While talent and skills are important for getting ahead, grit is the biggest predictor of how successful you’ll ultimately be according to research.
It is the resilience to fight back when a match or a competition gets tough. It’s the will to push beyond one’s current physical capacities and going after the things you want, obstacles be damned.
In the late ’90s, I was feeling down while driving my 2-door ’96 Nissan Safari in the middle of the night to Kuwait. My brother and cousin were both asleep while I was trying to navigate through the roads wanting to reach our destination before sunrise. There were barely any cars on the road and the only sound I could hear were the car’s engine, the wind, and the noise caused by driving over the occasional potholes.
After 4 hours of driving with only 50 meters visibility ahead of me, the sun finally decided to rise. My brother woke up and remembered that he had a new song that he had wanted to play on the car’s stereo so he played the cassette tape when we reached downtown Kuwait City. We rolled down the windows and turned up the volume. It was one of the most catchy songs that brought life into my very tired and sleepy self. It was Chumbawamba’s song called “I Get Knocked Down”.
Since that day, whenever life would throw a punch at me, I would get back up again while remembering the lyrics of the song: “I get knocked down… But I get up again… You are never gonna keep me down”.
Getting Up Again
Those lyrics came back to me when I was following my friends in IRONMAN Hamburg who was being led by my friend and colleague, May Al Haji. I have known May since our days with Bahrain Road Runners and more recently with Bahrain Triathlon Association. Everyone who follows sports news in Bahrain would know that she completed the IRONMAN Hamburg with an extremely impressive time. There were, however, a sequence of events that took place during the race that I believe everyone should pay careful attention to. These, in my view, are nothing less than impressive and inspiring.
Success On And Off The Course
To be a successful athlete, there are two elements that you must have that I see in May’s story. First, the resolve to never give up. Second, the support from your family at a very early age.
At the beginning of the bike segment of the competition, May fell off her bicycle and injured herself. This leg usually lasts about 6 hours followed by approximately a 4 and a half-hour run. Since she was injured at the beginning of the bike segment, it would have meant that she would be racing in that condition for a good 10 straight hours. Ten hours of having to power through the pain, bruises and the deep cuts! May was eventually patched up by the medical team on-site and never once considered giving up on the race or giving in to painkillers.
The Bahraini Resolve
A few months ago, a friend of mine asked me about the Bahraini character. He asked what was so special about the Bahraini that makes him stand out among all the other people from around the world. I answered that Bahrainis are known to never give up. They remain optimistic and positive in the face of trials and hardships. In sports, that is what you need.
Bahrain is a small country with a small population and yet we are well represented in major events around the world like the one in Hamburg, Germany. May and the Bahraini team participating at the IRONMAN Hamburg represented our country very well. Injured or not, the true Bahraini character of picking oneself up and not accepting defeat was evident and that truly deserves a lot of respect.
The second trait, unfortunately, does not exist as much in this part of the world but I have seen how significantly positive it can be when I was living in America. Family support is not something that we should ever discount. I believe that we are suffering from what is known as the “Oil Curse”. Between us and our own kids are nannies, housemaids and even drivers. Our “oil money” paid ourselves away from our kids. We say goodbye to our kids at home; they get to be taken to school, after school activities, games or practices and even put to sleep, not by us- the parents. The result of this cycle can be disastrous.
May Al Haji is one of the lucky Bahrainis who were blessed with both parents supporting her from an early age. Her late father, as she would often share, took her to training sessions and matches when she was a young tennis player. He was always there. Never ever underestimate how much influence you can have in your kids’ lives simply by being present.
Today, May with a full-time job and a gruelling 17-hour weekly training schedule still have no middleman between her and her kids. It is very inspiring as it takes extreme discipline, dedication and commendable time management skills to juggle it all.
An Inspiration To Many
I truly admire May because of how much inspiration she gives to all of us. No matter how late her day has ended, not waking up at 5 am to train the next day – every single day – has never been an option. She is not a robot and just like all of us, fear is always present. During the swimming leg of a triathlon, she, like the rest of us always fear being punched or swam over right at the beginning of the race. Even after many hours of swim practices, fear will always creep in, but just like May, we must learn not to let fear control us and affect our performance.
Back On Track
After the bike segment of the triathlon, May bravely ran a marathon: a full 42.2km run with bruises and cuts within an impressive time. Hard work and dedication allowed for her to finish strong. I had asked her after the race if she struggled to finish the last 10km of the run and in true May fashion, her reply was that she actually felt that she had ran the fastest at the end. The adrenaline and the excitement of having finished an IRONMAN after a fall, which could have ended her efforts 10 hours earlier, helped to push her towards the finish line.
The fact remains that we should never judge whether we win or lose based on our relative position in the race. What we should do instead is redefine winning by realising that winning is performing the best that we can and losing, even if you came first, is when you do not give it your all.
May’s inspirational story is for us to learn from. You cannot discount the benefits of familial interaction and support, and always remember that though life circumstances may knock you down, you must decide to get back up again and never let anything keep you down.