Richard Reiss: Always loves to win, always learns to lose | Columnists


When I was a senior in high school, I won 21 wrestling matches in a row. The idea of ​​losing was completely foreign to me until the two-time state champion pinned me in less than a minute. It happened so fast; it was almost as if it hadn’t happened at all. I got up from the mat, shook my opponent’s hand and went back to the locker room. As far as I know, my winning streak would continue indefinitely. This was not the case.

I struggled briefly in college, but for reasons that would require a good therapist to explain to me, I gave up the sport. The notion of victory, however, and the idea that competition was important, especially sports competition, stuck with me for a very long time.

I started racquetball and I was very good. I won a lot more than I lost. I started running and was at least proficient, having run a marathon and several 10k races. The endorphin-induced runner’s high almost made up for the fact that I never came close to winning a race.

Then I started golfing. I was awful. I never won, I never came close. One day I was changing a flat tire on the highway. The spare was in the trunk and to get it out I first had to get out my golf clubs. Two days later, I was thinking about how dangerous it was to change a tire on a Route 80 in New Jersey, cars speeding by at 105 km/h, when I realized that I had left my clubs on the side. of the road. Most golfers would have been quite upset. I took it as a sign. Maybe this competitive/winning thing wasn’t all it was made out to be.

Time took over. Wrinkles have appeared where my skin once was smooth. My hair has thinned and gone from a rich auburn to a shiny gray. Yet, despite the physical changes that time imposes on us all, I still clung to what was left of my competitive spirit. Recently, however, I had what a generation before me would have called my achievement in, of all sports, table tennis.

You are not a player? Many are not. But if you’re of a certain generation, and if you’re Jewish, and if you’ve spent most of your summer vacations in the mountains (aka the Catskills), then chances are you have a high level of proficiency in table tennis. . I may not have won 21 games in a row, but I knew I could play. I was good.

So imagine how excited I was when last weekend, traveling with friends, we stopped at a roadside restaurant that had a shiny black table on the premises. We were all six Jews, but I knew very well that only two others had grown up in the Mountains. They too were happy to play. They too knew they were good.

Game on

I let the others play for a while, feigning disinterest, when someone said, “Rick, it’s your turn.

Nonchalantly, I approach the table, paddle in hand. First, a little warm-up. The ball goes over the net and the ball is returned. So far, so good. We laughed. We smiled. We pretended that winning didn’t matter.

My opponent, Michele, said, “Are you ready?”

“Ready,” I said. “Go ahead and serve.”

I prepared to return the ball. The ball hits my racket and I, in return, push the racket forward, hoping to land the ball on the opposite corner of the table. It never happened. It has never been broadcast on the net. The ball rolled off the table and under a wicker chair where I picked it up and threw it back to Michele. “A nothing,” she said.

That was just the first point, but, for some reason, it reminded me of something my wife once said to me while watching a movie. The movie was a serious drama and the main character had just had a cough. “That’s it,” she said. “He is dead.” Twenty minutes later he was.

At a moment’s notice, I intuitively knew I had been handed a huge cough. Soon it was five to one. Then ten to five. Then 15 to 8 and 21 to 11. Match. Adjust. Match. Ego. I was pinned and we didn’t even shake hands when it was over. Michele, for her part, took it in stride – just another victory for the champ. She beat me, she beat her husband, and she beat the guy who didn’t spend his summers at The Mountains but thought he might still provide some competition. He did not do it.

Good athletes know that losing is part of the game. Winners are humble and losers are sad but respectful. Was there a rematch? Yes of course! That night, the men faced off against Michele and the other women in a hotly contested game of charades. Unfortunately, for those of us with declining testosterone, Team Michele won, yet again, with a sublime characterization of the word back-stabber.

I haven’t been stabbed anywhere. I was simply reminded that despite the passage of decades and endless lessons in sportsmanship, I would still rather win than lose. I was also reminded that no matter how good we feel about ourselves, our abilities, and our competitive edge, there is always someone – perhaps someone we have known for a very long time – who is ready to provide a healthy dose of reward.

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