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  • Natalia Roman Lopez

The winning in failing

It is 1 pm and we have to make the safe but tough decision of calling it a day. We are standing at 3700 meters above sea level and this is the second time I go home without the summit of Piz Bernina. Turning back at the exact same point both times. Three years have passed in-between these two ascents. The quick and obvious conclusion is that I have failed twice. On paper, maybe. Yet, I feel like a winner. Who is wrong here?


Bernina glaciers engadin alpinist Palü Piz
Skiing down after Palü - Bellavista traverse © Patricia Neuhauser

Putting things in perspective, it is mid-May and we are still enjoying a long and fruitful winter. Today is my 89th day on skis this season. Yesterday morning, as I was getting ready for a run in sunny Ticino, a friend invited me to join for the Bernina trip. Within an hour I was leaving the house with all my ski, office and type 1 diabetes gear. In which universe can one run in shorts at lunchtime, and be in the middle of a glacier hours later? I feel so privileged!



I agree there is absolute winning, as well as indisputable failing! You can’t ignore hard facts such as exam passing grades or traffic speed limits. How many times have you seen a ‘theoretical winner’ looking miserable? How about that last person crossing the finish line looking & feeling like a hero? Who is the winner and the looser? If winning was all there is, we wouldn’t value it. Winning needs a villain!





How about situations where YOU get to define what winning (and loosing) look like? Soon it will be 2 years since I crossed the finish line of Lavaredo Ultra Trail. To this day, I still consider that day a big failure. Against my principles and beyond self-imposed limits, I completed the race. When it comes to mountain sports and racing, my definition of winning includes a big component of enjoyment. Did I complete the race? Yes, I did. Did I enjoy it? No. I didn’t. According to my standards, I failed that day.



Self-honesty and awareness allow us to embrace the fluidity of these two concepts. Yesterday, a career promotion was the biggest win; today, perhaps managing our own working time scores much higher. In the past, I have perceived this ‘evolution’ as being inconsistent. I feared not making sense. Now I understand there is nothing more consistent than being responsive to our priorities.



It takes practice not to judge others’ wins or failures under our own lenses. Back to ultra-distance racing, it will be hard to forget what I saw first-hand during the 5 days crossing Wales north to south during the Dragons Back Race in 2017. Full disclosure: I only lasted 2 days! On one hand, I was very impressed by the determination and grit of my fellow runners; on the other hand, most of them had crossed all the no-go lines I set for myself. The beauty of it is we all went home feeling like winners.



How about situations where others – more experienced, qualified, wise… - define how success look like? Be cautious! Looking back at my type 1 diabetes diagnosis, I can now say winning and losing standards were built upon fallacies, biases and assumptions. The fallacy that every person needs carbohydrates to thrive. The bias that many patients with type 1 diabetes are lazy and non-compliant. The assumption that adapting eating behaviours is too hard to bear. In the context of type 1 diabetes, I re-defined what winning and losing meant only after getting the right advice and tools.



Whether winning or losing, the one thing I appreciate the most is FREEDOM. The freedom to make decisions, to act, to dream, to learn, to fail, to try again. Be brave to define your own standards. Be humble to win & lose. Be flexible to adapt without shame. Be grateful for the learnings. Be accountable for your freedom.



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