I’m sure we’re all familiar with Al Pacino’s timeless speech from “Any Given Sunday”. The difference between winning and losing, living and dying, comes down to inches.
The words that Pacino’s character preaches to his team before that fateful game have never resonated more with me than they do now.
Three inches. Just three inches is what separated me from my dream of representing the United States of America on the international scene. Three more inches and I could be packing for a trip to London with the best athletes in the world. This was a dream I’ve had since I dedicated myself to the sport of track and field, and to come up just inches short was incredibly painful.
My first thought was, what went wrong? Initially, thoughts revolved around the external. International track and field is ridden with cheaters. Drug cheats, people throwing illegal implements, who knows what else, just to make a world team. I think, “is it possible?”. How many people on that list might have cheated, and took away the spot that I rightfully earned? Hell, just a few days before the deadline for qualifying ended, the IAAF announced two Russian hammer throwers would be eligible to compete independently after being suspended for the entire regular season. Those two additions would bump me off the invitation list. Those two did what they had to do to prove to the IAAF that they were clean, separating themselves from the Russian federation, so kudos to them. It just could have come at a better time.
Then I think, what, three inches? A mismark on where the hammer landed could’ve been the difference between me making the team or sitting at home and writing this very blog. I threw my season’s best at the Tucson Elite Meet in Arizona after all, and their sector is pretty much a desert. It’s easy to tell where a hammer lands when you’ve got a trained eye, and have taken thousands of reps, trying to decipher which divots are fresh versus which ones are remnants of past practices or competitions. Unfortunately, not every official has that experience. I’ve seen time after time, officials mismarking throws.
Maybe it was even the technology. Maybe the laser wasn’t calibrated correctly, or my hammer could have been a little longer or lighter. It would have been ridiculous at the time, but maybe I should’ve asked for the steel tape. Maybe I would have found those inches I’m looking for…
I’ve had some time to process everything now. It’s been a few days since finding out I wouldn’t receive an invite. During that time, it was easy to think like I have just described, blaming your shortcomings on external events, but I knew that was wrong. The world doesn’t owe you anything. I’m a huge advocate of taking responsibility for your actions, controlling the controllable and doing everything within your power to achieve your goals. I think that’s why this hurts so much. My preparation wasn’t perfect, I could have done better, with my training, my recovery, my nutrition. Whatever it may have been, I knew I could have done better.
In reality, I don’t think I had any business coming this close to qualifying for the world champs with a mark of 74.26. Even back when I threw that, I thought “sweet, another step in the right direction. It’ll take 75m+ to make the meet though, so gotta keep pushing”. As time passed, my mark held up. I was in position to receive an invitation just a week out from the end of qualifying, and I think that sort of cursed me. Not to say I slacked on training, but there’s most definitely a different sense of urgency when you’re on the outside looking in. I’ve had plenty of experience with last chance meet magic back when I was at Mount Union. I knew what was coming, I was right on the bubble. I was expecting to get bumped out. But there was a little voice in the back of my head, thinking wishfully, hoping my mark would hold.
I’ve thought to myself how making this world team could be a defining moment for my athletic career, it could make or break me. If I made it, I might have better chances of finding sponsorship and funding my career, and I’d have my first experience at an international championship, something vital for future success. On the other hand, thoughts began to run wild with the thought of missing out, a slippery slope. If I miss this, this could be the death of my career. Not right away, but soon enough down the line.
I’ve continued to contemplate what I could have done to throw farther. Did I not throw enough? Did I throw too much? Maybe some different weight room exercises would’ve done the trick. Did I get enough sleep? Did I get everything out of my diet that I possibly could have? Thoughts like this have plagued my brain the past few days, yet I couldn’t pin down one thing that If I fixed would most certainly end up in a personal best next year. I thought for a split second, what if this is it? What if this is as good as I’ll ever be? The accompanying doubt that comes with falling short of your goals had set in.
I was foolish to think that. These past few weeks of trying to solidify a spot had been mentally taxing for me. I’ve had some time to relax now and reset my frame of mind. For the first time in nearly 6 months, I had the luxury to just go out and throw, with no deadline of a goal currently in mind. Back to the basics, doing what I love. It’s been refreshing, to say the least.
Looking back, this was by far the best year of preparation I’ve ever had. I was more consistent than ever. Technically I looked the best I ever have. I placed third at both indoor and outdoor USA’s. I competed internationally, and actually did well. It’s easy to lose sight of these things when I was solely focused on making the world team. There’s far more to go, but I think I took a big step in the right direction.
That said, I look forward to the future. American hammer throwing is in a very good spot right now. We’ve got time on our side. I hope that we can push each other as we continue to develop, and I hope that we can one day take American Hammer throwing to where it has never been before. I wish the best of luck to Rudy, Alex, and Kibwe as they compete in a couple weeks here. I’ll definitely be watching and cheering them along.
Circling back around, I think I was right. Not making this team will be the defining moment for my career, but not for the reasons I thought. This failure is going to drive me to work harder than I ever have before. The motivation this has brought already has me chomping at the bit for next season. I’m a big believer in fate, that everything happens for a reason. I won’t know what kind of effect missing out on this team will have on my career until the end of it, but I’m confident it’ll have a positive one.