The Importance of Losing, by Olivia Walter

As athletes, we are competitive by nature, oftentimes to a fault. We strive for success with every fiber of our beings and push ourselves to the limit to accomplish our goals. We take pride in being perfectionists and problem solvers, determined and dedicated to our sport. And there is nothing we hate more than losing. But as much as we despise coming up short of our goals, sometimes it is not only beneficial for us to lose, but necessary.

Running is very much a mental sport and the impact failure has on one’s mind is astronomical. Any runner can attest to just how awful it feels to be outkicked in the finishing stretch of a race or watch your competition pass you and realize you can’t stay with them. But as horrible as that feeling is, it’s what makes us stronger; as athletes and as people.

My freshman year, I showed up for cross country not knowing what to expect. I had never seriously trained before and I wasn’t in great shape going into the season. However, by October, I had solidified myself as the ninth or tenth runner on the team. I realized that I really cared about the sport and that I wanted to do well. By the end of the season, I was in contention for a varsity letter and a spot on the District’s roster. Despite my indifference going into the season, I realized that I really, really wanted that spot. So when my coaches informed me that I would not be running at Districts that year, I was heartbroken. Although I was incredibly disappointed, I understood the reasoning behind their decision. And instead of being angry or disheartened, I decided I would never allow myself to be “on the bubble” again.

The following year, I trained incredibly hard and it ultimately paid off. I ended up qualifying for States individually and helping my team qualify for the first time in school history. Looking back, I can see just how important that initial failure was. Without that setback, I may never have found my passion for running and I certainly wouldn’t be the athlete or person I am today.

Over the past year and a half, we have all had countless setbacks. Between losing our entire 2020 track season, schools shutting down, and having to distance ourselves from family and friends, it’s safe to say we’ve had more than our fair share of struggles. Despite everything, many of us have come back stronger than ever.

Although none of us enjoy losing, setbacks and failures are essential parts of our journeys as athletes and as human beings. It is impossible for us to improve if we’re never challenged or pushed. It is our job to take those challenges and use them as fuel to propel us towards our next goal and to continue to reach for our limits. It is our job to keep showing up, day after day, because we love what we do and we have the privilege of doing it. It is our job to take our failures in stride and move past them in order to better ourselves and our abilities.