Tenacity and Grit: Lessons from my Son.

My son Benson has always been a gifted athlete. Although I don’t like that term, because gifted implies that it’s all in his DNA. As if the DNA fairy godmother waved a magic wand and suddenly he was running in the North Carolina State Championship Track Meet with little to no effort. There has been a lot of effort. Hard work. Hours and years of hard work. Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps and Lebron James all have worked hard. Sure, there were Tiger’s hard driving parents and his commitment to golf, Michael Phelps’ abnormally wide wing span (and his mother cheering him on) and Lebron’s height. Those are all part of the package. But at the core of it all is tenacity and grit. It takes tenacity to show up every day, regardless of the circumstances and work; as well as the grit to overcome adversity in order to continue forward. My son has both of these qualities in spades.

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I am writing this after a roller coaster weekend of watching my son compete at the University and U25 National Weightlifting Championships in Ogden, Utah. I am not exactly sure when Benson first started lifting weights. There are plenty of sports that he excelled at, most which had weightlifting as a part of the regime. He was an outstanding football player in high school and an all-state champion in Track and Wrestling. These sports usually have some sort of weightlifting as a part of the preparation. The first time he decided to compete in what is termed Olympic Weightlifting (as opposed to Powerlifting or Body Building), had to be sometime during his freshman year of college at the University of Miami. It requires technical aptitude, strength, grace and resilience.

This is what I have learned from my son:

Show up. Benson always shows up. Two years ago, we were in Northern California for Benson’s twentieth birthday. He is a native Californian and it was his first trip back to the West Coast in over a decade. It did not matter. He was at the gym practically every day. Random gyms. Unknown gyms. He was scouting places to work out and he worked out. There are no excuses for Benson. It’s a rainy day. I was up late last night. I have a ton of work to do. My friends are going to the beach. I’m on vacation. He shows up and does the work. If you want something? Show up.

Support. Regardless of the sport, Benson always has a team supporting him. It might be a coach, team mates, family or friends. As the saying goes, it takes a village. I’m proud to say I am a part of that village. While he does all the work, he has a crowd of folks in his corner cheering him on. It amazes me that I attend at least three competitions a year on the national scale and there are rarely parents in the audience. I’ve seen competitors without even a coach. Support is more that just cheering. It’s knowing that what you do matters to more than just you. Someone is invested in your failure or success. It’s the emotional buoy to get you through. Have support.

Grit. During the U25 National competition, Benson missed all three of his Snatches. I was disheartened. I wanted to go back into the training area and give him a hug. There was no way he could be the overall winner without successfully making at least one Snatch. His forte in competition has been the Snatch and now he only had the Clean and Jerk left. How in the world do you come back from that? I saw several other athletes bomb out on all three attempts. It was a war of attrition. He came back to successfully complete two clean lifts in the Clean and Jerk. That is grit. The ability to rally back. To not slide into the abyss of defeat and wallow there. I’m prouder of the fact that he rallied back than for his eventual Gold Medal. Find your grit.

Focus. Benson is single-minded. When I arrived at the competition, I sat next to him in the audience of the preceding weight class. We did not speak. He with his hood and headphones, me with my smart phone. We went out to dinner the evening before and I asked about his plans. He said, “I don’t know. I’m not looking past tomorrow.” This is a lesson for me. Focus on the immediate goal. The project that is due. The exam. Your workout. Month end. The drive home. Know what you want and focus on it. As for me, for the last ten months, it’s been sobriety. As a friend told me, “Just don’t have a damn drink.” For Benson, it is the competition at hand. Not the one next month. Not reliving the two bronze medals from last year. It’s about this competition right now.

I am amazed that Benson could rally back from the extreme low of failing completely in his first three lifts to come back and get the gold medal. That grit. That tenacity to succeed after failure. That is what I am most proud of. So even if you do fail, dust yourself off and stick with it. Success is around the corner.

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