For months after watching the snowboarding competition in the 2014 Winter Olympics, I couldn’t stop thinking about the similarities between the writing life and these extreme sports. For most of us, comparing our writing lives to winning Olympic gold medals creates a false sense of what qualifies as success. Athletes in the limelight, like snowboarder Shaun White, inspire millions of children and adults to take up the sport. Most of these newbies, however, never go on to compete in the Olympics or land product endorsements like their heroes. They can still have rewarding amateur or professional careers, though.
That’s why sports journalist Esther Hershkovits believes American Sage Kotsenburg’s gold medal in slopestyle snowboarding did more for the sport than if mega-star Shaun White had won in the Sochi Games. In her February 2014 PaperMag article, Hershkovits discussed the high-stakes tricks of a few elite performers that draw most of the attention and sponsorship dollars, but overshadow the hard work and artistry of the snowboarding community as a whole.
“The majority of professional snowboarders do not compete in the X Games or in the Olympics but rather take their skills from terrain parks and apply them to urban settings or the back country,” Hershkovits writes.
This is the natural progression from play to risk that athletes—and writers—must make. We all have to work hard, take risks, commit to our craft. Some of us will achieve breakaway success, even in the early days of a career. White scored his first corporate sponsor at age 7. But the majority of us will never rise that quickly, or that far, and still, we will see rewards for our risk. We may even find “success,” if we are open to evolving definitions.
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This is my latest post at Tweetspeak Poetry. It’s the second of four parts that will be published in the coming weeks.
Earlier posts in the series: