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Home / Articles / Columnists / Life 101 /  The Lesson Of Never Quitting
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Monday, October 3,2011

The Lesson Of Never Quitting

The Marathon Wimbledon Tennis Match & The Lesson Of Never Quitting

By Cary Bayer  
Before going to bed last night, I read an article in Tennis magazine about the 2010 record-breaking 11-hourplus tennis marathon held at Wimbledon between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. Then, before turning out the light, I glanced at a quote that sits by my bed that reads, “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” This apt observation was made by Vince Lombardi, the Hall of Fame football coach, who guided the Green Bay Packers to wins in the first two Super Bowls ever played. As a life coach and wellness–not sports– columnist, I’m invoking three sets of athletes because of what they have to teach each and every one of us about succeeding in any and every area of life.

What’s so astonishing about the 138-game fifth set played by Isner and Mahut is not the obvious records of aces and consecutive service games held, or even the hardly believable physical stamina they had to compete at that level hour after record-breaking hour, but the sheer power of will and determination it took to continue to get back on the court and play, and not just throw in the towel. An avid tennis player, I’m often tired after just one hour of singles; they played more than eleven hours. Their match was greater than every marathon match ever played in basketball, baseball, soccer, hockey, and boxing.

It took seven overtimes before the University of Cincinnati defeated Bradley University. The Isner/ Mahut match would have been equivalent to 18 overtimes. It took eight overtimes for UCLA to beat American University in the 1985 men’s NCAA championship soccer final; the Wimbledon match would be equivalent to 20 overtimes. The White Sox beat the Brewers in a 1984 baseball game in the 25th inning; the tennis marathon would have been likened to 42 innings of play. Detroit took nearly six overtimes to beat Montreal in a hockey match; Isner/ Mahut would convert to nearly 10 overtimes. An 1893 boxing match went 110 rounds, which isn’t even fathomable to fight fans who watch 15 rounders, but put in Wimbledon terms, it would have required 186 rounds of fighting..

The level of desire, and the intensity of determination, by both John Isner, the victor, and Nicolas Mahut is beyond what any one playing a sport could comprehend. This is the kind of steely determination that made Scarlett O’Hara unforgettable in Gone with the Wind when she said, “As God is my witness…they’re not going to lick me. I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk…As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”

This is the kind of desire that’s critical to awaken in yourself for the duration of the Great Recession that we’ve been living through these past few years. It’s difficult not to find people who haven’t been affected by foreclosures, floods, fires burning wildly, layoffs, heat waves, hackings, budget cuts, client losses, and the like. I don’t offer this litany of woes to bring you down; rather to summon your steadfastness. As the doubting Macbeth asked his scheming wife: “If we should fail?” To which his ambitious wife replied, “We fail? But screw your courage to the sticking place, and we’ll not fail.”

I’m not suggesting that you become cold-hearted like coldblooded regicides, but I do suggest that you don’t even think of failure. I don’t think that John Isner or Nicolas Mahut thought of failure after eleven hours of mano a mano tennis. After a six-overtime college basketball game, Syracuse guard Jonny Flynn confided, “I can’t even feel my legs right now.” I don’t think Isner and Mahut felt theirs. On some particularly down day in this dismal economic climate, you might not feel yours, either. But it is important on a daily basis to feel your courage, your belief in yourself, your determination, and your burning enthusiasm. Without them, you could find yourself like Nicolas Mahut—having to take a shower after an eleven hour defeat. Don’t ever quit, because there’s light at the end of the tunnel—even if that tunnel is an eleven-hour marathon or its equivalent.


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