A Failure’s Victory

I was only in fourth grade, when I saw someone who inspired me. I never got to know her name. But the funny thing is that this person inspired me by failing. And instead of regretting the failure, she embraced it, and turned it into something that made her stronger. It taught me, that sometimes, winning isn’t everything; it’s about how you play the game.
God was obviously in a good mood that day, because we all prayed for that one day to be cloudless, bright and sunny, after more than a week of rain. He answered our prayers, for only that day, my first sports meet ever. It was a huge thing for everyone, especially for a small girl, who knew she would win her race, and get a shiny gold medal. And when I did run, I did win the shiny gold medal. Crossing the finish line first, with people holding a ribbon at its two ends, was exclusively for the winner of that race. And I got a chance to run through that ribbon, which made me feel like I could conquer the world.
On my way back to the pavilion, the next race had already begun. It was a group of girls older than me, running the 100m sprint. I stopped to watch.
The girl, who was in the lead, had quite a lead indeed. She ran with perfect form, her arms and legs synchronised perfectly, without faltering even once. She ran, getting a twenty metre lead, then a thirty, and then a forty. But when she reached the fifty metre mark, it happened.
The spike on her left foot clipped her right angle, causing her to trip herself, making her tumble like a ragdoll, and eventually hit the ground, unceremoniously. The other runners zoomed past her, and within seconds, had already run through that sacred ribbon, while the girl at the back was still sprawled in the grass, with white marks on her clothes from the chalk- marked tracks, and a trickle of blood down her ankle. It was over for her. She had lost the race. There was no point to doing anything now. She should have gotten up, dusted herself off, and stepped out of the track, to let the next race begin.
She did get up, and did dust the white powder off. But she didn’t step off the track. She instead stumbled forward, and quickly regained balance. She took another step, or rather limp, and then started jogging. She stumbled again. She fell this time, but got up instantly, and started to run now, towards the finish line. And then suddenly the whole crowd watching, cheered for the girl, urging her to finish. By then, the people at the end of the track held up the ribbon for her. And then she crossed it. She came dead last, and still crossed that ribbon.
I stood there, planted in that same place I had stopped to watch. I saw her collapse at the end, and a few people rushed to her, to congratulate and help her. Why? I thought to myself. Why did she get up? Why did she continue running? It all seemed so pointless to me. I looked at the girl again. She was already walking. The injury on her ankle didn’t seem too serious, but it gave her a small limp. But what really got to me, was her face. She was smiling, her teeth glinting in the sun. She was smiling, like she had won something. But what?
I couldn’t keep it bottled up inside of me, so next thing I knew, I was walking towards the girl, with only one question on my mind, and I had to ask it, or I would explode. After what seemed like forever, I reached where she was standing. When she saw me, she gave a small, welcoming smile. I’m not very sure if I did the same.
I looked up at her (She was about a foot taller than me, so I was speaking to tower), and then asked, “Why are you so happy? About coming last, I mean.”
She looked back down, and said without missing a beat, “I’m happy because I finished the race, and I know I gave it my best.”
She was then called by her other tower-like friends, and then she walked away. She walked away, giving me a lot to think about. It then dawned on me, that maybe, just maybe, not everything was about coming first. It wasn’t about crossing the ribbon at the end. It wasn’t about the medal. It was about how you did it. You can come last and still be a champion, knowing that you’ve given it everything you’ve got, and not turning that failure into misery. It was about crossing that line, ribbon or no ribbon, and knowing that you have crossed it, and you will cross it again, not by being the first one to finish the race. It was not about the medal that you walk away with, it’s the lesson and determination that you walk away with, that pushes you forward to do better.
That girl, a complete stranger, taught me, that there is no such thing as failure, because even if you finish the race last, you always win something. It could be experience, the will to participate again, or just a smile, knowing you gave it your best. And that girl, taught me what I consider the most important thing, not only in a race, but also in life.
Tehmina Choudary
Grade 9 IGCSE