On Competitiveness


Like many of you this last month I watched several hours of Olympic action, paticularly when Canadians were biking, tossing, running, pounding, jumping or swimming. 

I was glad I did.

Canadians really proved themselves in Rio. Our kids brought home the medals: they fought the good fight.

Later, I watched those same young Olympians standing in front of the eyes of the world modestly describing what an honour it was just to compete for Canada. 

In every event they had striven to do their best. They had tried to show the best qualities of sportsmanship. They had sincerely congratulated the athletes of other nations who captured medals we missed. 

And I realized something.

That is so unlike me!

I have been known to knock the weak and frail out of my way just to get to a shoe bargain table one step ahead of every one else. 

In my swim fit class, the  jovial announcement of a “just for fun race” the length of the pool set off red flags before my eyes.

The instructor shouted “go” and I leaped into the water like Bruce the Shark going for that woman on the surf board.

The fact that the average age of the members of my class who are taking part in the fun race is around 86, was irrelevant.

I was instantly locked into competitive mode.

That day, I churned through the pool water obsessed with one single fixed goal: get to the far pool wall first

Not my bathing suit spreading behind me in the water like a  large pink parachute (really must purchase one that still has some elastic!): not those few/several extra pounds tucked here and there (really must do something about those one day!): not the tiny 90-year-old trapped in my wake (really, she should be able to tread water!): none of these deterred me from my  goal.

Go ME!

I’ve noticed this spirit of competitiveness in myself on some rather unexpected occasions.

A simple “for fun” game at a picnic, just putting four golf balls through numbered openings in a wooden box (pink ball equals double points) unleashed a spirit in me that would have made Atilla proud.

Eventually, fellow players had to pry the golf club from my hands. I was trying to beat the pink ball into rubble: it wouldn’t go through the five-point opening.

Competitiveness rears its head in the strangest ways. 

Someone once suggested to a group I was relaxing with that we might enjoy a fun day of waterskiing behind the inboard/outboard. 

(Never waterskiied in my life.)

This person then suggested a friendly little competition to see who could ski the greatest distance.

I figure I was dragged under water behind that boat at least a half mile before it occurred to me that I actually had to let go of the tow rope to survive. 

There was no doubt, the old Go ME! spirit was in full control.

(Incidentally, I’ll draw a merciful curtain over the fact that I took off on my water skiing attempt from a seated position on an old wooden dock… ‘Splinter’ is a four letter word.)

99 per cent of the year I am a dedicated couch potato, devoted only to my remote controllers and my roll away snack tray.

But every so often, a word, a request, a casual suggestion will trigger that Go ME! app in my brain. 

Then look out. 

Don’t get me wrong. Competitiveness is good for the brain and body, good for encouraging drive and problem solving. An honest competitive spirit is what allowed our Canadian kids to do so well in Rio. 

But there are different types of competitiveness. Some are truly good. 

Some are mine.

A friend was visiting the other day. She examined some framed photos I had scattered on the coffee table. 

“Actually,” she said casually, “I don’t think it counts as winning the competition if you digitally insert your face on to the bodies of all the women who took Gold Medals in beach volley ball.”

Says who?

Since you’re here…

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