On September 27, 2014, Steven Souza, Jr., a rookie outfielder for the Washington Nationals, made one of the most remarkable catches of the 2014 MLB season, if not in the history of Major League Baseball. The catch was doubly spectacular for at least two reasons. First, it came with two outs in the ninth inning and preserved a no-hitter by Jordan Zimmerman – only the 5th no-hitter in a season-ending game and the first of Zimmerman’s career and in Nationals’ history. Second, if you had been able to freeze time at the moment the ball left the bat of Florida Marlins’ outfielder Christian Yelich and polled everyone in the stadium, including Zimmerman, who “stepped off the mound, flung his head back and stared up at the sky” convinced that his bid for his no-hitter was gone, not a single one of them would have given Souza any chance of making the grab (“A double,” Zimmermann replied when asked what he thought when the ball left Yelich’s bat – “A no-doubt double”). As incredible as Souza’s improbable catch was, however, it was what he said in a post-game interview that stopped me in my tracks: “I didn’t know how I was going to get there,”Souza remarked, reflecting on the historic grab. “I just knew I had to!” (http://wapo.st/1rtY1Bk)
Souza’s remarks struck me, in part, because they closely echoed those made by Jason Lezak, a highly-decorated U.S. swimmer moments after swimming the anchor leg of the Men’s 4 x 100 Meter Relay at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China. Like Souza, Lezak’s performance was impressive enough standing alone, but this was no “ordinary” anchor leg. To the contrary, Lezak’s gold medal-securing performance would enable his teammate, Michael Phelps to break Mark Spitz’s record of 7 individual gold medals in a single Olympics – a record that had stood for 36 years and to most was thought to be unbreakable. Even more impressively, if you had hit the “pause” button at the instant Lezak left the blocks (or, for that matter, at the 60 meter mark!) and asked the most astute swimming experts – none would have given Lezak any chance of overcoming the body length lead held by then 100 meter freestyle world-record holder, Frenchman, Alain Bernard (Announcer: “The United States is just trying to hold onto second here . . .”). What they didn’t know and what even Lezak couldn’t have imagined was that he was about to swim the fastest relay split in history: “I remember thinking,” Lezak said “there’s no way I can catch this guy. I just have to finish this race as hard as I can.” (http://tinyurl.com/cl3r2x6).
Chances are we will never find ourselves in a MLB outfield, let alone chasing down a fly ball in the gap with our team’s and pitcher’s first no-hitter hanging in the balance, nor are we likely to mount the starting blocks at the Summer Olympics and be asked to swim the anchor leg of a relay matched against the fastest swimmer in the world – though maybe someone reading these words will end up doing one or both of those things! However, it is considerably more likely than not that, before our lives are over, all of us and/or someone we love dearly will be confronted with an obstacle that by any (all?) objective measure seems wholly insurmountable. Maybe it will take the form of a battle with a physical, emotional or psychological illness, the loss of a job or business when we least expect and can least afford it or, perhaps, it will accompany the unexpected death of parent, spouse, child, sibling or friend. Or maybe it will be in a form “less obvious” to most: confronting the next meal, surviving a difficult class, writing a paper you’re dreading, achieving a goal, earning a degree – paying next month’s bills. Regardless of the “shape” those obstacles may take there is much to be learned from Messrs. Souza and Lezak in confronting them:
1. Whether you’re a “rookie” or a seasoned veteran (apologies Jason, but at the ripe “old” age of 33, you qualified as “seasoned”!) when it comes to obstacle-confronting a moment of self-doubt is inescapable. The key is recognizing it for what it is (i.e., a perfectly human response to adversity) and ensuring that it stays a “moment” and isn’t allowed to become a millstone.
2. There are no short-cuts on the road to becoming an “Overcomer”. Souza wasn’t “magically” teleported to the ball or Lezak to the wall. Each got there one determined, purposeful step (and stroke) at a time. And so it is with overcoming our “everyday” challenges and adversities: The journey begins with a single forward step – followed by another – until the goal is achieved.
3. While neither could be guaranteed success, indeed objectively, anything but success seemed the more likely outcome, Souza and Lezak did not allow themselves to entertain the possibility of failure or to be paralyzed by the fear of it. Instead, both viewed the achievement of their goal as the only alternative then put their “heads down” and went after it – and so must we.
4. Souza and Lezak didn’t bother “consulting” with others about their respective chances of accomplishing the seemingly Herculean tasks before them and it’s good that they didn’t, because they would have been hard-pressed to find a single believer. Why? Because, having never previously been tested at their limits not even Souza and Lezak, let alone complete “strangers” could have known their full capabilities.
5. Self-talk matters, as does single-mindedness of purpose.
Jason Lezak and Steven Sousa are living, breathing examples of the truth of the words written on the back of the young woman in the picture above in action. Their superhuman athletic feats are a visual reminder of our capacity to meet and overcome challenges that, in the moment, may seem impossible to navigate. I certainly don’t wish adversity on anyone, but when it finds its way to your doorstep, as it inevitably will, I do wish this: that sometime before you kick its uninvited butt back out, you will have come to more fully realize just how strong, courageous, resilient and competent you really are – and that you were not meant to break!