Going "All Out"

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About 5 days ago, I was screaming my head off at home. My oldest daughter rushed into the room ready to call for an ambulance.

At first she thought maybe I was having a heart attack. But then she realized I was physically just fine, but was for some inexplicable reason yelling like a crazed man.

You see I was watching the final leg of the Olympic women's cross-country skiing relay race. In a word, it was incredible.

First, I’ve never actually seen a cross-country skiing race before, let alone a relay race. The only thing I remember about cross country skiing (the one time I tried it as a kid) is that it is surprisingly exhausting.

Every muscle group in the entire body is moving simultaneously against physical resistance. It is like lifting weights and doing cardio at the same time — the cruelest of workouts.

I was watching Charlotte Kalla of Sweden in 3rd place heading into the final leg. The 4th place skier was substantially behind her, so she seemed to be guaranteed to at least bring home a Bronze medal for her country as long as she didn’t do anything crazy.

She was also 30 seconds behind the 1st and 2nd place skiers, which is an enormous deficit to make up — virtually impossible I thought.

As I was watching the times, it became increasingly clear that Kalla was not intending to finish third. She was going “all out” to catch up to the leaders.

This was risky. If she exhausted herself catching up, she could “hit the wall” of physical exertion and potentially allow the 4th place skier to catch up. If she skied conservatively, she would guarantee her country a medal.

She decided to GO for it.

While the leading skiers were skiing aggressively, without risking hitting the wall of maximum exertion, Kalla basically started off her leg in a near sprint in a desperate and crazy attempt to catch up.

And in the final 30 seconds, she had caught up. She was still in 3rd place, but at least she was within touching distance of the two leaders. She had to have been exhausted — essentially sprinting a distance that would normally be paced to avoid the excruciating pain of hitting one’s physical limit.

Then in the last 20 seconds, she made an aggressive turn — risking a crash (This woman does not know how to play it safe!) - to try and break free.

The calculated risk worked.

She avoided a near crash, but suddenly she had an open lane to the finish line without being blocked by the leaders. Instead of being behind the pack, she was side-by-side.

I wondered…

Could she possibly do it?

After going all out to catch up, surely she must be experiencing excruciating pain in her legs, heart, and lungs.

Then I was shocked.

I thought my eyes were tricking me.

Kalla was pulling ahead of the other two skiers.

Within 15 seconds left and still in third place (but no longer stuck in traffic), she was gaining by 12 inches (30 cm) per second.

(This was when I started screaming like crazy.)

I can’t believe it.

She is actually going for it!

No way.

There’s no way that’s possible.

She is actually doing it!

No way…

I thought for sure her heart would burst. There’s no way a human being can endure such pain. It must have been beyond excruciating.

And in the final 3 seconds…

She did it!

Kalla and her teammates won Gold for Sweden.

INCREDIBLE!

She promptly collapsed after the finish line and miraculous did not die. (Even more incredible.)

Kalla’s come-from-behind victory simply amazed me.

And it was in that moment I realized just how much I value and appreciate the person whose desire to win exceeds all obstacles thrown her way.

The top 3 skiers were probably all at a similar range of inherent talent. But on that day, Charlotte Kalla simply wanted to win more badly than the other two. She risked a nearly guaranteed bronze medal to do it. She risked crashing and again jeopardizing a guaranteed bronze medal.

On that day, Kalla decide she did not train her whole life to win Bronze. She wanted to win GOLD.

It was such an honor to witness this determination of the human spirit. Even if she had not won Gold, it was pretty clear she could not have given even one more drop of human effort.

She had GIVEN IT ALL.

Such raw commitment and determination, regardless of outcome, is worthy of great respect.

What’s great about the Olympics is so often many (if not most) of the athletes are going “all out” to win. It’s exciting to see when the "best of the best" compete at their best, to see who is the best.

Fortunately, for the rest of us, our everyday lives are not nearly as competitive. In most work places, it’s rare that everybody is going “all out” to do their absolute best work.

When you’re willing to go “all out,” when nobody else is, you earn yourself a huge advantage.

The key is to decide what goal is worth such effort. Choose carefully because quite often you can’t pursue more than one such major goal at a time.

When your goal and your effort are aligned for a long enough period of time, incredible things can happen. Just ask Charlotte Kalla.

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15 comments… add one
  • Rav Feb 20, 2014, 12:26 pm

    Thanks for sharing the exhilarating sequence Victor. She taught all of us a lesson by giving it all and not giving in to the physical pain(and not dying:)).

  • thinh Feb 20, 2014, 12:49 pm

    Very descriptive writing. Got me hooked within seconds and I couldn’t stop reading. This is why I read your posts.

  • Carolyn Feb 20, 2014, 12:50 pm

    I went to Bethany College and had an Olympian from Sweden as a pen-pal in my youth. Great story. Thanks for the insight.

  • John Feb 20, 2014, 4:19 pm

    Thank you, Victor, for such an inspirational letter! Can’t stop reading. It was additionally pleasantly to read about foreign sportswoman. Olympic Games are paradoxically full of common joy and friendship achieved on a very competitive event.

  • Martin Feb 20, 2014, 4:31 pm

    As a Swede I cannot do anything else but to fully agree with your post. In Sweden we have something called “Bragdguldet”, I guess a direct translation to English would be “The Feat Award” or something similar. It is awarded to the most outstanding athletic achievement during the year and most people think it is the highest honor one can get. You could actually say that the Nobel Prize is in the same spirit as this (the Noble Prize is older than Bragdguldet) and somehow it is a shame that athletic achievements are basically the only ones we can follow up close where we can really see the hard work and commitment.

  • Ida Feb 20, 2014, 4:56 pm

    I absolutely agree with the posts above, thank you for the inspiration! Being Swedish I also feel very proud, happy and thankful.

  • jolie Feb 20, 2014, 4:58 pm

    For sports, it’s a relevantly short burst though. You go for it, you see the result shortly, either win or lose. For career, the hard bit is if you decide to exhaust yourself, go for it, you won’t know when is the end. You can’t stop, you have to go for it till you retire. Or in some people’s case, till you die…that’s probably why so many people don’t do the same for their career. Also that’s the reason some people give up consulting jobs…any thoughts on how to keep the health and work balance?

  • Raj Subramanyam Feb 20, 2014, 6:49 pm

    Victor,
    This is terrific writing. Time and again I have experienced and observed that when someone wants something “very badly” the opposition has no chance. Whether it is cricket, other sport, academic excellence or even things where you do not have 100% control, this thing amazingly works. As you rightly pointed out, you have to pick and choose the thing you want badly, since you cannot put 100% effort in more than one thing.
    Keep ’em coming. thanks!
    Raj

  • Sarah Grace Feb 20, 2014, 7:51 pm

    Fantastic email – thank you for sharing Victor. We can all learn something from this incredible display of willpower and determination.
    Have a great day all,
    Sarah

  • vicky Feb 21, 2014, 1:26 am

    Hey! great message just came in the nick of time for me to keep pushing regardless of the obstacles threatening to halt my progress.

  • Artika Feb 21, 2014, 3:31 am

    Thank you, Victor. This was a great story to share. Unfortunately, media misses out on reporting the real story. You did us good in writing about it.
    I like what you say about competition in you last para. But feel that the real driver in this case was not the competition from external factors but that internal spirit- the competition with ourselves. Just as you wrote, Kara worked hard for gold not bronze. So probably, we do not need an Olympic kind of competition in our daily lives, simply a competition inside- to joyfully do what we do and do it at the best level.

  • Erik Feb 21, 2014, 5:39 am

    Very inspiring letter, especially touching for a Swede following cross-country skiing! Good point of deciding what goal is worth the effort.

  • Martin R Feb 21, 2014, 7:22 am

    Amazing story – and super well written!

    I have a philosophy – where others say “you should give all you have” i say NO!
    I am sure everyone who watched the race, would have said Charlotte Kalla gave all she got, if she had closed the gap to the first two but still finished 3rd.

    You need to “do whatever it takes” – and THAT is exactly what she did!

    I remember reading about a Danish female boxer, competing for championship (world I think), in eight round, she was down, being counted over.
    She had broken her jaw and two ribs.
    Had she just stayed down, everyone would have said – she did what she could, but was overmatched.
    But instead she said – this is not I trained for, I will give whatever it takes to win… and the story is – she won!

    I think of this story often!
    Of course one should be in a constant “hunted by lion” environment – but when you are… you have to give it all you have!!!

  • Dylan Kwapy Feb 21, 2014, 8:20 am

    Hi Victor,

    Great post, while I can’t help but consider incorporating another angle. The determination and physical effort required to burst ahead of the competition in the last few moments can’t be denied. While, I also can’t help but consider how strategic her move was. Long distance races are very much a combination of physical endurance as well as strategy.

    Before the race, if you asked Kalla what position she would wish to be in at that point, she most definitely would have responded 1st. But, what would she say her strategy is if she finds herself in 3rd place with 150 meters to go?

    If Kalla skied alongside the leader throughout the race, the two would be competing back and forth the entire race. In the end, the competitor in the best physical form may come out on top.

    Top athletes study their competition extensively. It’s very possible, if not most likely, that Kalla knew the ability of the 2 racers that were ahead of her, and perhaps she knew she was not better on a raw physical level than the two. So she strategically used surprise and momentum to carry her ahead in the last few moments.

    I didn’t see the race, but I think this strategy applies to both athletics and one’s career. If you don’t see your competition coming, once they pass you, you not only need the ability to match them at the same speed, but you also must account for the time and resources needed to react and then catch up.

    You must have the ability and raw determination to win, but can’t ignore the value of your strategy vs. your competition. I think you’d probably agree?

  • Carolyne Feb 25, 2014, 4:56 pm

    Brilliant piece! I didn’t get a chance to watch the Winter Olympics much, but when I did I had such great admiration and honor for all the athletes. And yes, its a great joy and fulfilment to achieve the ultimate prize after years of trial, hard work and true commitment. Its appropriate to say, if one keep their eyes on the goal and are willing to do whatever necessary then its inevitable to reach it! Very inspiring!!!

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