Folks, I watch a lot of sports on TV, I read a lot about sporting heroes of various games and sometimes, I even get into their minds and even their shoes. I am amazed by the record breakers; I am heart-broken when my favourite stars lose out. I get angry at the person who drops a catch or miss a penalty. There are times when sports-persons who are ruled-out due to an unfortunate injury. It’s all part and parcel of sports!
Sports is a terrific metaphor for life, and there are several sporting stories that inspire and motivate us. But perhaps none more so than the tale of Karoly Takacs. You may not have heard of him, but his life story is truly inspirational.
Karoly was a sergeant in the Hungarian army. In 1938, the twenty-eight-year-old was the country’s top pistol shooter, having won most major national and international championships. He was -by a mile- the favourite to win gold at the 1940 Tokyo Olympic Games. Then, disaster struck.
At an army training session, a hand grenade accidentally exploded in Karoly’s hand. And blew it away. His shooting hand. Not only did his entire Olympic dream crash, he also lost a limb.
‘Why me?’ most of us would have asked. But not Karoly. He was made of sterner stuff. No anger, no self-condemnation or self-pity, No blame towards anyone for a such a tragic turn of events.
Instead of focusing on what he had lost – his right hand, his potentially gold medal-winning shooting hand – he chose to focus on what he still had. He had mental strength, the mindset of a winner, the determination to succeed and yes, a healthy left hand. A left hand which, he thought, he could train and transform into the world’s best shooting hand.
After a month in hospital, Karoly went out and, away from the glare of the world, began practicing to shoot with his left hand. Despite the pain his body still reeled under, despite the strain the left hand had to undergo, also all that the right hand had earlier done, he stayed focused on his goal: to make his left hand the best shooting hand in the world.
One year later, Karoly resurfaced at the national shooting championship in Hungary. His colleagues were delighted to see him. They complimented him on his courage, and his fabulous gesture of coming over to see them shoot. But they were taken aback when Karoly told them that he wasn’t there to see them shoot; he was there to compete with them.
And compete he did. In fact, Karoly won the championship. Just one year after losing his right hand. He won with his left hand.
Unfortunately for Karoly, his Olympic dream remained unrealized for a while, as two successive Games were cancelled due to the world war.
In 1948, the Olympics came to London. Karoly was chosen to represent Hungary in the pistol shooting event. And he won gold. Shooting with his left hand.
Imagine being a gold medal favourite, losing your shooting hand in an accident, yet picking yourself up from the shattered mess, training your left hand to shoot as well or better, and going on to win the Olympic gold.
Four years later. Helsinki Olympics. Pistol shooting event. Who won gold? No surprises here. Karoly Takacs. That is the stuff champions are made of.
We all have moments in our lives when we seem so close to glory but suddenly lose everything. When it seems that the world is conspiring to destroy us. Our dreams get shattered. We feel vanquished. Crushed. Beaten. Defeated. And we cry aloud, ‘Why me? When that happens, think of Karoly. In fact, think like him. Don’t worry about what you’ve lost. Focus on what you still have. Your inner strength. Your mental toughness. No one can take these away.
Don’t lose yourself to self-pity. Pick yourself up quickly. Momentum is key. Karoly was back on the practice range a month after the accident. When you are down, think like a boxer: if you are knocked down, you need to stand up in ten seconds or less. One extra second, and it’s all over.
Set yourself a goal and focus on achieving it. A goal helps channelize the mind and body to work on what needs to be achieved, rather than looking back and worrying about past losses, about what might have been. When your mind is flooded with negative thoughts, it’s not easy to wish them away. You need a positive thought, a goal, to replace and banish negative thoughts.
Winning a gold medal in pistol shooting is less about the hand, more about the mind. Life’s like that. Winning is less about skills, more about attitude. Skills can be acquired, as Karoly demonstrated with his left hand.
When you watch the next game of cricket or football, when you see the winners there, remember to win something for yourself too.
Remember the Karoly Takacs mindset. The winner’s mindset!