cover dec17 jan18

A carpet of yellow leaves blankets the ground outside my window. The air is frostier, prompting me to hurry indoors. My mind soon turns inward reflecting on the past year. Confronting thoughts within is never easy; it is far easier to move ceaselessly from one thing to the next with nary a moment for self-reflection. Our current lifestyles create a busy whirr, filled with never-ending to-do lists. Nature creates a slower rhythm at the end of the year to encourage self-reflection, I imagine.
Before I can slip into that meditative rhythm, I confront stacks of magazines with titles that scream—Make New Year’s Resolutions that Stick! The hope that the new year holds the key to fulfilling every dream is strong and well. Even before we set priorities for this new year, there will be that little Pac-man in our heads who starts to speak loudly about why and how we can never make it to that finish line.
It is precisely at the moment, when that internal voice spews negativity, that we need to turn to achievers like Dara Torres who made the impossible possible through sheer will and determination. She has the distinction of being the oldest swimmer to place in an Olympic swimming event. At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, she was 41.
In her book, Age is Just a Number, Torres, the five-time Olympic swimmer talks of her career and her comeback, truly an awe-inspiring account. In 2000, when Dara Torres left the Sydney Games with a tally of five medals with three coming from individual events, she was exhausted. “I’d competed in those Olympics every day in my head for the past 13 months. Now I was done.” When a reporter approached her and asked whether she’d be back at the age of 41 in the 2008 Olympics, she retorted, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
But when she decided to make the “dumbest thing” a reality, elite coaches were understandably skeptical. “The water doesn’t know how old you are,” is what she repeated to anyone who doubted her ability in the water. She was the mother to a young toddler through intense months of training. As she stood on deck ready to splash into the water, her fellow competitors were teens who hadn’t even been born when she had taken part in her first Olympic Games.
Or take the example of Adrianne Haslet-Davis, the professional ballroom dancer who lost her leg in the Boston bombing in 2013. MIT Media lab director Hugh Herr, a double amputee himself, helped craft a leg that could be adapted to accomplish minute movements on the dance floor. After his March 2014 TED talk on developing limbs to help humans overcome disability through technology, Adrianne Haslet-Davis stepped on to the floor to dance using her prosthetic limb and went on to run the Boston Marathon in the spring of 2016.
Remarkable stories. Remarkable women. And, even though we only get to see the feel-good triumphal moment, what we miss seeing are the wins of the infinitesimal kind. The day when the body is bone tired not after but before practice. The mental toughness that it takes to come back for practice after a session that flopped.
Sportspersons and athletes are lauded for the ways in which they best physical limitations that constrain and restrict others. Those who follow sports get to watch the triumphs without watching the grueling practice sessions that preceded those moments. What you cannot see—mental toughness, is the energy that drives the physical feats.
I’ve often wondered about how instructive it will be if major sports teams let children come to watch practice sessions, not the games.
And for all of us, goals are achieved or lost within our minds. So even as we step out into the new year, we need to first step within to succeed!
Happy New Year to you and yours!

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is a multifaceted artist - a dancer, writer, storyteller, and educator. She founded the Sankalpa School of dance, where she trains the next generation of committed dancers to pursue...