He holds the record for being the slowest cross country runner at high school. He takes over 40 minutes to complete a 3.1 mile race while the top runner does it in about 16 minutes. He falls down in almost every race and is soaked in mud by the time he reaches the finish line. Neither has he won a race nor has he been able to finish at any position higher than the last position till date.
Yet, when he finishes the race, there is a roar of applause. People come to watch him finish the race. Grown men cry and he is hugged by many.
Though he has run multiple times, every time he hits the finish line last, the moment is both magical and emotional.
He is an inspiration. He is Ben Comen, who was born with cerebral palsy, a disorder which causes poor co-ordination along with stiff and weak muscles, making running pretty much an impossible task. He cannot run normally like the others, let alone a 3 mile race. To make it worse, when he falls, his brain cannot send signals fast enough to his arms to break the fall. Therefore, he falls flat on his face or hard on his shoulders which is a hurtful sight to watch.
When Ben falls down:
However, when he is nearing the finish, all the other runners who have finished already, are waiting. They run back and follow Ben to the finish line.
Other runners rally behind Ben:
Ben always finishes bruised, but never beaten. He finishes last, but a winner. He falls down multiple times, but is an inspiration. He never wins, but is the one people root for.
Ben has never ever quit a race half way through. He has finished every race that he has started even if he had to go through rain or wind.
At dusk when Ben does cross the line, tears well up in the eyes of many and a lump in the throat is felt. The fact that his clothes are muddy, he fell multiple times or he finished last does not really matter. Why?
Because his race was never against the other runners. He was only competing against himself. He wins every single time.
When he is asked why do you never quit? Why do you put yourself into such hardship and pain to finish a race? He replies:
“I feel I have been put here to set an example. A person has a choice to quit or keep going. I like to show people that it is fun to keep going.”
The key takeaway from this is neither that you should never quit nor that you should rise after a fall. It is not even about ‘a man with a disorder can run, what is your excuse to hit the gym?’. We have all heard that before. Though Ben’s story is indeed an example for all of that, it stands out for a different reason. It is because Ben gives a whole new meaning to competition. A competition by definition is the activity or condition of striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others.
Ben redefines competition and gives everyone something new to learn. He shows the world that the dictionary is wrong and you do not need to beat others or be the best to win.
All you have to do is strive to be better than yourself. You just have to be the best “you”. Ben is competing against himself.
It is common to be trapped into a competitive mindset. It starts right from school where academics themselves start as a competition between students rather than being a process of gaining knowledge. Parents teach their children that finishing last is a disgrace. That is a known tactic used to feed little kids who refuse to eat. Organizations spend time and money to outdo their competitors. Everywhere competition is considered as a battle for people to fight and beat each other.
And then we have rare individuals like Ben Comen for whom competition has a single participant named ‘his/her own self’. If Ben ran to beat others, he would have never been able to achieve his goal. His dreams would be crushed and his motivation would be shattered.
Ben chose something else. He chose to beat himself which is keeping him on his feet today.
This is not to say that competition is not necessary. Without competition, there would be no need for scorecards and sports events would be meaningless. However, competition can lead to a blind target of beating an opponent even if does no good to you. Additionally, competition against another is finite. Once you beat your opponent, the flare to do better can be lost.
Matthew McConaughey, after winning the Oscar for his role in DBC, mentioned that his HERO is his own self 10 years later. 10 years from now, his goal would be his own self again 10 years further, which implies he will never achieve his goal. In his own words he says “I’m not gonna attain that. I know I’m not, and that’s just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.”
Be a Ben Comen, channel your time and energy to beat yourself. Though it is said “Do your best”, no one can do their best every single day. It is called “best” because it is your own record. If it were not your best, it would be called your average. And here is what your target should be: to improve your “average” all the time and not your all time best. Barring a few areas(like athletics), improving your average makes you more successful than trying to beat your best. The easier way to achieve this is to raise your bottom than trying to better your best.
There is no need to attempt to shatter records. Start somewhere and better the average. Then aim higher, plod ahead and do not stop. Records will be broken in the process.
You do not have to beat the best performer around you or knock your competitor off his feet. A few months from today, you have to be better than what you are today and it becomes an endless journey of improvement. All you have to do is strive to beat your best opponent, who’s reflection you see in the mirror. Go beat him/her today.