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Eight Belles, a dark gray filly Thoroughbred with a mighty, competitive spirit, had earned the right to race against a field of colts on that May 3 afternoon — running with the big boys in the world’s most famous horse race. She was the first filly to run in the fabled Kentucky Derby in nine years. Only 39 fillies had run in the previous 133 years. Veteran Washington Post sportswriter Sally Jenkins characterized her best by saying, “She ran with the heart of a locomotive on champagne-glass ankles.”
After running the race of her life and crossing the finish line in second place, the unthinkable happened. She snapped one front ankle and then the other, collapsing to the ground and throwing her jockey. Such an injury is catastrophic and the medical staff saw no choice but to extinguish her life as she lay on the brown dirt track under the late afternoon sun. In a split second, three-year-old Eight Belles became a memory — a life cut short long before her time.
In the days following the race, a flurry of controversy and speculation clouded the sport. Was the racetrack material to blame? Was it wrong to run a filly in a field of colts? Did the jockey fail to read any signs of distress? Was she just too young? Are the bloodlines producing lightning-fast horses with legs too frail to handle the load of a 1,500 pound body thundering around a track? Had racing become a profit-making machine with total disregard to the physical soundness and safety of the horses. Once the dust settles, we’ll all agree that it was a horrible tragedy we wish someone could have prevented. Eight Belles won’t be remembered so much as the racing legend she should have been. Hopefully, the legacy created by her life cut short will spark a firestorm of change in the horse racing industry. If it doesn’t, she will have died in vain.
Amidst the tragedy, I realized how that athletic gray filly symbolized what women today deal with. Eight Belles was doing what she was born and trained to do with power and precision without any thought to the possible consequences. For the chance to compete on an equal playing field against the odds, she won but she also paid the ultimate price.
Come to think of it, I’m not sure the lesson is restricted to the fairer sex. Men and women alike race through life with a Type A pace that threatens to cost them everything they value. What gets measured gets done and often the only thing in our lives that is ever measured, other than our credit score, is our professional performance. The human condition for the performance driven is an out-of-balance focus on something that will matter little when our fire is finally extinguished. The price of winning in the wrong race could rob us of our legacy.
Eight Belles’ tragic end symbolizes priceless potential never reached. Perhaps that is really what has captivated the world about her untimely death. Could she be symbolic of the human race putting all our heart and soul into just one great passion and excluding all others until it destroys us? Could we be squandering our lives on activities that are pulling us further and further from what we were really meant to do? Could now be the time when people are reflecting on their life and wondering, “Is this all there is? In the end, will what I’m doing really make a difference? Am I really doing what I’m called to do?” Perhaps Eight Belles reminds us that life is short and we should spend it doing what we were born to do.
What if we stopped — before it’s too late — and asked, “What will be my legacy?” We work and live in a performance-driven culture where today’s women feel apologetic if they are “just a stay-at-home mom” and people feel less worthy if they don’t make the money that affords the “successful lifestyle.” When did we forget that a person’s true value isn’t about financial net worth but about the strength of their character? When did we determine that winning was about bigger houses or more expensive toys or another rung on the corporate ladder? When did we forget that the best place to teach our young people about leadership, love, and teamwork is at home as a family engaged in meaningful activities? True value is about creating a life that leaves a lasting and profound legacy — a great gift for generations to come.
Here is a simple reality check that will quickly push your life under a microscope:
For a vast number of Americans, they discover their life is critically out of balance. Once we realize we aren’t serving our calling because we are running in the wrong race, we can begin to make changes to restore it. It won’t happen overnight and sometimes realigning our lives requires drastic measures such as career moves, debt reduction, or relationship changes. Too many people race through life with no direction. They simply move from one payday to the next, prioritizing their activities by what is urgent and not by what is most important.
What will your legacy be? A planned and intentional legacy will always be rich and full. Life is too short to spend it doing things that just don’t make a difference. Don’t let your dreams lay lifeless like broken ponies innocently waiting the tragic ending of a calling that will never fully live. Let them run wild, magestic, and free. Follow your heart in search of the legacy you were meant to leave.
Images from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pmGdODzbzI
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