Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Extra Step to Greatness

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I watched the Kentucky Derby on Saturday evening as Nyquist, who is unbeaten so far in his young career, forged to the lead and won by 1 1/2 lengths. Nyquist has started 8 times and won eight times. He's the eighth unbeaten horse to win the Derby in its 142 year history. Nyquist, the horse, is named for Gustave Nyquist, a forward for the Detroit Red Wings. (His owner is a rabid Red Wings fan). Nyquist, the horse, received congratulatory tweets from his Red Wings fans.

Now, it is on to the Preakness and then the Belmont. American Pharoah won the Triple Crown last year. It was 37 years between Triple Crown winners. Now we have a chance to see it happen in back to back years if Nyquist can maintain his winning ways and I hope he does.

Directly from the Derby, I tuned into the NASCAR race in Kansas. That was won by Kyle Busch, his first win in Kansas, the first driver to win three races in 2016, probably not his last.

After the Derby, my friend, Jan, said she was disappointed because she always roots for the underdog but I was cheering for Nyquist because I am thrilled by people and animals who transcend simply being excellent to join the ranks of the outstanding

Jan also turns up her nose because I like Tom Brady but I appreciate winners. I love Jimmie Johnson. He's always my number one driver to root for but I like Kyle Busch and I like Jeff Gordon......

I don't think I like winners because I'm a bandwagon person but because I'm fascinated by the qualities they have that less talented or driven athletes lack. I'm not sure I can define those qualities but they involve heart and passion and hard work and extraordinary skill. I like to watch them exhibit the drive that means they are giving us all those things every minute of every game or every race. They aren't discouraged by adversity but fight back (as Kyle did against extraordinary odds to win the championship last year).

There are only a few exceptional performers in any sport in any generation. In NASCAR, even I, who have only been a fan for a relatively short time, can name them - Richard Petty and David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch (I'm not necessarily trying to name them all so don't get upset if I left someone off who you think should be on the list.) In other sports, we have Larry Byrd, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Muhammed Ali, Tiger Woods - and on and on.

They stand an extra step above the crowd of even superior competitors.

You can't define them by character. Nyquist, for instance, reminds me of Jimmie. His trainer says he is a consummate professional - even-tempered and confident and competent. Animals or people, some are cool, calm and collected while other show their butts. Some are wild ones, like Tim Richmond, while others are stable family people. So you can't go by personality or lifestyle to predict them.

Of course, neither horses nor drivers nor any other athlete does it alone. They always have a team behind them, whether it consists of trainers and jockeys or crew chiefs and pit crews. But trainers and jockeys and crew chiefs and pit crews can generally be replaced. Not so the star of the show.

Many racers/players will be good but they simply won't make it into the ranks of greatness. Being good is fine. All NASCAR drivers are good or they wouldn't even be there. The good, for instance, can win a championship in a year when the stars align for them. The great can repeat over and over.

Most of us are content to lift  ourselves from mediocre to good. It is a much as we aspire to. The great ones shoot for the stars every single time. Good enough is never good enough.

Yes, I enjoy seeing an underdog pull off a win. I love seeing how happy and excited it makes them but mostly you know going in who among them is most likely to end up in Victory Lane....over and over.

And, yes, jockeys count and crew chiefs count and trainers count and pit crews count and equipment counts but beyond all that, making it up to that final step to greatness comes from within the athlete's own heart. And that's why I like to watch winners.