The downside of a relay is that when you just barely miss winning (or a record) it is really hard to let go of the feeling that you have let your teammates down - if only you had squeezed out that extra bit.... (It doesn't help much to know they are probably feeling the same way.) In an individual event, it seems easier to cheerfully accept that you did pretty much the best you could and got beat fair and square.
I have a friend who used to counsel Viet Nam vets. She said their most devastating psychological dilemma (and one of the most common) was the awareness that those moments of life-or-death, now-or-never, win-or-lose, putting it all on the line - were, for all their pain or terror, the most exciting experiences they had ever had. They couldn't stop reliving them, no matter how much they suffered during or as a result of them. Everything else seemed less real by comparison, like sleepwalking. Serious conflict. Although I can't pretend to know what they went through, never having been there, I feel sure that Masters T&F competition would make an excellent therapy! That "Gulp!" feeling is something we need in our lives to connect us securely to the "Here and Now." What a pity if it were experienced only as a cause for shame. Perhaps one of the main purposes of civilization is to provide occasions like the Penn Relays where it can be a source of exultation without anyone getting seriously hurt.
- Last updated 18 June 1998 -