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Wednesday, 13 May 2015 13:25

What Bobsled Taught Me About Adversity

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"What does it feel like to crash?"

Jeremy C Holm BobsledThat seems to be the second most popular question I receive when people find out I'm a bobsled pilot and coach (the first being, 'Have you seen Cool Runnings?' which of course I have). What does a bobsled crash feel like? Sadly, most people are disappointed that not every crash results in concussions, broken bones, or near death experiences. They can be violent, yes, but usually a bobsled crash is just a "hold on and wait for the ride to come to a complete stop" kind of affair. You try to keep your body off the ice so you don't get ice burns (which can be pretty nasty), but a crash is just part of the sport and you learn to roll with the punches. 

I guess you could say that that is one of the first things bobsled taught me about adversity, that in order to keep playing the game you have to roll with the punches and keep moving forward. It is natural for newer drivers to be nervous about driving the track again after they just crashed, but you always silently cheer for those who face those fears and do it anyway. In life, we all face a choice whenever adversity or hard times come our way: we can let the fear prevent us from trying again, from dreaming again, from loving again or from believing in goodness again, but that choice is ours alone. As bobsled athletes, no coach can force us to take to the ice if we decide that our fears are more valid than our goals. Similarly, in life no one, not even God, can force us to reach for the stars if we choose to listen to our fears instead of our faith, and I'm not talking religious faith; I mean our beliefs that life can be amazing if we work for it and allow good things come our way. 

Sanding Bobsled RunnersAdversity can either make you bitter or it can make you better. In many ways, tough times are like the sandpaper which we use to clean the blades on the bottom of our bobsleds. We call those blades "runners" and as athletes we use sandpaper to clean off any imperfections or impurities on the runners' surfaces. To do this we flip the sled over or lock the runner onto a small stand and place sandpaper in the palm of our hand, and sand solid metal for what feels like hours on end. You can get some good blisters if the runners are in really bad shape, but you definitely end up with dirty hands and some raw skin in the end. The purpose of all that work, all that heat, all that cleaning is to polish the runner's surface until it is better than a mirror. How do you know when you're done? One way is that when you can see your face in the mirrored-surface, without any imperfections, then it is time to move to the next runner.

I think adversity works in much the same way; it is a polisher of our character, of our hearts and of our souls. We can always learn something from and grow through even the toughest of tough days. Those things in life that we swear we just can't handle, I believe that we can. It may hurt, it may burn a little like the friction of sanding runners, we might even end up with a raw heart and soul, but ultimately we will be more polished individuals and that much closer to winning the gold medal-dreams that we have in life.

But you have to be willing to withstand the pressure, and in bobsled we know a thing or two about pressure. As we roar down the track at full speed we can pull up to 5.5 G's, or 5.5 x the force of gravity (the average roller coaster is x2.5 and the astronauts pull x4 on takeoff). To compete in bobsled you have to "suck it up" in those high-pressure turns and keep moving forward. You breath in the straightaways where there is no pressure and you tense your core in the big turns, but you don't stop.

I think that is a lot like life; sometimes when the pressure of adversity hits you have to tense your "core", or your heart, your soul, your innermost courage and strength, and just hold on and keep facing forward. You don't quit, you don't give up, you grit your teeth and you keep going because you know that the pressure of whatever your facing can't last forever and that means you can outlast it.

Adversity purifies goldAnd sometimes enduring all that heat and pressure can be tough, but you know what? It is always worth it because that finish line is just right around the corner (or turn in our case). When O.C. Tanner created the 800 medals for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics they heated the precious metals (and are we not all precious in God's eyes?) to 2,000℉. The metals were then subjected to 14,000 pounds per square inch of pressure. You can see the result in this photo, but there is a powerful lesson to be learned here: when the adversity of life heats up your heart and you feel all the pressure on our shoulders, could it not be that you are facing an opportunity to come forth more purified and shaped into something glorious?    

But you have to keep going, even if you feel like you are at the lowest point in your existence.   

Whenever you crash on the Park City, Utah bobsled run you and your teammates tuck inside the sled the best you can and wait for the ride to stop...at the lowest point on the track. You see, between Turns 14 and 15 is a long straightaway appropriately titled, "Low Point." And in the middle of Low Point is the lowest point on the track, so 95% of the time a flipped team is going to come to a stop down there. 

I think we've all hit a "Low Point" or two (or a hundred) in our lives; we even call them low points when we describe them. I've been there, both in bobsled and in my own life. I've been upside down in a bobsled that crashed because I, the driver, made a mistake and I've also been upside down in my life because I, the driver of my life, made a mistake that led to some "crash" emotionally, mentally, financially, spiritually, etc. And each time I can remember thinking, "I did this; this is my fault. Should I quit now? Is this all I'm going to amount to, a wreck?"

In those moments, when we are at the lowest of the low, we are actually the closest to finding the gold, or the golden moments of life. We just have to be willing to pick ourselves up, brush off the dust and try again. We don't have to stay down or stay inside the wrecked parts of our lives; we can rise up again, repair whatever damage has been done, and rightfully take our place again with life's champions. 

You see, every athlete who wants to cross the finish line on the Park City track has to go through Low Point (hopefully right side up); there is no avoiding it. If they want to reach their goals and to obtain all the glory (appropriate for those who desire eternal glory), then they must traverse Low Point. And if we truly want to chase our dreams and reach our objectives with all the glories that we desire in this life (and the next), then we must steel our nerves and face whatever comes our way, no matter how difficult because just on the other side of the challenge lies the reward.

Teddy RooseveltI've always loved these words spoken by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt during his famous "Citizenship in a Republic" speech (and this coming from a guy who gave another 90-minute speech two-years later with a bullet in his chest after an assassination attempt):

"The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

The truth is that adversity is not something to fear; rather, hard times are like teammates who push us to become better, to reach farther and to live at a higher level. How can you understand the depth of your character if you've never had to face the deepest parts of your soul?  

So don't hang your head in shame or fear or defeat when adversity comes. Instead, with a defiant glint in your eye, stare it down like a champion. Cock your fists if you have to and wipe the blood or sweat from your eyes and keep moving forward.

The gold is waiting. 

Fire on Ice by Jeremy C Holm

Jeremy C. Holm

Author & American athlete Jeremy C. Holm has spent over half his life in the fast-paced winter sport of bobsled, including as the Head Coach for the US Adaptive Bobsled Team. He has a degree in Journalism and is pursuing a degree in Military History at the American Military University. In addition to motivational speaking and corporate appearances around the world, Jeremy is the author of three books and spends his time camping, hiking, writing and trying to make history, one day at a time.

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