The TV clip at the gym caught my eye even though I knew nothing of Sara. It was a replay of her win in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. McMann stood on the podium, the first American woman to earn a silver in Olympic wrestling. And she was crushed. She hung her head because it was nothing less than gold she’d wanted.
The snapshot was in part a preview of the highly anticipated Mixed Martial Arts match between her and undefeated female MMA world champion Ronda Rousey. When Sara became pregnant she realized she was not done competing. After having her daughter, she took up Mixed Martial Arts. Here she was, gearing up to face the most talented, feared fighter in women’s MMA. I never cared to watch Ronda. It was enough and somewhat reasonable that I came to appreciate men in their fighting glory. I couldn’t wrap my head around women’s flexing biceps and bashing each other in the face. But Sara’s journey was so intriguing I was sold on the match to come. Many of you know achievement is a pet topic of mine. The women rekindled my fascination with people who “repudiate mediocrity, forgive nothing substandard,” as I’ve said in Part One of my series on greatness. Now I’d like to explore in a more personal way the question of being good enough.
See, I saw myself, I saw culture when I contemplated Sara’s face on that Olympic stage. She didn’t look Korean, but she was. Second place is not something Koreans are proud of. The “as long as you did your best” is a delusional American dream. McMann said, “I fight to win.” No one does this to lose. She and Ronda attacked the gym, beat their body because only one would walk away with the championship.
Few of us live for a tangible trophy but these stars play out on the global radar what the rest of us do in our own little world. We all want to win. What do you like to win at? I mean, do you get up and clock in at the office for the distinction of Mediocre Employee of the Month or the reputation as the weakest link on your team? Do you set out in the morning to be a bad mom? You don’t play Monopoly to go bankrupt. We don’t always vie for the farthest we can go but our pride keeps us from sinking beyond a certain point. We want to be good enough. I can’t count how many feel-good posts I run into that assure me I am beautiful enough, strong, smart, talented enough and gosh darn it, don’t let anyone tell me otherwise. What does this mean? That we’re all attractive? How can you tell me I measure up when you don’t even know me? I’m bad at so many things. I couldn’t resist leaving this comment once on a blog: “I am not a troll. I’d just like to share another perspective. What if you really are not good enough?” If we’re all so hunky dory, why bother with certificates, honors, congratulations? Obviously we reward those among us who stand out.
Talk about standing out.
The first American to win an Olympic medal in women’s judo, Ronda Rousey has transformed women’s MMA on the international field of sports. The fight with Sara I did go on to watch was the main event of the night, the other matches all men. Unheard of. Can you imagine men flocking to watch women’s basketball or soccer? But flock they did to catch the Olympiads, “two elite athletes in their prime.” The commentator said of Ronda, “She’s beautiful, she’s bad. Her skill is unparalleled. With no losses, she’s the perfect face of MMA.” Sara was the greatest challenge Ronda had faced in her career up ’til then and she had no plans to give away her title. “Have you ever lost in the Olympics? My mom was the world champion in Judo and she was the first American to ever do it and I had my shot to be like my mom [at] the world championships in Judo and I lost. It feels like dying to me. I’d rather die,” she said on Showtime recently. It isn’t just her drive and record that set Ronda apart. She’s Drama Queen. Known as a polarizing figure, you love this villain or hate her. And people don’t want you staying at the top, not when the world is your footstool.
So what happened with her and Sara?
It was vicious from the get-go. No feeling each other out, as I’ve seen with 170 pounds of male muscle. Sara gave Ronda a run for her money but in a sudden turn of events went down in the fastest knockout in history. After throwing a series of ground strikes, Ronda kneed her in the liver. Sara just went limp and the referee called it out to keep her from further injury. The glare Ronda had painted on broke into a sweet smile of exultation and Sara looked to be holding back tears. Female tears. The fighting wasn’t over; she had to stonewall the tenderness that makes her a woman, in a cage (we call the octagon) no less. Sara managed to compose herself and answered into the mike with clear answers and a smile. It was her own fault: “I should’ve gotten off the cage [wall] faster. I wouldn’t have gotten kneed.” Excuses are lame and owning up is noble but — an apology? I’ve not watched that many men fight but have yet to hear them apologize for losing.
It was an interesting, puzzling end to a cliff-hanger of a fight. How we handle defeat and aching disappointment. While my own sense of fulfillment grows from the things I labor over successfully, my sense of worth is not tied up in what I can and cannot achieve. At the same time, what’s hair-raising about a high-profile competition is you win all or lose all. Whether you miss by a hairsbreadth or a freefall, you staked everything and that is what you feel you’ve lost. Where does our fear of not measuring up come from? Did your upbringing feed your need to prove yourself? The commentator said, “There’s a big difference between wanting and needing to win.” Your thoughts?