I’ve read articles and reports that Ryan Lochte’s performance at the Olympics did not “meet expectations.” As I reflected on these comments from different sources over the past couple of days, I realized that so many people simply do not understand the most important message of what Ryan Lochte accomplished this year. True champions strive to conquer new challenges…they don’t fear defeat, they don’t crack under adversity, and they never, ever, give up.
Not many swimmers would even think about, let alone actually take on the schedule that Ryan Lochte conquered at the Olympics this year. Starting out with what everyone knows is one of the most difficult races, the 400im against Michael Phelps, winning the gold, and then turning around the next day to anchor the 4×100 relay after a morning of tough preliminaries and semi-finals in the 200 back is virtually unheard of. (Not to mention the 100m sprint is not Ryan’s strongest race, but he was placed in that position by his coaching staff and was willing to step up and do what was asked of him, and did so with a tremendous split of 47.74 right after racing in the 200 back semi-finals). Then, fast forward to the most grueling day of all….two races within 31 mins of each other, the 200m backstroke/200im combo that Ryan pulled off on Thursday night, swimming the 200im against none other than Phelps. Even as Phelps’s coach, Bob Bowman, said, “Nobody could do that backstroke and come back and do a 1:54.9 in the I.M. like Ryan did, except maybe Michael.” (NYT, Karen Crouse).
Ryan Lochte did MORE than meet expectations, he successfully completed 6 preliminary races and 4 semi-finals and 6 Finals in 6 days. This means that Ryan Lochte raced 16 times in only 6 days!! SIXTEEN RACES IN SIX DAYS! Then on top of it all, he brought home 5 medals in his 6 finals. Disappointing? I think not. Unbelievable? I think so.
The real focus of Ryan Lochte’s accomplishment at the Olympics this year should not be the number of Golds, but the willingness to take on a new and very difficult challenge. Innovation and change are driven by a person’s willingness to be unafraid of defeat, while taking the risk of conquering new challenges. The sign of a champion is to not be afraid of the outcome, but to embrace one’s own calling to attempt something greater than he had done before. Ryan Lochte challenged himself taking on new races that he did not compete in at the 2008 Olympics and taking on a schedule that most swimmers would never attempt or risk at this once in four year competition in fear that they may miss the mark. Not only did he meet his new challenge, completing this grueling schedule, but he did so while bringing home 5 Olympic Medals.
The real message that children around the world should take away from Ryan Lochte’s performance at this year’s Olympics is exactly what Ryan Lochte showed the world this year. It’s not simply whether you win or lose, it is how willing you are to challenge yourself to be better than you were before — How willing you are to push yourself beyond what you ever imagined was possible. That’s the definition of Ryan Lochte.
We have become a world of win and lose, but we have forgotten that how you play the game to get there is 90% of the battle. That’s the stuff character is made of. That is what keeps you moving forward in the face of adversity. The mentality to challenge yourself beyond what you ever thought possible is the purest Gold of all – even if that might mean the difference between Gold and Silver today. Ultimately, this display of character will never allow you to really lose. Ryan Lochte will never be defeated as long as he continues to challenge himself beyond what he ever thought he could do.
Congratulations Ryan. I am not only honored to represent you, I am honored to call you a friend. You inspire me everyday to be better than I was yesterday and to take challenges that I didn’t think I was capable of. That is so much more than Gold….That is …priceless. I hope the rest of the world can see the amazing character of the truest champion I have ever known.