What makes an outstanding athlete? Is it all down to their physical ability or is it an amalgamation of intelligences working simultaneously to ensure that they combine their various functions in order to achieve athletic goals?
We’ve written about this before but having walked the streets of Tenby, watching the Iron Man Wales competition this year, I found myself mesmerised by this multi-intelligent approach to sport.At 6.45 in the morning we strolled down to the North Beach to find that there wasn’t even standing room available to see the start of the race. Thousands lined the streets and the only way to get a decent view was to climb on walls, or find a friendly neighbour whose windows looked out onto the anticipated action.
The sight of 1500 people simultaneously running and diving into the sea was incredible. Arms and legs flapping in the wake of others, competitors pushing to the front – pressing their fellow competitors to make a decision as to whether to keep up or stick to their plan of action.And here started the mental game that accompanies the physical one.
The Iron Man competition is a gargantuan triathlon. Competitors have to swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and finish the day with a full marathon of 26 miles. Maybe one should question their intelligence in doing this sort of race in the first place, but that’s another story.
Having swum two circuits of the north bay of the town, the athletes ran up the substantial hill, through the town and collected their bikes, and then they were off once more. The first man had arrived back for the marathon and he was on his second lap of the running race before many of the elite athletes were returning from the cycle race. As he took his medal eight hours and 52 minutes after entering the sea in the early hours, other competitors were still returning to Tenby from their bike ride, and had to step off straight into marathon mode.What I wondered about was how did they keep going? This question was exacerbated by the layout of the course which, due to there being four laps of the town and its outer reaches, meant that competitors were constantly passing one another. In a normal marathon layout, you know that there are people in front of you. You know that some people have completed the race but you don’t have to witness it. Here, you could be a mile into your run of 26 miles passing someone who has a matter of yards to complete before the finishing line. The willpower to keep focused and continue along the way when your body is full of pain and your mind is numbed is completely admirable.
So my next question to myself was – who was the greatest athlete on the day? Was it Sylvain Rota with his record-breaking time? Was it Regula Rohrbach who stormed to victory in the woman’s race?Or was it the three athletes who were over 65 coming over the finish line in under 17 hours? Or perhaps it was Tudor Georgescu who kept going for over sixteen and a half hours in order to complete his race?
Or perhaps the greatest athlete was the one who stopped at the end of circuit two of the marathon because he knew his limitations and had managed to do more than he had expected. Or maybe the one who, having completed the swim and the bike ride, was told he couldn’t do the marathon because he’d taken too long? How do you cope with that sort of disappointment?Running through a town full of revellers at nine o’clock in the evening when your body has completely given up on you must be torture. The amber nectar being supped by the spectators must be a draw, and yet they resolutely stick to their running and continue to trudge along.
The ability of the mind to work in conjunction with the body is phenomenal. The ability of the mind to work at overriding what might be the instinct to flee is also incredible.
These athletes, whether they are the winner, the one that finishes last or the one that doesn’t manage to complete the course, work with their intelligences which are constantly spinning like a gyroscope. The body might say one thing and the mind say another. The elation of running knowing that their goal is in reach sets their spiritual intelligence into action. The raised arms, the buried heads and the mixed feelings expressed on their faces as they crossed the finishing line is indicative of the very fact that the work of the day was not only in their feet.Our minds, our spirit, our ability to be resolute and determined in adversity makes us special, whatever our particular choice of recreation or work. These athletes personified the existence of multiple intelligences and how they function simultaneously. The gruelling nature of the day for an onlooker is surely focused on the incredible physical feat of such a sport but for me, the mind was the real winner. The Frenchman who crossed the line first was evidently physically capable, but the regulation and persistence of his athleticism would never be achieved if his mind and his spirit were not focused on his goal, if he was unaware of his personal skills and desires, if he didn’t rejoice in his victory, if he was unaware of the athletes around him. Each competitor had their own physical battle to contend with. Each competitor had their own victory. But what some people who were lining the streets may not have fully considered is how each competitor demonstrated the need for us all to think in terms of multiple intelligences, and with any lack of determined focus in allareas we can’t be a fulfilled human being let alone a great athlete.