(Editor's note: Chuck has postponed the second part of his series "Alcohol vs. Marijuana" until after the Winter Olympics so he can address some moments of inspiration from the games.)
American snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg, a native of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, made the decision of his life in Olympic competition over the weekend, and it paid off big-time, with the first American gold medal -- and the first gold medal in general -- in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Whatever our aspirations, his example shows us the way to our ticket to gold, too.
After earning his place in the finals by finishing second in the semifinals earlier on Saturday, the 20-year-old Kotsenburg called his elder brother Blaze, who was at home in Park City, Utah, and U.S. coach Bill Enos to run by them a risky and, some would say, crazy idea, according to USA Today.
Kotsenburg wanted to throw something into his first Olympic finals run -- a trick he never had done before in either practice or prior competition. It is called a "back 16 Japan," which is essentially spinning backward 4 1/2 times (1,620 degrees of rotation) while grasping the back part of one's snowboard (Japan). It is also known as a backside double-cork 1620 Japan.
At first, I'm sure coach Enos and brother Blaze raised their eyebrows at the idea. One might try that daring trick on a practice run back in Park City, but at the Olympics during the finals? Kotsenburg said to his coach, "I think I might go back 16 Japan." The coach responded, "Send it! What do you have to lose?"
Though he had made his mark as a champion snowboarder back in the U.S., Kotsenburg was already being cast as an underdog in the Olympics -- especially while in the shadow of megastar Shaun White, who withdrew from the men's slopestyle competition a few days earlier.
He was up against not only 11 other Olympic competitors but also his own internal risk walls and emotions. I can imagine he could feel his heart pounding as adrenaline surged through his body at the starting gate while he was alone thinking of his upcoming untried trick. I'm sure he asked himself, if even momentarily, "What if I don't pull off the back 16 Japan?" It could have meant the agony of defeat before his largest audience ever.
Well, Kotsenburg faced his fears and slam-dunked his back 16 Japan and the slopestyle snowboarding contest, which was also making its Olympic debut as an event. He received a score of 93.50 on that first run -- a high score that slayed the following nine competitors and even held throughout the second runs of competition, too.
Kotsenburg was ecstatic and knew exactly why he won: a single risk, a single trick, a single act of competitive courage, to which he also added his unique hold on the board, named the "Holy Crail." He said somewhat shocked and laughing after the run, "I ended up landing it and winning with it." (Isn't that exactly how all of us have felt after doing something we thought we could never do?)
Kotsenburg demonstrated something I've believed all of my life, during my careers in martial arts, movies and television: There's no reward without risk. There's no higher compensation without facing the challenge. There's no gold without the bold.
The reason that athletes -- like entrepreneurs, educators and myriad others who advance in life -- are often successful is that they are willing to face their fears and even failure. They won't give up; they won't give in. They may fall to the ground in defeat from time to time, but by sheer determination -- and often God's grace and a little help from friends -- they will rise again to meet the challenges of a new day. So I know that Kotsenburg's U.S. teammates in the slopestyle competition, Chas Guldemond and Ryan Stassel, though they didn't win a medal this time, will not give up their future hopes and goals.
Kotsenburg's own attitude about the possibility of failure before his back 16 Japan was this: "I really want to medal just as much as the next guy, but my attitude in the run: If I land, that's cool; if not, I need to try harder, obviously. That's just how I snowboard."
In the end, I believe we all have to answer with our lives the question Kotsenburg's coach asked him on the phone: "What do you have to lose?"
Taking a chance is almost always risky. But what's the alternative? You've heard it said that "if you always do what you've always done, you'll always be where you've always been." It's also true that a rut is merely a grave with the ends knocked out.
Don't misunderstand me. I'm certainly not saying that I believe we all should risk life and limb. Remember that Kotsenburg is a trained professional and was stepping up and out in his area of calling and expertise. Logic should precede the leap -- or at least build its platform.
Is risk difficult? That's an understatement. But is the goal worth the gamble? I believe so; otherwise, I wouldn't be where I am. I go to the words of my hero, John Wayne, who said, "Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway."
Kotsenburg said in an interview after winning Olympic gold: "Honestly, it feels like a dream right now ... seriously the craziest thing ever. ... I didn't really ... think it would happen."
The road to the next level is always uphill, but so is better living. And the only thing that often separates us from it is our (next) "back 16 Japan."
So what is your "back 16 Japan"? I don't know specifically what it is for you, but I bet you do. And it's likely the next move you need to make to get to a new plateau -- to attain your award.
Kotsenburg stands on the shoulders of his predecessors in modeling for us our next step in life. Truly, America's first gold medal in the Winter Olympics can be our ticket to gold, as well.
Congratulations, Sage! You were willing to pay the price, and now you have the prize!