a thousand kicks a day. This can tighten up the hamstrings a little.
After our last morning session at Olympic Stadium, we went out to the track to take pictures. Being on the same field that the best athletes in the world had competed for the gold on was inspiring. Knowing that I might never get another opportunity, I asked if we could take a lap.
A couple of the other guys and I took off at a modest pace. After a quarter lap, the tallest among us started to pull away with long, loping strides. Being a somewhat competitive person, I took off at a dead sprint. I ran the rest of the way as fast as I could. It turns out that there's a reason they train and pace themselves; I was dying. My German friend passed me around the last turn. He had actually trained as a runner and was laying back until the end.
I pushed myself as hard as I could, but my legs were heavy from the thousands of kicks. It wasn't a question of will. My body gave everything it had, and I stumbled past the lane numbers barely a foot behind my friend. The first thought through my mind was how unbelievably brutal it must feel to train your whole life for one chance to win and to come up inches short.
Last night I was watching the Men's Olympic Skating. The gold and bronze medalists were beaming from ear to ear. But all the silver medalist could manage was a false smile. He was more than disappointed to fall a hair's breadth shy of the gold. I've done well at the various pursuits I've engaged in over the years, but I've never reached the apex of my field. Nothing's ever felt like it was quite enough to be satisfied with. However, if I'm fortunate enough to finish second at the World Series Of Poker someday, I hope I'm able to enjoy the $5M I win and not focus on the extra $3M that I didn't.
As for that day in 2002, soon it was time for the afternoon practice, where I found out what it really meant to reach back for something extra. I threw on an extra sweatshirt for practice, and soaked it through. There's nothing like losing to whet the appetite for hard work.