kiruba-1

I’m a Social Media Entrepreneur, Professor of Digital Marketing, Author of 5 books, Podcaster and an Organic Farmer.

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Review of My 2021 Goals

Setting goals is easy. Accomplishing them takes effort and consistency. Here’s my self-review of the goals I set for 2021.

Here’s the rating system.
1 = lowest.
10 = highest.

So, how did I perform? Let’s find out.

Get 6 Pack Abs:  0/10  
This was an abysmal flop. Not only did I NOT get a 6 pack, I actually ended up having a paunch.  The lesson I learned is to focus on a daily routine instead of an ambitious goal.

Build Pico Farmhouse: 10/10
Pico, our first farm stay home was among the biggest success in 2021. We finished the construction and interiors in under 5 months.  This is amazing when compared with our first farmhouse which took over two years to complete. We got rave reviews for the architecture of Pico that made the small 400 sqft home look far bigger than it is. We opened the farmhouse for guests and the number of bookings surprised us.

No Alcohol: 10/10
For the second year in a row, I completely abstained from alcohol. The reason for my success is that I’m not hard and fast on this goal. I tell myself that if I ever wanted to have alcohol, I can. It is this flexibility that gives me the power to say no and I don’t miss it. I never feel as if I have something I’m being denied.

No Non-Veg: 10/10
Also the second year in a row, I have successfully stayed away from eating non-vegetarian food. This is one of the best decisions I have taken. There’s so much delicious variety in vegetarian food that I hardly miss non-veg. 2021 is also the year my compassion towards animals reached a record high.

Author the Olympics Book: 5/10
I wanted to finish this book and launch it at the closing ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. But I could only finish half of the manuscript. In terms of enjoyment, this is a fantastic project that I’m thoroughly enjoying. Honestly, the longer this project is, the happier I am. I’m in no hurry to finish it. I anticipate the book to be completed a few months before Paris 2024 Olympics.

Author Grandfathers’ Biography: 2/10
This is a book about my maternal grandfather and his two brothers who were very well known in our village.  By documenting their life story, I want their legacy to be appreciated by future generations in our family. More important than that, I wanted this to be a gift to their wives. All three of them (my grandmothers) are still alive and are in their 80s. They would be awesomely proud. I made very little progress and I definitely want to fast track this project this year.

Be Punctual in Zoom Meetings: 9/10
Barring just a few, I have been quite punctual in most of my online meetings. I would religiously set up reminders and this has worked wonders. Punctuality is a trait I have been consciously building and will continue to get better at.

Grow Long Hair & Beard: 10/10
This was a two-year goal that I successfully accomplished. The last time I had long hair was in 2010 and I loved it. I wanted to celebrate the 10th anniversary but growing it again. This time, the beard was included. I loved the entire process of growing long hair for two long years. I’ll write more about my experiences shortly. This was a clear win in 2021.

Use Fewer Plastics: 2/10
This is a losing battle. In spite of being conscious of plastic usage, there’s simply no escaping them in real life. I wanted to make Vaksana Farms a no-plastic zone but the amount of plastic that gets accumulated is embarrassing. I feel this is a lost cause but I will continue to reduce my usage of plastics.

Collect & Plant 1000 Palm Seeds: 10/10
Every September, palm fruits ripen and fall. I spend two weeks last year patiently collecting these palm fruits and planting them on pond bunds at Vaksana Farms. This time, I was able to plant in excess of thousand seeds. These palm seeds are super resilient and have a good germination rate. Almost 90% of the seeds I planted in 2020 has sprouted. It is sad to see palm trees being mercilessly decimated. They are considered useful to farmers. Happy to plant these with a vengeance. In a few years time, Vaksana farm will be lush green with lots of palm trees. Excited about this.

Do Goal-setting as a Family: 9/10
This was such an enjoyable exercise we did as a family. We had a series of discussions where we did our financial budgeting, our savings strategy, a list of things we wanted to do as a family, our review of last year, resolutions for 2022 etc. The critical thing here is the involvement of my daughters. This exercise has made them more responsible. We enjoyed this so much that I foresee us continuing to do this regularly.

Send Daughters on Overseas Trip: 1/10
I was hoping the pandemic would ease out now that the vaccines have been rolled out. Omicron had other ideas. No travel happened this year, let alone an international trip.  Hopefully in 2022.

Apologize to People I Have Hurt: 5/10
This was a purposeful initiative that I undertook. It helped me get closures, strengthen my relationship with people who matter. However, much like most resolutions, I did this well in the first 3 months of 2021 before I got busy with other things. It was good while it lasted and happy to have made myself vulnerable.

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Featured on Travel Trends Story in Times of India Newspaper

 

Recently, the Times of India Newspaper got in touch with me to get my opinion on the travel trends in 2021. They sent me a questionnaire asking for my answers.  As expected, the final story only had a small tidbit of my comments. I figured it would be good to publish the entire Q&A on the blog as it gives my full insights. Here you go.

  1. How has the changing travel trends in 2021 given an upswing to farm stays this year?

With the world slowly opening up and people getting their vaccinations done, there is interest among people to travel. However, with the fear of the virus still looming in the air thanks to the Omnicron variant, people don’t want to travel very far.

Families are looking for safe options to stay and farm stays are the best choice. They are naturally socially distanced. For example, the Pico Farmhouse at Vaksana Farms is situated in the middle of a 13-acre organic farm. The farm itself is situated two kilometres from the nearest village. Visitors get total privacy and they can be safely ensconced within the green environs of the farm.

 

  1. If you’ve put it in numbers, do you think there have been more bookings at your place this year when compared to all the previous years?

Definitely yes. In the last three months, we are sold out completely. We advise customers to block dates early as there has been a surge in interest to stay in a genuinely, working organic farm.

 

  1. What’s the reason for this boom in farm stays? Have there been many newer places opening up for farm stays because of the surge in demand?

People don’t want to stay in a namesake farmhouse like the posh ones on ECR. They are just fancy holiday houses. People seek out a real working farm with regular farming activities. They want to witness and even take part in farming activities. They prefer to engage with the farm animals.

I strongly feel the reason for the boom in farm stays is they want to experience genuine farming life in a remote, rural village.

Another major reason is they want to play safe by staying on a remote farm far away from crowds. At Vaksana farm, we have only one farmhouse and when a family books the place, there will not be anyone else sharing the home. Not only do guests have the entire farmhouse for themselves, they also get to have the entire 13-acre farm for themselves. This is something that guests truly appreciate.

 

  1. What does that farm stay offer that attracts more and more guests to such places and goes anti-resort?

Staying on a real, working farm is very important. The primary activity of working farms, like Vaksana Farms, is farming. The farmhouse is an additional add-on. Staying on a working farm lets people experience farm life and soak into the rural atmosphere. Most people who come to our farm are city folks who want a break from the monotony of the concrete jungle. They want to step away from the noise and the pollution. At the farm, they have peace with lots of chirping birds and fluttering butterflies.

 

  1. Do you think the demand will further go up for farm stays in 2022?

I definitely see the demand going up for genuine farm stays (not holiday homes). We Vaksana farms, we have booked in 2022 as far as June and September where Indian diaspora from US, UK and New Zealand have blocked tying with their travel plans to India.

 

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My New Year Resolutions for 2022

Here are my goals for 2022. www.Kiruba.com/2022

In this link, you’ll find 30 of my goals. You can click any box to learn more about that particular goal.

Every year, I write down my resolutions for the year and they have certainly played an important part in making my life interesting.

There are some resolutions I have accomplished well. There are some I have miserably failed. That’s going to happen this year too. I know it. That’s OK. What I do know is that this yearly planning has made me a better person.

This year, I’m doing things a bit different. I’m openly sharing the progress of each of my goals. On the last day of every month, I’ll update the progress. You’ll find both the good and bad.

I also want this to be a social activity. If any of the goals matches yours, do leave a comment on the page or write to me at Kiruba@Kiruba.com. It’s always good to interact with like-minded people.

Here’s to an enjoyable 2022.

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Shuei and Sueo: Medals of Friendship

(Courtesy: Getty Images) 

The scene is set at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. At the Pole vault event, five participants qualified for the finals. Earle Meadows jumped a record-breaking 4.35 meters which none of the other competitors could match. He went on to claim gold. Of the remaining four, only two competitors managed to clear 4.25. They were fellow compatriots from Japan, Shuei Nishida and Sueo Oe. Both were students at Japanese universities and good friends.


Out of respect for each other, they did not want to compete against each other and requested if their medals could be shared. The Olympic officials refused citing rules that only one person can win silver and the other had to take bronze. The officials called the Japanese delegation and told them to make a decision as to who would win which medal. The delegation brainstormed and came up with the decision that Shuei Nishida would take the silver medal as he took fewer attempts to cross 4.25 meters. Both the participants were dissatisfied but unwillingly accepted the decision.


Upon returning to Japan, they decided to take matters into their own hands. Both took their respective silver and bronze medals to a blacksmith with an unusual request. They asked him to cut the two medals in half and fuse them together. This way, each medal had half silver and half bronze. They were famously termed the ‘Medals of Friendship’. This was an amazing display of respect for each other.

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Shawn Crawford: Epitome of Sportsmanship

How important is an Olympic medal to athletes? That’s like asking how important life to you is. It means the World to them. That’s why this story of an athlete giving away his Olympic medal to his competitor is fantastic. It’s a story that truly reflects the Olympic spirit of sportsmanship.

Let’s rewind back to the 2008 Beijing Olympic games. It’s the 200 meters finals. Usain Bolt is the toast of the Games. The World expects another world record from him after he shattered the 100 meters record. Almost on cue, Usain Bolt sets another world record in 200 meters.

When everyone’s eyes were on Usain Bolt, what the World nearly missed was the drama with second and third place winners. Wallace Spearman, who came in third, was midway through celebrating his bronze medal when an official told him he was disqualified.

After a couple of hours after the race (and the medal ceremony) was finished, another shocker followed. Churandy Martina from Netherlands Antilles was disqualified for stepping on the lane line and was stripped off his silver medal.

What this meant was Shawn Crawford, who came in fourth in the race, became the silver medallist. Shawn was shocked but delighted. Who wouldn’t want an Olympic medal? He had been dreaming of this his whole life.

After his unexpected win, many TV stations got Shown on their show. They would request him to bring his silver medal along with him for it makes for good visuals. However, he felt uncomfortable showing it. He felt deep in his heart he did not deserve it.

Shawn did something extraordinary. Something that you never expect an athlete to do. Here is that unique story.


Shawn never felt right about his medal. He didn’t earn the medal. He only won it because the other two competitors were disqualified. But more important than that, he thought about the agony that Churandy must have gone through. That silver medal is only the second Olympic medal ever for the small country of Netherlands Antilles. (Two years later, the country would get split into separate countries). You can imagine how important this medal must have been for Churandy and his countrymen.

Shawn spoke about the pain and humiliation that Churandy must have gone through. After winning the race, Churandy took a lap of honour. He got up on the podium. He etched his name in the record books. He made all the TV headlines. He was celebrated as a hero in his country. Two hours later, all that came crashing down. Shawn felt really bad for Churandy. He cannot take credit at the expense of someone else’s pain.

A week later, both Shawn and Churandy participated in another athletics event in Switzerland. He took the box with the Olympic silver medal and approached the hotel reception where Churandy was staying. He wrote a note and kept it in the box. It read, “Churandy, I know this can’t replace the moment, but I want you to have this because I believe its rightfully yours.” He requested them to deliver this to the room where Churandy was staying.

Shawn said he feels this is the right decision. He feels lighter without the burden of carrying a medal he does not deserve. Churandy had beaten him fair and square. He was 0.14 seconds faster than him, a big margin by Olympic standards. Churandy may have broken the Olympic rules by stepping on the line, but he did not impede other athletes’ runs. It’s a harsh punishment. While he may not be able to make the Olympic committee change the decision, he did what was well within his powers. He handed over the silver medal to the deserving person.

This was an amazing show of sportsmanship. Shawn won even though he lost. A lesson on compassion and respect that we all need to learn from Shawn’s selfless act.

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Bhawna Jat: Fighting Poverty and Misogyny to Win

Note: Bhawna’s story is part of my upcoming book, ‘Rings to Cubicles‘ which covers inspiring stories of Olympians for their grit, determination and sportsmanship.

Imagine shaving off 8 minutes from your personal best timing in a sport? That’s the feat Bhawna did to qualify for 20 km racewalking at Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Bhawna not only qualified for the Olympics with a stunning 1:29:54 ( the qualifying cut off was 1:31:00), she also set a new national record. Two years back, at the National Championship, she was slower by over 23 minutes. Now to be India’s best racewalker is some solid improvement.

Bhawna was born on 3 January 1996 as the youngest of three children to a family of farmers in a remote village of Kabra, Rajsamand district in Rajasthan, India. Her dad is a farmer. For much of her younger days, she had to support her family by grazing cattle.

Her selection of racewalking as a sport was purely due to a lack of choices. When she was 13, her physical education teacher took her along with many other students to participate in the district-level athletics competition. Much to her dismay, she found that most of the popular race categories were already filled up. The only slot available was at the 3000 meters race walk. You must understand that racewalking is a ridiculed sport in rural India. The unnatural walking motion with the swaying hips is often made fun of. Yet, with no other option left, she was forced to pick this. With zero preparation and walking barefoot, she surprised herself and her coach by coming in second. That’s how she became a racewalker.

With this newfound confidence, she started to focus on this sport and began to excel. She would wake up at 3 am to practice. This is mainly to avoid unwanted attention and misogyny from the villagers who didn’t appreciate a young girl training in shorts.

When you begin to win district level and state-level races, it helps get a government job. In 2016, she got a job with Indian Railways. She joined as a ticket collector in Howrah, West Bengal.

This job was a lifesaver for her and her family. She became the family’s sole breadwinner. In a non-glamorous sport such as race walking, it isn’t easy to get any sponsors for an individual sportsperson. She had to go through lots of financial difficulties.

Only athletes who have won at the national level and participated in international competitions can take leave from work to practice. Since she hadn’t participated in international competitions yet, she had to take leave at a loss of pay to practice. To make matters worse, she suffered from typhoid in 2017.

On top of this, her elder brother was going through an illness, and she had to borrow Rs.7 lakhs to pay for the treatment. She now had to pay Rs.16,000 per month as interest alone, and this was weighing down on her.

With no financial support, she had to spend money on her nutrition and sports gear. To participate in any competition, she had to pay from her pocket for travel and stay.

It was only in 2018 that she managed to win bronze in a competition, and that gave her the freedom to train full-time while she continued to get her salary from her job at railways. She went on to win the national championship and surprised everyone with her Olympics berth winning timing.

For a girl who was grazing cattle to become a national record holder and proudly representing India in the Olympics is a fantastic story of grit and determination.

You can read more chapters from the book, ‘Rings to Cubicles’ here. http://www.kiruba.com/tag/olympics

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Greg Louganis : Get Back on the Same Springboard that Hurt You

Note: This story is part of the new upcoming book, ‘Rings to Cubicles‘ which covers inspiring Olympians.

Greg is a renowned Olympic athlete, and many consider him the best diver in the sport’s history. The sportsman inspired many people with a history full of resilience and numerous achievements. He won five Olympic medals, thirteen world championships, forty-seven national competitions in the United States and became a sporting icon.

Despite his acknowledged success, many don’t know what he went through in his life. His life has been full of twists and difficulties since childhood. Greg had a complicated relationship with his father, often manifested in an oppressive and abusive manner. He also suffered for being different from other boys his age due to his dyslexia. Fortunately, he found a way to focus all that energy he kept inside. At nine, he discovered diving. Just two years later, he did his first of many impressive performances, fascinated the judges with a perfect ten at the Junior Olympics.

Louganis continued his impressive rise to stardom. When he was only sixteen years old, the athlete went to his first Olympic Games in 1976 in Montreal, Canada. There, he gained his first Olympic medal, a silver. Later at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, USA, Greg convincingly won two gold medals, one in the 10-meter platform and the other in the 3-meter springboard. Everything was proceeding ideally in Greg’s life. All was on track.

Four years after this Olympics, Greg found out he would have to fight another battle in his life. Only six months before the Seoul Olympics, in 1988, he was diagnosed HIV positive. For a moment, he saw everything he fought for crumble to pieces. He wanted to leave everything, abandon the ship, go home and wait for his death. He decided to report to his trainer, whom he considered as a second father. He said he just found out about his AIDS and was considering returning home, but the coach encouraged him to move on, saying he would not give up on Greg. Many times in our lives, we encounter this experience when we end up unable to continue. In these dark hours, it is good to have the support of people who root for your success. This was a key role that Greg’s mentor played.

Although the severe depression affected Greg, the sport was the only thing that made him get out of bed and go for his practice.  In September of 1988, he was present at the start of the Olympic Games in Seoul.

Over the course of this Olympics, Greg went through another challenge. He experienced one of the most surprising and dramatic situations in the Olympics’ history. During one of his dives, as he turned in the air, he hit his head on the platform, falling awkwardly into the water. Everyone at the arena gasped. After getting out of the water a little dizzy, he noticed blood oozing out of his head. He suffered a deep gash.  Nobody knew what would happen. The organization informed Greg’s crew that he had only twelve minutes to perform another dive and get the score needed to continue in the competition.

Ron O’Brien, the coach, said: “You have already conquered many titles. You are well established in the sport and a legend for all. Everybody will understand if you cannot get back on the platform”.  Despite this, Greg decided to try one more time. He told his coach, “I’m not giving up without fighting. We have been through a lot to be here.”

Then, Greg received medical attention. Five stitches on the head without anaesthesia. He returned to compete.  When he went back to the same springboard that hurt him, he performed a new dive, but this time, it was perfect. That dive earned him the gold medal. And what a sweet victory that was. Greg followed this fantastic performance with a gold medal win at the 10-meter platform.

To achieve at this top-level, athletes like Greg go through many difficult times in their careers. There is no right or wrong moment for problems to happen. They just happen, and you have to deal with it. Keeping your mind calm and confident is not an easy task. A ton of emotions emerges in those moments, messing up your thoughts as if your head is inside a blender.

There will come a time when all of this will pass, but sometimes you have to be very fast in making quick decisions. Even when your first desire is to pack your things and leave without talking or looking at anyone. For sure, this occurred to Louganis. But Greg carried on, and that made all the difference.

Those impressions that once bothered and suffocated him, leaving him lost, not knowing where to go, were transformed to catalyze his energy and aim for the results. That is when he came back stronger because he understood he was not alone on the platform. He carried with him all the support and the heart of people beside him, and that gave him the strength to concentrate and perform another dive.

In our lives, we have to deal with some unexpected situations. To reduce or mitigate them, we must plan and train ourselves well, but still, we can not prevent all events. The frustration is inevitable. Later, fear comes into play, the fear of trying it again, fall again and experience all of that reaction again. Greg felt all of this. He trained a lot to avoid unplanned mistakes, like a minor misstep, that became a giant rock in his journey. Years of effort and preparation were put in doubt by a fraction of miscalculated second. The shame and fear were present, for sure. But particularly in these times of uncertainty that exceptional humans come to light and take power from where we thought there wasn’t any.

Being afraid is nothing more than the dismay that something bad will happen. It paralyzes and leaves you stuck, without walking forward, not wanting to risk yourself. We are driven by these sentiments, the reaction that blocks us from taking a step further, and this turns into a vicious cycle. You give up, then you become disappointed, and that concern puts you down. Without the will to change, then you don’t change, and so on, until the rest of your life becomes a failure. Unless you take the courage to try it again, just like Louganis did. This vicious cycle will only end if you persevere and throw yourself into your dream. This is the true meaning of life. We only keep walking and evolving if we continue to struggle for what we believe.

Get back on the springboard of your life, the same one that hurt you. This is the main message that Greg Louganis has for us.

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Caterine Ibarguen: There is No Straight Path to Success. 


Note: This story is part of the new upcoming book, Rings to Cubicles. You can read the rest of the stories of inspiring Olympians here.

This story of Caterine Ibarguen, a Colombian athlete, has an important life lesson for us. In our quest to succeed in life, there could be different paths, and the trick is to choose the one that gives us the greatest chance to succeed. 

Catherine was a high jump athlete who had earned a name for herself in Colombian sport. She holds the Colombian record for the highest jump, which is good even to date. She went on to win many regional and national championships. 

She reached this level despite a challenging childhood. Her parents got separated due to armed conflict in her town. Her father moved to Venezuela, and her mother moved to Turbo, a coastal town in Colombia. She was raised by her grandmother, who struggled to make ends meet. It is these struggles that made Caterine determined to succeed in sports. 


Having been the top high jumper in Colombia, it was no surprise that she qualified for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. It’s a huge high for any athlete to represent her country at the Olympics, the pinnacle of sporting events. However, for Caterine, that high was short-lived. The competition was intense, and much to her disappointment, she could only manage 1.85m and was placed a disappointing 30th in the competition. It’s a far cry from her personal best of 1.93m. 

In the very same game, Yelena Slesarenko went on to create an Olympic Record by jumping 2.06 m (6 ft 9 in). That difference is stark. 

After the disappointment of the 2004 Olympics, Caterine continued to win medals at various South American championships. But disaster struck four years later. Shockingly, she failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. For a national record holder to not represent your country is very odd. It was a major blow to her confidence that plunged her into depression. 

This personal disaster turned out to be a blessing in disguise, albeit a harrowing one. 

Caterine knew that if one day she wanted to win Gold in Olympics, then she must switch to another sport where she stands a realistic chance of winning it. 

Under a new coach, she changed her sport to Triple Jump, a less glamorous sport than high jump but one with a greater chance to succeed. Making this switch is not an easy one. It means letting go of a sport she had mastered all her adult life and picking a brand new one, and starting from scratch. This daring move turned out to be in her favour. She qualified to represent her country in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, a dream that once again came true eight years after her first Olympics. She did very well in the competition, and this time she went past the qualifying rounds and into the finals. The competition was intense and with her last big run, she jumped 14.80m which won her the silver medal. 


Now that she tasted blood, she wanted to press on for greatness with her eyes set firmly on gold. This is what she said in an interview after the games. 
This silver medal is for all Colombia. I am extremely happy about this achievement. It is the reward for many years of sacrifice, leaving Apartadó, moving to Medellín and then Puerto Rico. But I honestly believe I could have jumped farther”. She trained very hard and went on to sweep many medals in multiple championships. She claimed a triple jump gold in Argentina at the South American Championships in 2011. In 2013 Ibargüen made Colombian history by winning gold at the World Championships in Moscow, a feat she then repeated in China at the 2015 Championships.

With Caterine on a roll, she was the hot favourite to win gold at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio. The disappointment of 2008 was still fresh in her mind, and she was thirsting for redemption. She gave it her all and jumped a whopping 15.17m in her final jump that was over 20 cms greater than the next competitor. With that monster jump, she went straight into history books by winning the first-ever Olympic gold in athletics in the entire history of Colombian sports.

Caterine’s story has a strong significance in every professional’s life. In one’s quest for greatness, the trick lies in picking up an area of expertise that has a stronger chance to succeed. 

Had Catherine stuck with the high jump, her shot at success could have been a lot tougher. She had a major gap to fill. She realized this shortcoming and made the switch. 

This is something for us to introspect as well. What is the glory that we are vying for? Is it money? Is it fame? Is it happiness? No matter what it is, is there a field where you could have a greater chance of successfully achieving that?

Had Catherine qualified for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, things could have been totally different. She could have continued to stick with the high jump making marginal improvements. But she needed a major setback (not qualifying for the 2008 Olympics) to totally reset her life and start afresh with another sport. 

Many times, a major setback in our life is a clarion call for us to make a big change. Catherine’s story is an inspirational one for us to not only learn from but also consciously put into practice.  

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Billy Mills: Turning a Push into a Path for Victory

Billy Mills

Note: This is a story from the upcoming book, ‘Rings to Cubicles‘ that features inspiring Olympians and their amazing feats of courage.

The year was 1964. Heavy rainfall has soaked the tracks of the Tokyo Olympic Games. All eyes were on Ron Clarke, the crowd and media favourite to win the 10,000 meters race. All around the world, people expected the fight to be fought closely between Clarke and Tunisian Mohammad Gammoudi.

Native American Billy Mills, on the other hand, went largely unnoticed pre-game. This was expected for no American has ever won the Olympic gold in the 10,000 meters race. He was nothing but an underdog, for all the world cared. But in that final fighting moment in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, there was Mills — head to head with world-class elite runners Clarke and Gammoudi.

As if all that wasn’t surprising and exciting enough for spectators around the globe, something remarkable happened — something so iconic that it would eventually make for a story passed through generations. On to the final laps, it still wasn’t clear to whom the race would belong. Until Mohammad Gammoudi took matters into his own hands (instead of his feet). He put each of his hands on Clarke and Mills’ shoulders and shoved them aside to create space for him to steam ahead and gain a substantial lead.

Bearing down on the finish in the Olympic 10,000-meter race, the medal winners fight for running space in Tokyo, Oct. 14, 1964. They had to shift lanes to detour stragglers a lap or more behind. Here Mohammed Gamoudi of Tunisia pushes his way between Billy Mills of the U.S., left, and Ron Clarke of Australia. Mills won in one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history. Clarke, former champion, was third with Gamoudi second. (AP Photo)

Clarke budged momentarily but regained momentum almost instantly. Mills, on the other hand, fell slightly behind that everybody thought he was out of the race for sure. Like a scene straight out of an inspirational film, Mills shot forward, seeming more determined than ever, to overtake Clarke and Mohammad in a manner that made everyone’s jaws drop.

There was the man, in all his glory, winning the race against every odd in the book, surely making a lot of people lose good money for betting on the favourites. Not only did Mills become the first-ever American to break the tape on the 10K Olympic run, he actually broke the world record. He clocked in a finish time of 28:24:4, almost a full minute faster than his best run before the race.


Truly, the come-from-behind win was a stunner to the spectators, but those who have known Mills for the longest time couldn’t have been so surprised that he had that much fight and heart in him. After all, Gammoudi pushing him aside wasn’t the first setback he had gone through in life. See, the struggle is all he had known:

Mills, whose original Lakota Sioux name is Makata Taka (which translates to love your country), was born in 1938 at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The environment he grew up in wasn’t very pretty: poverty, crime, alcoholism, and depression were some of the things Mills was exposed to at such a young age. Furthermore, he was only nine years old when his mother died. It was too much for the young boy’s heart to take in, so his father took him aside and told him how he would someday transform his broken wings to become “wings of an eagle.”

Four years later, his father died, too.

But his lessons never left the young boy, crestfallen and alone as he was. In interviews, Mills would always say that he only fully understood what his dad’s words meant when he recognized his athletic talent as a teenager.

“The Olympics would be the day I fly with the wings of an eagle,” he would remember thinking.

As a young boy, Mills saw the Olympics as nothing more than a way to be with his parents again. This thinking was embedded in his very psyche after he read a passage about the Games: “Olympians are chosen by the Gods.”

Mills was fighting for something he truly cared for that rainy day in 1964: he thought that if he became an Olympian, then he would be able to see his mother again.

Aside from having to deal with tragic losses very early in life, Mills had to go through the culture of racism as a teen when it was much, much worse than it is right now. The civil rights movement was just beginning to gain traction in America then, so the society wasn’t very kind to Native Americans like Mills, even though he had won many awards and recognitions for his athletic talent at the University of Kansas. One time, a photographer even asked him to “step out of the All-American photo.”

Despite all these, Mills continued to shine. At the University of Kansas, he earned the NCAA All-American three-peat, as well as a consistent place finisher at the NCAA Cross-Country Championships three times. Not to mention he also claimed the Big-8 Cross-Country title twice.

He fought and fought hard to achieve his goals. Things got so bad for him that he once contemplated ending his life, but was able to decide against it. He fought it with the same determination (and probably the saving grace of his father and guardian). He was even drafted as a Marine for a few years after that. But eventually, he found his best reason to live on, inspired and fueled by his biggest goal as written multiple times in his personal journal:

“Gold medal, 10,000- meter run.”

So it might’ve come as quite a shock to the rest of the world when Mills won and broke records in that fateful Olympic race of 1964, but for Billy Mills the underdog from South Dakota, everything just went according to plan.

You see, if you have decided to put your mind to something and you work hard to make this dream become reality, then there is no doubt – you will succeed! Remember how Mills set his mind on that Gold medal? How he showed everyone that he could do it even if no one believed in him at first.

I’ll let you in on a secret, okay? If you do not believe in yourself, amidst doubts and judgments, who else will?

And you know, it does not only apply to sports. It applies to almost every aspect of your life: relationships, finances, success, you name it. Never lose faith, in yourself and your dreams.

No matter how hard the universe hits you, just keep standing up – stronger, bolder, better. Just like how a shove in the shoulder did not faze Mills at all. Instead, it made him want to do more; it made him want to struggle more to achieve his goal. After all, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

Experiencing obstacles in life is essential for us to move forward – to develop for the betterment of our self. The way we look at these obstacles is the make or break split second that will decide the course of achieving your goals. See the difference, when you look at obstacles like it is made to pin you down versus like it is made to push you to your limits – to the fullest of your potentials. Do not let yourself get disheartened by hardships and difficulties, learning about Billy Mills life before he won that gold medal, you will realize that these hardships and difficulties will lead you to be able to know yourself better, to be able to identify your strengths and weaknesses.

Mills did not stop when he became the first American to break the tape at the Olympics; he strived to do more and stayed grounded despite the praises and compliments he’s been receiving since. He did not keep to himself; instead, he shared them with people in need. He ran a charity and started doing talks with the youth – sharing the gems of knowledge he picked up throughout his meaningful life. He knew the secret – a selfish man will never succeed. He encouraged others to achieve their dreams too, even if it will mean that he will be surpassed himself.

Mills didn’t care much about competing with other athletes; maybe this is also the reason why he does not get fazed by opponents that easily. Who then, does he consider as his greatest enemy? Well, you will be surprised to know that he considers himself to be his greatest enemy because he believes that only then will you find your true self, your true dream. This is the message he wants young athletes to keep in mind, for them to bring out the hidden potentials and talents within themselves.

Finally, Mills wants you to know that it is not the destination that is important; but it is the journey to how you will reach your destination.

Do not just think about your dreams; Billy-ve it!

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Eric Moussambani: Came Last in the Race but Beat his Personal Best

Note: This story is part of the book, ‘Rings to Olympics‘ which celebrates Olympic champions for their grit.

Eric Moussambani became famous throughout the World for creating a world record….for being the slowest swimmer in the history of the Olympic games. Yet, he is heralded as the living symbol of the Olympic spirit. Here is his story.

Eric Moussamban was born on May 31, 1978, in Malabo, the capital city of Equatorial Guinea, a small country in central Africa. As a young boy, he loved sports and dabbled in football, basketball and volleyball. During a game of basketball, he broke his hand. Shy from that painful experience, he decided to avoid any contact sport and focus on individual games that are safe. Swimming fit that bill. However, he was not good at it and took the help of a local fisherman to accompany him lest he drowned. He never had any big plans for the sport and just enjoyed the activity. However, things were about to change rapidly for him.

On a summer afternoon in April 2000, by then an Engineering student, Eric was casually listening to the radio when he heard a call for interested persons to come for sports trials. This call was to select athletes to be part of the national swimming team representing the country in the Sydney Olympics in Australia. He decided to give it a shot and went to Hotel Ureca, the venue for the trials, on May 6, 2000. To his surprise, there were only two participants who turned up: he and another girl. The selectors asked him to get in the pool and swim. It was a small pool, about 12 meters in length. He barely did a few strokes in the pool when they stopped him. They saw enough and told him that he was selected for the Olympics. Until that time, Eric had not even heard of the Olympic games. He had not stepped outside his country even once. Now, he is selected to represent his country in the World’s greatest sporting spectacle.

His luck is mainly thanks to a program by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). They designed a program to encourage sports in developing countries. The Olympic governing body issued several wild-card invitations to the games. They get selected even if they don’t meet the qualifying standards.

Here is an essential lesson for all of us. Giving a shot, immaterial of our chances of success, is important. Had Eric not taken action after listening to the radio, he would have missed the opportunity of his lifetime. We need to back ourselves to take those chances the way Eric did.

Now, back to the story.

Eric had to go to the national library to learn more about the Olympics. He started to train in the only swimming pool in Malabo, where the trials were held. However, the only time available was between 5 to 6 AM when he could train. The other hours were reserved for the hotel guests. He would head to the local river for more practice. He didn’t have a coach. He asked a man who knew how to swim to help him teach proper swimming techniques.

Fast forward three months, and Eric was on his way to Australia, his very first overseas trip in his life. After landing at the Olympic village, he went to check the swimming pool and was shocked to see its size. An Olympic sized swimming pool is 50 meters long, far bigger and intimidating than the 12-meter pool he trained in.

He noticed swimmers from other countries training hard. He began observing their techniques. He reached out to a few swimmers for tips. Some ignored him, and some helped him out.

The D-Day finally arrived. It was time for the heats to select the swimmers who would qualify for the finals. A coach from South Africa saw Eric in Bermuda shorts that he had bought from a second-hand shop. The coach pointed out that this is not the proper attire and he would get disqualified. The coach then gave him a Speedo and a pair of goggles.

At the qualification heats, he was pitted against two other swimmers from Niger and Tajikistan. However, both of them jumped the gun, which means instant disqualification. Eric stood there confused not knowing what to do. He was told that he would have to swim alone in the heats. Just prior to the race, Eric was under the impression that he was participating in the 50 meters race when he was told that it was a 100 meters race. He had never swum competitively that long. Nervously, he began the race on his own. After a confident dive, he did well in the first 50 meters. However, things started to go south quickly. Tiredness began to show. His lack of technique meant that he was exerting too much effort for little movement. He was visibly struggling.

The fact that he was the only swimmer in the pool meant that he had the full attention of the 17,000 spectators and all the TV cameras. Seeing that he was struggling, the crowd started to root for him with loud cheers. This boosted his spirit, and he barely managed to reach the end line without drowning. He clocked in 1:52, which is the slowest time ever recorded in the history of Olympics. On the same day, Dutch swimmer Pieter van den Hoogenband set a world record of 47.84 sec in the semi-final. He would eventually go on to win gold.

Even though Eric technically won his heats, he was disqualified because of the time. He was more relieved than disappointed. Dead tired from his swimming ordeal, he went to his room and slept 7 hours straight. He woke up in the evening to realise that he had become a media sensation. He may have lost the race, but he made a splash. He became the darling of the media. They hailed him for the Olympic spirit of not giving up and giving one’s best. After all, he beat his own personal best. He earned the moniker, ‘Eric the Eel’. Countless interviews followed. The World loves underdogs who don’t give up. He even got a two-year endorsement from Speedo, whose brand of trunks he had worn for his Olympics swimming ordeal. He toured the World, giving speeches.

He became an icon in his country. Thanks to him, there are now two Olympic sized swimming pools in Equatorial Guinea. He laid the foundation for the future athletes of his country. He was appointed head coach of the national swimming team. He got a job as an IT Engineer working for an oil company. Even though he never participated in another Olympic game, he went on to become a better swimmer. He shaved off nearly a minute from his inglorious Olympic timing and clocked in his personal best of 56.9 seconds.

That painful solo crawl in the swimming pool by Eric embodied the Olympic spirit of putting in the best effort and surpassing one’s limit.

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