We all face obstacles in our lives. Hurdles can pop up when we least expect them. In this long race of life, we have goals and dreams, but what happens when we run headlong into one of those obstacles? How do we respond when we fall flat on our face? There is only one answer to this question for those that don’t let anything stop them, like Heather Doriden: get back up and keep running.
When Heather Dorniden entered the 600-meter run at the Big 10 Indoor Track Championships in 2008, she was the favorite to win the heat. About halfway through the race, however, Heather tripped and fell (literally) flat on her own face. The other three runners sped on, anxious to take advantage of this particular twist of fate. The real question, of course, is what did Heather do?
As the other three girls sprinted on around the track, Heather pushed herself back up onto her feet and continued the race. But that’s not all. Heather did not simply get back and finish the race. That alone would have been cause for praise after such a terrible tumble. Instead, Heather immediately stood up, shook off the fall, and took off at a lightning speed down the track.
After a moment, she passed the third-place runner. Another few seconds later, she was in second place. Finally, when the finish line popped into view, Heather Dorniden was, against all odds, in first. Heather won that 600-meter race not because she was the fastest, but because she was the most determined to do so.
Failure is a part of life. If we don’t ever fail, then that simply means we have never tried to accomplish anything. That said, when we do fail — when we do fall on our faces (sometimes literally) — it’s not about the failure itself, but about how we respond to it that defines who we are as people.
The famous Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Heather Dorniden was an excellent runner not because she won a single race, but due to her incredible response in the face of almost certain defeat. This trait carried her to many victories as a runner in college and in the professional arena.
To become the athlete or academic or person that we want to be requires daily diligence. It is through the work we put in each and every day that we build the habits that create us. The person of excellence that we all long to be is actually a result of great habitual practice. It’s both as simple and as difficult as that. You’ve surely heard it said many times, but it always bears repeating: when life knocks you down, you get right back up — and, like Heather might say, just keep running.
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