In this story from December 1969, Olympic figure skating champion Peggy Fleming shares a lesson she learned the hard way.
A crushing defeat I suffered when I was only 10 years old helped send me to the Olympics.
For it acquainted me with a deadly competitor–the other Peggy Fleming.
It had only been a year since Dad had taken me to a neighborhood ice rink for the first time. Up to that time, I had been roller-skating, playing baseball, and could shinny up a tree as well as any boy. But that first glide on the ice convinced me this was it.
Dad encouraged me to take skating lessons. And soon I was winning local figure-skating awards. Then came the Pacific Coast Championship in Los Angeles.
Mother and Dad drove me there. And I sat in the car, a very confident young lady, glowing in the adulation of friends and newspaper clippings. I walked into the stadium expecting to add another laurel to my recent victories.
Out on the ice, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, skimming through the camel's spin, double axle, paragraph three, and all the other figures I knew so well.
But when the results were posted, I was stunned–out of 12 entrants I had finished last!
On the quiet trip home I buried myself in the back seat of the car. But the lesson burned as bright as my skate blades: "You didn't skate your best!"
I knew that only one person had beaten me that day–myself, my own self-satisfaction.
I've heard that we humans use only about one one-hundredth of our potential brain power. I guess you could call that microscopic traction the high-water mark of our self-satisfaction.
What a tremendous reservoir of power awaits us, if we'd just tap into it!
Yet I know how difficult this can be. When I trained for the Olympics, I'd grind out the same 69 figures over and over, eight hours a day, six days a week.
A skater must do five figures for the Olympics, but you aren't told until the last minute which figures these will be. So you must have all 69 down pat.
Often in the middle of practicing a figure, the other Peggy Fleming would whisper, "Good enough–why strain yourself?" And then I'd remember my lesson at Los Angeles.
We all face the same personal barrier in our everyday lives–call it inertia, boredom or just plain coasting. If we don't throw our hearts past it, we'll never reach our full potential.
The new college graduate who "knows it all" soon stagnates; the wife who lets down on herself and her home places her marriage in jeopardy; the man who finds a job but stops looking for work becomes sidetracked in his career. Anyone who rests on his laurels soon finds it becomes poison ivy.
Now I skate professionally. Yet even though I'm no longer a contestant, I still face this deadly competitor, myself. For when you do a show–sometimes two or three each day–it becomes a temptation to go out there and just get by. But I would know it, and the audience would sense it.
I firmly believe that God has given each of us a special talent–be it in the arts, crafts, sciences, business or homemaking.
And like the parable of the talents in the Bible, if we bury our talent in our own self-satisfaction, or fear trying, or simply do not want to make the effort, we fail Him, our world and ourselves.
More stories from Winter Olympians!
Read more Guideposts Classics!