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.
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!
There’s no way that’s possible.
She is actually doing it!
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.
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.