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Many ways to get to the finish line first…

Horse Racing today is justifiably fraught with controversy and scrutiny due to the recent deaths of high profile horses and the on-going risks that jockeys are subjected to every time they get in the saddle.  At yesterday’s Kentucky Derby – May 2, 2009 – it was good to see how much of the coverage focused on new safety regulations and innovations and the on-going pursuit of ways to make the sport safer for the horses and jockeys.  I need to mention this because as a Kentucky gal – born and bred – I grew up having an enormous respect and appreciation for horses and the men and women who ride them.  Part of me thrills at a horse race and another part of me is repelled by it because of the danger.  Cheering one minute and chastising the next.

Having put my split personality on the table I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the poetry and symbolism that came out of yesterday’s big race for me.  Like any sport, a horse race, is full of heroic stories, profiles of courage and colorful perspectives and portrayals on how to win…and lose.  As a communicator, I look and listen for these stories and use them in writing, speeches or casual conversation to better illustrate a point I am trying to make.

Let me share two of my favorite poetic moments that came out of yesterday’s race…consider them to motivate your staff or inspire your team:

1)  The underdog can win given the right opportunity.  Mine that Bird, turning three years old in a few days, and bought for $9,500 traveled by trailer for 21 hours hauled by his trainer, Chip Wooley to win the Derby.  His jockey, Calvin Borel, took him to the rail and while no one was looking or paying attention to this 50-1 shoot he stormed across the finish line winning by 6-1/2 lengths making the other horses appear to be standing still.

A little known and not well respected horse, a quirky trainer with a broken leg and crutches and an over-the-top effusive jockey who has you worrying a bit about his emotional well-being – if they can win, you can win.  It is a simple snapshot that can inspire.

2)  Desormeaux’s Slide Show.   Jockey Kent Desormeaux, who rode Hold Me Back in this year’s Derby and rode the winner, Big Brown last year, was interviewed before the race and was asked to describe what it was like being in a horse race and his strategy for winning.  He said he always has a slide show playing in his head during a race.  He said, “… you first feel like you are in a fog and then you find yourself in the middle of a forest where you are a little kid who has been wandering and lost for days…suddenly you turn the corner and standing open-armed at the wire is your mother.”  That he said, is what you are racing toward and with that level of hunger and desire.

I heard this, felt a lump in my throat, and raced to my note pad to write down what he said as I thought it was an incredibly rich image of the kind of passion required to snatch the victory – you’ve got to want it that bad.  What is a finish line image your team could use?

Many ways to get to that finish line, first.