Throwing in the Towel

For the past few years I have been following the efforts of a long distance swimmer named Diana Nyad. For those of you who don't know her, she has set numerous records in open water swimming (open water, as in swimming across the ocean!) and for the past two years has been attempting to complete the amazing feat of swimming 103 miles, from Cuba to Florida. She tried this swim once, way back in 1978, but had to stop after almost 42 hours of swimming due to bad weather and strong currents. Last summer (at the age of 61!) she tried it again. After swimming 82 nautical miles, and being stung by not one, but two Man O War jellyfish, she was once again forced to stop. Diana swims without a shark cage to protect her. She was stung in the face by one of the most deadly creatures on earth and kept swimming, through excruciating pain and illness. Did I mention she is 61 years old?

Clearly Diana Nyad is an impressive athlete, an inspiration, a role model. What she has done is amazing. And yes, she had a goal and did not quite reach it. But trying again after all that? Is that inspirational perseverance or unhealthy obsession?

Not that this is at all like Diana Nyad's incredible feat, but Sunday night I was watching the Amazing Race. (Nope, taking a taxi a bit faster than another team is not quite the same as swimming 103 miles) One couple was having trouble with one of the silly challenges that the show makes its contestants do before moving forward. As they got more and more frustrated, the woman spoke to the camera. "He (her husband) has a 13 year old daughter and we have to show her that you should never quit. So we are going to keep trying until we get it". 

They did get it eventually. And perhaps Diana will reach that Florida shore this summer. Perseverance is a very valuable thing. So is having a dream and going for it. I want my daughter to believe that she can accomplish absolutely anything she wants to. (Unless what she wants is to marry a prince and live in his castle. Sorry Disney but I am not encouraging this one.) I also do not want her to give up the minute a task gets difficult, or when she is afraid, or when someone else challenges her. Especially when someone else challenges her.

Last week Maya was playing after school with some of her friends when one of the boys said something that "hurt her feelings". We were supposed to go to the playground. Maya wanted to go home. Did she want to get a snack and eat it outside? Nope, she wanted to go home and take a nap. For the first time in her toddler life, my daughter was volunteering to nap. Clearly something terrible had happened. What about her friends who were also going to the playground? This is when she burst into tears.

I didn't hear exactly what the boy said but it was something obvious and unoriginal, something along the lines of "You can't play with us.". After a brief trip home to pee (still crying) and a stop at the corner store where Maya (still crying) was allowed to pick any snack she wanted, we eventually made it back to the playground. I was hoping to get her to talk to the boy, who is also a friend of hers, and explain how she felt but they were long gone. Still the point was made. Before his comment, Maya had been really looking forward to the park.  I was not going to let her miss out on it just because her feelings were hurt. (Not to mention it was 55 degrees and sunny in February. And it was only 3:00, a full 3 hours until dinner. No way were we going home!)

Was this the right thing to do? I don't know. Perhaps it would have been better to take her home and cuddle her on the couch instead. All I know is that at one point after sliding down the slide (and after a long talk about not running away from her problems) Maya said "I fixed it and now I am having fun!"

There are definitely times when you should keep going, despite the struggle. Here are some of them:
When your life depends on it.
I finally watched 127 Hours. That guy with his arm stuck in the rock, he was right to not give up. If the alternative is death, by all means keep on trucking.

When it is good for you and you enjoy it but you are just too damn lazy.
 I don't know how many karate students over the years have said things like "I love to train but I just can't get myself off the couch." I understand, I like my couch too. It helps to get a routine going. If Monday is your training day than just pick up your bag and go, no excuses. Also if your kid says they do not want to come to karate anymore because they would rather play video games with their buddies after school say no. (Yes I have heard this before) I am all for giving kids choices, just not that one.

 You should not give up whenever the reward is truly worth the struggle. Even when the alternative is scary and uncomfortable. Even when you are tired. Even when someone is being mean. But what about when jellyfish are biting your face?

Is quitting ever the right thing to do? Absolutely.

In my opinion, here is when you should throw in the towel:
When you are honestly not having any fun.
Sure training is good for you. And yes, your child will gain so many positive things from karate. But if he hates it and is miserable every class, he should quit. (Also if his teacher is a self absorbed asshole, like the Cobra Kai Sensei in the Karate Kid. Johnny should not have swept the leg. He should have quit.)

When you are hurting yourself.
There is a difference between sore muscles and serious injury. If you are limping out of training every single day than someone (either you or your teacher) is doing something wrong. Also, unless you are being paid to fight professionally, if your injuries are not accidents then it is time to quit. Your health is worth more than your pride.

When it is impossible.
Sometimes the goal you are working towards is truly unattainable. Perhaps you have set your sights a little too high from the beginning. And now your quest to reach it has overshadowed the rest of your life. This might be the time to gain some perspective and find a new star to reach for.

I am not saying Diana Nyad should stop trying to swim to Florida. That is obviously for her to decide.  All I am saying is that if her goal was to show that there is life after 60, she has already done it. She is a phenomenal athlete. No one in the world can do what she is trying to do. Maybe it should stay that way.

Also, if I were Diana Nyad, by now I would be pretty damn sick of the ocean.



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