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Transcendence as an athlete

This is an excerpt from Gifted by Robert J. Schinke.

One professional athlete I worked with for several years provides an example of transcendence. This boxer was on the precipice of greatness, already having achieved a world champion status. The gauntlet thrown down before him was to accept a challenge from one of the top adversaries in the sport and place a personal accomplished status on the line. Although he was a champion and opponents ­were of a very good quality, ­there was not yet an encounter with an opponent known to be vastly better than my client. Some pundits suggested he was untested at the highest level of the sport and that the test would be well outside his reach. In the months and weeks leading up to the globally televised fight, many naysayers anticipated an inevitable fall from grace, just as Ali was anticipated to fall from grace at Foreman’s hands. The media and the opponent anticipated an exposure of the boxer as a paper champion and not one of true substance. The support team surrounding him understood what was at stake. This attempt at transcendence was risky but rich in opportunity to expand worldwide into rarefied thin air at the apex of a sport. If ­there was ever a moment where resolve was being tested, this boxer was undergoing the experience and its risk-­to-­loss ratio in full.

Together, the team affirmed what the boxer knew intuitively to be a wonderful opportunity to transcend a paper title and ascend to the apex of the sport’s highest level. The question was: How can we put together a plan, piece by piece, to overcome the opponent before the performer and entourage? The opponent was profiled based on strengths, limitations, and behavioral patterns. For example, the opponent was a cautious person who took a long time to warm into ­performance. The boxer needed a sizable lead before the opposition was able to adjust style and strategy in the ­battle. The opponent’s gaps fueled the ­boxer’s knowledge and spurred the ability to adapt to a higher level of play than outsiders anticipated. We then formulated a winning strategy that would help the boxer meet the lofty objective posed by the opponent’s renowned quality. We followed a format resembling the one I have already proposed to you in the previous lesson, where bricks and mortar—­that is, affirmations and artifacts—­were first put into place. The plan became clearer as we went along, and it was built around our client’s ­performance style, including speeches to the press and tactics through the media leading up to the fight to affirm our client and destabilize the opponent. Fi­nally, we formulated a special ­battle plan in the days, hours, and minutes leading up to the big moment. My job was to stay with the client in the days before the fight and ensure proper rest, psychological recovery, positive language in relation to the fight, and reminders of the long journey that brought him to the current time where transcendence was near. During this ­process, he was fully engaged in the possibilities, never doubting or questioning the potential win. Then, in the final hours, sitting in the dressing room before the inevitable ­performance, the team members ­were certain we could hear the ­boxer’s heartbeat in the dressing room, though likely, what we heard was our own heartbeats. Our hearts beat in sync; we stood united throughout the strenuous preparation and leap of faith. Our team had momentum, and much like the audience in Kinshasa, Zaire, the home audience sensed we ­were about to pull a rabbit from the hat in a display of sport magic.

The moment then arrived. The ­television crew stepped into the room and the camera and lights ­were upon the boxer and team, so close and so bright they emitted heat. Lights warmed the room, lights that would follow the performer from that moment ­until the end of the ­performance. ­Music and pyrotechnics boomed as we began to walk through the corridors and into the darkened arena that was filled to the ceiling with screaming fans and naysayers, all awaiting the spectacle to come. Some boxers would have decreased in size during that very moment, but this boxer grew larger in stature and poise. Forever a ­people watcher, I recognized the boxer responding with assurance, brimming with confidence as the performer’s body slipped between the ropes and into the ring, radiating with belief. The performer was ready to perform. The opponent who stood waiting turned to look, and I recognized a telltale emotional expression—­surprise and uncertainty. The opponent’s face showed a sudden nagging question: Would he endure and succeed, or would this be the inevitable moment when he would relent ­under high pressure despite the anticipated ­great odds to win? In such moments, bodies and minds do more or less than they could, depending on the approach or avoidance response to the opportunity that awaits. ­These moments are tenuous and require a fortified version of the ­human performer where endurance materializes into real­ity and recognition.

More Excerpts From Gifted