Earlier this week as the Huskies started practice, I wrote about the potential comeback of Deontae Cooper. The immensely talented and likeable UW running back was fighting to make his Husky debut after losing his first two seasons to knee injuries. Unfortunately, that will be delayed at least another year, as Cooper tore his ACL again on Wednesday. The only possible positive is that this time it was to his other knee, making a recovery slightly more likely, but that’s hardly anything to celebrate.
Cooper hasn’t said for sure either way, but the expectation is that he will try once again to return for next season. No one would blame him in the least if he decided to retire, and he still might do so, but that doesn’t seem to be his desire at the moment.
Barring a comeback that would be improbable and miraculous, Cooper will never be a Husky great. It’s extremely doubtful he ever even sees the field. His lack of productivity has nothing to do with a lack of effort or desire, though. He has knees of glass and a will of steel. With every setback, he works and works to overcome it, always with a smile and positivity belying his terrible luck. If his body would only oblige him, I have no doubt he would become the Husky legend that he should be. Injuries are a cruelty of sport that separate winners from losers in a method that has little to do with skill.
Before the Olympics started, I read a short article about American sprinter Tyson Gay. Gay is the fastest American 100 meter sprinter ever and the second fastest in the world with a time of 9.69 seconds. It’s impossible to tell, but given the way sprint times have dropped so dramatically in the course of the modern Olympics, he might be the second fastest human to ever run the earth.
Unfortunately for Tyson Gay, he has shared the track with Usain Bolt, and that means that Gay has no world records and no Olympic gold medals. Due to an injury in the 2008 Olympic trials, when he was at his best, he has no medals at all. It is likely impossible for Tyson Gay to beat Usain Bolt when they are both running at their best, and yet he keeps training, keeps running, keeps chasing the one man in the history of the world who is faster than he is.
In most sports, performance keeps getting better and better over time. Debates can carry infinitely on whether baseball or football players are better now than they were in the ‘30s, ‘50s, ‘70s, but records keep falling and overall athleticism keeps increasing. In individual and time-based sports, average and record times sink lower and lower, jumps reach further, swimmers swim faster and gymnasts tumble in ever more difficult routines.
The high jump is one of the few sports where people aren’t getting better. I’m far from an expert on the high jump, but from what I understand, records just aren’t falling like they used to or like they do in other events. Perhaps the average high jumper is growing closer to elite, I’m not sure, but there’s not the unceasing push to new highs present everywhere else in the sporting world. It seems the human body has reached the limits of its ability to jump. People simply can’t jump any higher than they are now. Eventually, there may be a breakthrough, perhaps in technique or genetics or training, that will push records higher. For now, high jumpers continue to strain at a ceiling that all the desire in the world will not help them break through.
Three years ago, my wife and I moved into a new house at the same time as our new neighbor. I didn’t get to know him well, but he was the kind of guy you wanted to know: young, fun-loving, big-hearted. There was a steady stream of friends and family visiting every day, and he always had a smile and friendly greeting. In the course of that year, he became a homeowner, husband and father. And then, one night, he went to the emergency room for some stomach pain and came home with a diagnosis of colon cancer.
Over the next couple of years, he underwent every kind of treatment the doctors could find. He continued to work full time. He took care of his young son and wife. There was no change in his love of life, even as his weight and energy dropped continuously and dramatically. He would have fought the cancer forever if given the opportunity, but a couple of months ago, the fight was taken out of his hands. He passed away, just days after his 26th birthday.
Every day, people run and fight against odds that seem, and in some cases, are, impossible. That doesn’t stop them from running and fighting.
We understand winning as finishing first. That’s fine, especially when we’re cheering at a sporting event. Someone wins and someone loses. That’s the nature of competition. Its thrill pushes us higher, makes us strain for something greater, teaches us where we stand and how far we have to go.
Winning isn’t always that simple, though, especially off the field. Sometimes the body is just not up to the task, no matter how hard we fight. Everyone wants to win, but finishing first isn’t always the true definition of winning. Often, winning is simply having the courage to stay in the fight, no matter the odds.