The Right and Wrong Way to Fall

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Feb 20, 2016

“If you can’t fly, then run; if you can’t run, then walk; if you can’t walk, then crawl; but whatever you do, you have to keep going.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

Today I want to tell you two different stories about two different runners who ran in two different races. Their names are Suzy Favor Hamilton and Heather Dorniden. In each of their races they each fell down in front of thousands of people. 

From the moment we are born and begin taking our first steps we experience what it means to fall down. Up and down and up and down become the pattern until we learn to steady ourselves enough to stay up.

Before long we find ourselves in that same precarious up and down mode as we graduate from tricycle to bicycle. Skinned knees and riding a bicycle without the help of training wheels or parents are all a part of growing up.

Even as adults we fall down. A patch of ice or a wet floor can send any of us from an upright position to flat on our backs in the blink of an eye. 

A few years ago I was bringing a box down from the attic in our old farmhouse and my foot caught on something at the top of the steps. Down I went, step by step, headfirst to the bottom of the steps.

Evie heard me and came running to see what had happened. After checking me over, we both felt it would be best to go to the emergency room of the hospital to make sure nothing was broken.

I will never forget explaining to the doctor why I was there and then added, “And I didn’t even break my glasses.” He started laughing and when I asked him why he was laughing he replied, “You could have killed yourself and you were worried about your glasses.” It turns out about the only thing that was really hurt was my pride.

Let’s get back to the two runners. Suzy Favor Hamilton competed in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympics. She finished 11th in her qualifying round race in the 1500-meter in 1992 and fourth in her qualifying race in the 800-meter in 1996.

She made the finals of the 1500-meter race in 2000 with the second best qualifying time (1/100th of a second slower than the best by the eventual winner) and led into the final lap of the final. But during that final lap she ran out of gas and when she realized she would lose the race and could not win a medal, when fell on the track. It was not until years later that she confessed that she deliberately fell, pretending she was injured because she didn’t want to lose.

In 2008, Heather Dorniden was a celebrated runner for the University of Minnesota. She was leading the pack during the final heat of the 600-meter race in the Big Ten Indoor Track Championship. There were about 200 meters of the race to go when Dorniden tripped, landing hard on her face.
But instead of quitting, she jumped back onto her feet and began sprinting around the track, rapidly gaining speed. “Luckily, it was a home meet, so my whole team, my parents and fans gave me so much energy.” Dorniden later said. “I heard the announcer say, ‘watch out for Dorniden.’ I thought, yes, watch out for Dorniden.” 

Incredibly, Dorniden managed to fly past all of her competitors and, to everyone’s surprise she crossed the finish line in first place. On a 2009 university website post she said, “That last 50 meters, I hit a gear that I never knew I had.” 

As Samuel Johnson said, “Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.”

Think about it. 

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Pa. 
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