Growing up on the athletics track, I learnt that nothing was ever achieved without hard work and dedication.
At school, I learnt about the Olympics and discovered the incredible history comprised of success, failure, actions of dishonesty, moments of vulnerability, truths, lies and propaganda. I learnt to source inspiration from landmark moments in sporting history which is when I found out about this inspirational sporting moment. more than the competitive rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt or the Jamaican bobsleigh team is the story of Derek Redmond. A story about not giving up.
A story about not giving up
24 years ago British athlete, Derek Redmond, crossed the finishing line on the world’s stage, at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona in 1992. Just not quite the way he imagined. Derek had been plagued with injury in recent years due to his Achilles tendon, he was forced to pull out of the 1988 Seoul Olympics just 10 minutes before the race because of injury. Despite countless surgeries, years of rehabilitation and setbacks, when Derek stepped on the track that day in Barcelona he felt strong with determination oozing from his stride and success within his sight.
Early promises to his Dad had meant that Derek would cross the line, no matter what.
When the gun fire went, Derek left the block with a flying start, the first 150m was perfect and most importantly – he was ahead! 65,000 spectators were screaming for these men to beat world records, to be the greatest and the best and to secure a name in history books. Then disaster struck. Derek suddenly fell to the floor in agony, his face crumpled with despair clutching onto the back of his leg and there was a moment of stunned silence.
After 30 long seconds of lying on the ground on the World’s stage, Derek got up and decided to continue the race. Whether he made it to the finish line by walking, limping or crawling, Derek didn’t knew he had to get to the finish line because of a simple promise he’d made to his Dad prior to the race. Derek must have limped on his own for about 30m as the crowd stopped watching the now finished race and turned their attention to him, he had the undivided attention of the whole stadium. Suddenly a man came running onto the track from the crowd stand, he pushed his way past security (this would not happen today!) and ran up alongside Derek. It was Derek’s dad, Jim. Jim embraced an emotional and pained Derek and together they walked to the finishing line. My favourite scene was one of the officials running over to the pair, grabbing Jim’s hand and telling him they have to get off the track, Jim looking the man in the eye and telling him to back off.
Derek walked with his Dad for the remainder of the distance, every step he took the crowd got louder and louder. One 100m walk of solidarity between a Dad and his son speaks volumes in a world increasingly plagued by politics, propaganda and deviance.
In a sporting context, we are made to focus on the heroes with the medals round their necks but we must also acknowledge the people whose focus and fearlessness stand tall even in the face of diversity. Nothing tells a greater story about resilience than an athlete who gets back up again because it symbolises the many blockers all of us encounter whether you’re into sport or not.
In a non-sporting context, it’s the job you didn’t get, the girl who dumped you, the promotion you missed, these are all setbacks designed to give us more resilience. Resilience makes us better at overcoming fear, better at embracing challenges and wiser in helping others so this post is a thank you for all those sportswomen and sportmen who showed me signs of resilience when things got tough. It’s about the Paula Radcliffe’s, the Jonnie Peacock’s, the Zola Budd’s and the Derek Redmond’s of the world who overcame the greatest hurdle. I have no idea who won the Men’s 400m race which Derek ran that day, but the story about him and his Dad has been firmly secured in my memory since I first heard his story.
Setbacks manifest themselves from tiny to terrifying ways. From the field within a war zone to the minefield within our minds, setbacks are physically and psychologically damaging. Like Derek Redmond we need to tell ourselves to get back up again and carry on, whether it takes 10 seconds infront of 65,000 people or 10 years infront of your loved ones. We are built to be resilient but it’s through sport that we can see people so clearly demonstrate it. Next time you’re feeling a bit deflated, unmotivated and defeated, I urge you to read up on Olympic history and conquer the art of getting back up again.
Animation courtesy of Jonny Weeks, Guardian.