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Reaching Your Potential: Pass or Fail

Have you as an athlete felt as though you reached your full potential?

This is a subject which has both intrigued me and burned inside of me through the years following an athletics career which had its challenging periods and very successful ones as well. I was indirectly asked this question on a forum on Wednesday, and can honestly say in retrospect that I always felt I had the potential to achieve greater things than what was eventually recorded as historical fact.

My name is not Alex Rodgriguez, nor is it Björn Borg or Kenenisa Bekele.  I didn't have the world at my fingertips once-upon-a-time when I was an athlete, though I had aspirations of being as famous as world-record holders Sebastain Coe, Patrik Sjöberg and Sergei Bubka. Joe Montana fit in the picture there somewhere as well.  I had Olympic goals and had the potential to really make something big of myself had I stuck with things.

I'd heard about this word "potential" since the first day I was ever forced to run – a Monday, the 27th day of the month of August many years ago. 

It all started off when I ran in a compulsory 880-yard run around the high school track — something we 35 kids, each in grade-9 who had been arbitrarily selected for that first-period class, were made to do to compare notes to other kids from other periods and other years.

The guy holding the watch, who doubled as the basketball trainer, said something about it being "a fitness test". Two laps around that dirt track at 08.00 seemed like torture to most of us.

That "potential" landed me directly on a cross country team where others, watching me train and compete, made long-winded comments about potential — even though some of them were more seasoned, more experienced and a lot faster than a 14-year-old guy who ran so "effortlessly" and "like he's not even trying."

I trained for — and competed in — two sports during those four years – eight seasons with the same trainer who, as time elapsed and the end drew near, finally told me what my potential was. I'd just not reach it in high school, he said — it had to do with something about building-block years. Those years were spent running conservatively in practice, and "pace" in the races. We didn't try anything foolish. However, where there was nothing ventured, there was nothing much gained for most of my teammates.

One of my teammates attempted to skirt around caution and patience during his four years in high school. He had a father whose expectations were higher and more outrageous than nearly anyone I'd ever met – save one other father whose son competed against me week-in and week-out in for two of those years in the exact same event all the way to the state 1.600m -final — a race neither of us won.

This particular teammate had "potential" as well — and it seemed he had a tonne more of it than the rest of us in the same class. He was already a varsity runner at grade-9, and had broken 15.00 for 3 miles in cross country during grade-10 — a year our seven-man crew won conference with 15 points, won sub-section with 25, repeated as section champions and finished six lousy points short of winning the Northern CA championships.

He had the "potential" to run 8.36 in the two-mile, he was told, and made every living moment count toward attaining that goal.

He won a very tough conference on a monstrously-challenging course our grade-12 cross country season — I finished a second behind him in second. He thought he had a shot at the state title. I had the same goal in mind and beat him to it in the qualifying meet for state, finishing second at the sectional qualification meet; he finished third, four seconds behind. Neither of us collected medals at the state meet the following week, however. He finished in the top-20, and I succumbed to the adverse affects of a very bad cold during the final mile of the 5km race.

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