Confessions of the Pathologically Competitive

I am the worst kind of competitive.  You know, one of those people who doesn’t think she is competitive, who thinks she is a good enough person that she can turn it off when with family and small children, that is until somebody in the room yells “go”.  Then her true nature shows.  To those who asked about the place of competitive in my life, post rowing, I had wonderful answers like I had found a balance, like I could just enjoy sport for fun, like now I was going for health rather than winning. Some of this is actually true, I do more yoga than rowing, and I have only once in the decade entered a bona fide competition - it was last month, a fun team triathlon where I cycled so hard I couldn’t’ stand up afterwards.  My record isn’t good.  My kids and I have never once sat down for a game of Scrabble or Monopoly that hasn’t ended in tears or at least a huge sulk from one of us.  My son and I play Ping Pong regularly, and although we say the score isn’t important, it’s not uncommon for one of us to throw our racket on the table in frustration.  My partner David swears I do a victory dance every time I win at cards, clean up in charades, or guess the correct price of the wine he brought home for dinner.  When raising my kids I have tried so hard to instill in them it is not about winning; I went to soccer games year after year when my son didn’t score a single goal, I never once brought it up.  When my daughter’s first foray into competitive Synchro a few years ago resulted in several last place finishes, I didn’t raise an eyebrow.  But, when a woman who was five years older than me beat me in the fun one mile family swim, I just kept saying, she beat me by nine seconds, I should have swam harder, I shouldn’t have stopped to adjust my bikini, I should have worn goggles!  I have long suspected that children learn far more from how we behave than what we say to them.  My son William really was tracking to be the least competitive kid in the neighborhood.  He was known to spot eagles mid soccer game and simply stop running and stare at the sky.  He would spontaneously skip across the basketball court during a lull in the game, and he just didn’t seem to mind too much if someone took the ball from him.  Then the hormones hit, and my little boy changed.  He also began rowing, and the night before an ergometer test last month he told me he wanted to “bury” another guy’s score.  I was taken back, and when I did express my surprise at his sharp edge he said to me. “Come on mom, I am related to you!”  I looked confused to which he added “you are the most competitive person I know.”

All these years I have thought a kinder gentler version of Silken had emerged only to hear the truth straight from my offspring.  Of course, he is right. More evidence: last year I competed in the 90km Tour de Victoria cycling event.  I thought it would be fun to challenge myself to cycle hard for 90km and survive a rather intimidating stretch of road called “Munns Road” just outside of Victoria.  I was NOT going to race. I was NOT going to push myself to the point of nausea.  I was NOT going to be one of those crazy, hyper competitive middle aged athletes that didn’t have enough perspective to enjoy the scenery.  No, not me.  For the first ten kilometers I enjoyed the spectacular day, I made small talk with riders around me, and I even visualized a cappuccino stop somewhere along the way.  I was going to be one of those lovely people who savored, who di d the race enjoying every minute and passing on good wishes to all.  And then I hit Munns Road and the first big hill.  I like hills, I like feeling the burn in my legs; and what I discovered that day, was that I could pass people on the hills, and that it felt good and it made me want to go harder.  Every time I passed someone I would get a delightful jolt of energy, and aim my sights on the next person.  Before I knew it my pleasure ride had gone from a solid 25km/hr to 32km/hr.  I was now spinning my legs fast; I was now catching up to the next group and being sucked along by their wind and their enthusiasm.  I passed rider after rider, all the while increasing my cadence and building a slow burn in my legs.  My husband was starting the 50km race, and the longer distance riders would be passing the starting line.  I had planned to stop, like a good partner would, to wish him luck.  My girlfriend dismounted to wait for a friend who was several minutes back.  I passed the 50km start line, did a high speed wave in the general direction of my husband, and kept going.  I wanted to be my friend, the one that stopped - I wanted to be that kind of person that could interrupt their own performance to support another.  Deep down I knew a better person would have stopped, but I just  --- couldn’t.   I finished the race on a high, exhausted but pleased with my efforts.  I was miles away from doing anything remarkable in this newfound sport, but I had worked as hard as I could have, and posted a respectable time.  Except that wasn’t my goal.  My goal was to have fun.

I want to be one of those people who can simply enjoy the run, who can talk their entire way through a marathon, who can slow down for a friend and encourage them for the last few km.  Except I am not.  My lifelong experience has been that I am one of those irritatingly highly competitive people.  My sister sent me a card on my birthday, it is of a cat contorting herself into full lotus.  Inside it reads,   "I relax, I do yoga, I meditate…and I still want to smack something.”  I have an edge, and that edge, even when tempered by meditation, yoga and a fair bit of self knowledge, is still part of who I am. I guess it is hard to escape our true natures, and that killer instinct, that desire to hurt myself badly in order to win, has served me pretty well.  My strongest competition has always been myself. I want to do better than I did before, I want to strive for more and better.  I take this approach to my self development.  I take courses to better myself; I push myself to write better, to read extensively, to expand my thinking.  I enjoy all of these things, but I am also driven by a deep desire to continue to grow and improve. In this at least, it is futile to compare myself to others, because this is ultimately very personal.  When it comes to sports and other things where we can compete, I find myself choosing the time and places a little bit more wisely.   I often train alone or choose activities that are impossible to be competitive in, yoga and distance walking are two of these. I like to ride, and if I really want to go out for a fun ride, I go with a friend, and I stick with her the entire way.   (Okay, until some guy comes into my sight line and I just have to catch up to him, but then, after I have passed him, I slow down and  wait for my friend!)… Silken