Most people who know me know how passionate I am about running. As passionate as I am about running, I am even more passionate about the Olympics. I admit, I always cry during the Opening Ceremonies. I love the ceremony of it all, the symbolism of the Olympic Rings, the convergence of the very best athletes in the world who have sacrificed so much in the name of achieving a goal. I am a sucker for talented people. I am drawn to them like a bee to honey. So I’m super excited to spend the next 16 days watching the best winter sports athletes, and admiring the physiology of cross country skiers, who are the best endurance athletes on the planet, and the beauty and athleticism of figure skaters performing a quadruple axel on ice.
But with the Winter Olympics starting tomorrow, I am also reminded of one of my biggest regrets. I’ve never told anyone this except for my twin brother…
The Winter Olympics were held in Calgary in 1988, 7 years before I moved there. The legacy that was left from the Olympics was a big reason why I decided to go to school at the University of Calgary. They have a state-of-the-art Human Performance Laboratory that was especially built in preparation for the Olympics that has become known all over the world. The campus was the Olympic Village where the athletes lived, and a hundred feet from where I lived was the beautiful Olympic speed skating oval. There are very few places in North America that have a 400-meter speed skating oval. At the time I lived in Calgary, there were only two ovals in North America — an indoor oval in West Allis, Wisconsin (where the U.S.’s two best speed skaters trained — Dan Jansen and Bonnie Blair) and an outdoor oval at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, New York. (There’s now two more indoor ovals since the Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah and Vancouver, Canada.)
When I was in graduate school in Calgary, I was 22 to 24 years old. I kept running through the brutally cold winters that formed icicles on my ski mask. I didn’t try speed skating. I watched the many speed skaters that came from many parts of the world to train in Calgary. But I didn’t try it myself. I think I put on a pair of speed skates a couple of times while I was there. It’s much more difficult than it looks since there’s no ankle support like there is in hockey skates or figure skates.
I already knew when I was 22 years old that I was not a good enough runner to make it very far in the sport, certainly no where near the Olympics. Distance running is extremely competitive, largely because it’s everyone’s sport. When so many millions of people in the country run, the pool of talent is huge. But speed skating is much less competitive because there are so few places to do it. You have to live near a speed skating oval. You have to have the opportunity. Like Malcolm Gladwell eloquently describes in his book, Outliers, successful people have opportunities that unsuccessful ones don’t.
I love speed skating. Perhaps because it’s very similar to running races on a track. But when I was in Calgary, I trained with a track club and did intervals around the 453-meter track that circled the outside of the speed skating oval. I couldn’t tear myself away from running to take speed skating lessons, connect with a coach there, and see how good I could have been.
So that’s my regret. I was in the right place, at the right age, with an attraction to the sport, with the right intense personality and work ethic for the sport, and with the right opportunity only a hundred feet from where I lived. And I didn’t take advantage of it. Could I have been an Olympic speed skater? I don’t know. But I likely would have had a better chance than becoming an Olympic runner.
Having regret sucks. We can’t turn back the clock. All we can do is try to recognize opportunities when they arise and take advantage of them. If there’s something you want to try, do it before the opportunity passes by. If you want something you’ve never had, you must do something you’ve never done.