The above statement was made by Serena Jameka Williams, an American professional tennis player, ranked No. 1 in singles on eight separates occasions by the Women Tennis Association(WTA) between 2002 and 2017. She battled it out to the No. 1 ranking for the first time on July 8, 2002. She is known—on the sixth occasion—to have held the ranking for a hundred and eighty-six consecutive weeks, hence, tying the record set by Steffi Graf. She has been No. 1 for a total of 319 weeks! Great words from a great woman indeed!  

    My intention is not solely to bask in the splendour or emphasis regarding the achievements the phenomenal Serena any more than it already is spread around the globe as though a pandemic outbreak. However, whenever greatness is spoken of, such motivational people come into mind in the form of loud whispers that cannot be ignored.  

    Greatness comes as a seed sown in the heart of man by The Maker. After the sowing, it is your responsibility to till the soil, water it and ensure it sprouts, growing into a big tree. In other words, every single person has the potential to be great. The question is: Are you tilling, watering and working on your soil? In this context, you are the soil. The work to be done on the soil involves conscious acknowledgement of the fact that you are great, alongside conscious and persistent effort geared towards the actualization of that default fact. Greatness is like a chemical in you that needs to be activated and you are the enzyme to activate it. This is not going to be your conventional, motivational literary piece, where I will simply tell you to think it so that you can achieve it.  Sometimes, one may have to tap motivation by observing the lives of others— the very reason I begun this article with Jameka. I would now go on to give a real life illustration of what it takes to be stubbornly determined to achieve your dreams. Of course, it would be an illustration of a particular phase in my life that I had to overcome.    

    I am a young athlete—a long distance runner. I started running at a tender age of ten. I had run races for the yellow house in my secondary school’s inter-house sport. I can never over emphasize the role of my alma mater—St. Jude’s private Secondary School, Festac Town—in helping me to realize my talents, most especially in the field of sports. She sparked that zeal in me. Sometimes, it requires someone, something or an incident to bring you to the realization of who you are. I started off as a sprinter, but I would always come third or fourth position in my races and that wasn’t enough for me. I persevered in this stead up until my final year in senior school. I decided to re-strategize and re-channel my energy. So, for the first time, I engaged in the marathon race. It was my first time. I was so uncertain but I had to try. I had to trust myself. Guess what? I emerged as the female marathon race champion for that year, obtaining my very first gold medal in a long distance race. I was thrilled; thrilled that I made the right choice and took the risk. When it seems like things are not working out, consider re-strategizing and re-channelling your energy. You can be the king as long as you’re where you’re meant to be. However, I never got to win the 1500m race. I was so close to victory, so close that I barely realized when my opponent in red house zoomed right past me!

     My marathon race gold medal was hung among my other medals in my living room as an emblem to discovering myself. Things were rosy until I got enrolled in college, College of Medicine, University of Lagos. The pharmalympics was coming up. It was an inter-level sport competition among the different levels in the faculty of pharmacy. I was in 200 level. I saw it as another chance thrown at me to claim the 1500m gold medal that I lost two years ago in high school. I was certain that I could do it. There was a hint of pride in my thoughts, pride intertwined with uncertainty and hope. Our sports secretary decided to cancel the 1500m race for the female category; he said we weren’t fit enough to run that long. I was enraged. I clamoured for its reinstatement to no avail. Disappointment flooded my mind as I was left to run the 800m race, coming second place with a very narrow margin. I was disappointed. Then I knew, past successes do not really guarantee the future. They may serve as motivation, but persistent hard work is the drive.

     I had lost my third long distance race and I was somber. Second position was good but, if it wasn’t first, then I hadn’t won. I had a vision and second position was not in the line of sight of this vision. Hence, I could not recognize it as success. I was an embodiment of pain; pain as secret as thought because revealing it could have represented my person as greedy. In all of these, I never gave up. Deep down, I never lost hope. Subtle as a serpent and steady as a rock on my training, I awaited another opportunity to grab my dream by the horn; my dream to win a 1500m race.  

     Hope and confidence, sprinkled with optimism is essential to surmount life’s hurdles. Hellen Keller once said, “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” Everything you need to reach your greatest heights is in you and around you, because in this journey, you can’t do it alone. How well do you reach out to people? To what extent do you acknowledge the beings around you, not with opportunistic intentions, but taking into cognisance the fact that anyone could be of help at anytime? Ruminate on these questions. So, I held on to hope because Bernard Williams also once said, “ There was never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope.” These words were my motivation. They kept me going. They kept my mind alive, fresh with hope and everyday, I sought to revive my visions.

        Eventually, the words of the creator came to pass; the words contained in the book of Romans 5:5, “…and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” because the word of the Lord is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword. Hope didn’t disappoint me because in the second semester, I got another chance to run the 1500m race on a much bigger level. The college’s provost cup had come—a sport event in which all the departments across the college would participate and battle for the throne. As expected, I was selected among a few others, to represent the Faculty of Pharmacy in the 1500m race. I was just as thrilled as I was nervous. If I lost, it would be on a bigger level, just as my success would be if I won. My cup was half empty and half full. Yet, I had to do it because Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” I thought, it was better to run and lose than to bear the burdened thought that I’d have won if I ran. In view of that, I took up the challenge.  

       It would be interesting to know that I never trained for my race until the morning of my race—not because I was proud or certain of my abilities, but majorly because I was overwhelmed with academic work. Although, I must admit that I underestimated the race a little, only to regret it when I realized that I had only few hours to train prior to my race. The D-day had come. It was the moment I had been waiting for. I got to the sports centre as early as 10am to train for a race scheduled for 1pm. I had four laps to run after all and energy to conserve before the actual showdown. The track looked enormous and impossible before my eyes. What in tarnation have you done to yourself, Cynthia? I thought. Why didn’t you train? What is your problem? You don’t even want this medal. I scolded myself. Now, you would lose. You would lose again and again. I tried to shake away the voice in my head. No. No! Not again! My subconscious screamed. I ignored the voices in my head and tried to run. I could only make one lap; panting and breathing like an underfed dog afterwards. I sat down and lambasted myself again. I tried again, this time, reaching two laps but ended up as dizzy as a goose. 1500m race is four laps. I had run just two and I felt like I would die. Just then, in my low moment, I saw a young man running. He kept running. One lap, two laps, then three and four, yet, he didn’t stop for one second. I was amazed to see someone do multiple times what I couldn’t do, even though he was a man and expected to possess more agility. His gender was no excuse to me. I relegated myself to the background, watching and willing myself to decipher his ways. I counted his running steps. I tried to study his breathing pattern by the  inward and outward movement of his chest. I noticed how he kept muttering some certain words to himself as he ran. So, when he finished ten laps and returned to the bench, I decided to engage him in a conversation.  

     “Wow! You ran like ten laps and I can barely run three. I have a race today though. How did you do it? What’s the secret?” I said. He smiled after a brief moment of silence, as if filtering his thoughts and replied.   

     “Nothing special. I’ve been practising here every Saturday, just like today.  You just have to practise.” I remained silent. I thought and thought. I was reluctant to try again, but the stranger said, “You should run it again right now! I’d love to watch you run it.”

     So, I took to my heels again. The time was 11:30 am and there was I, burning my energy over and over. But, on his watch, I ran the first lap, then the second, then the third and an extra half. I was thrilled beyond imagination, even though I had only run about 1200m. He told me he was proud of me and that he was certain I would win my race. He said, “Believe in yourself. Conserve your energy. Don’t think of the distance. Just run, keep running. Run.” We exchanged names and a handshake and he left. Obinna huh? I thought. We’d see if you’re right. We’d see if I’ll win.  

      When the time for my race came, I stood on my mark. The whistle was blown. I began running. Conserve, conserve. Think, think. I kept chanting these words in my head like a mantra of some sort. At least, that was what I was told to do. Conserve your energy. Just run. Keep running. At the second lap, I had already fagged out. I lost hope of winning. I wanted to stop on the track. But then, what would Marcelo—the sport’s secretary—say? Perhaps, You shouldn’t have asked for 1500m. I told you so. I knew you couldn’t do it. I saw this coming. I shook these voices out of my head. To prove him wrong, I kept running. For my dreams, I kept running. At the last lap, I was running in second place. I lost hope. I ran past the crowd of pharmacy students. Then, I heard my friends’ voices faintly in my head screaming at me to run, that I could do it. Too many people believed in me, especially our coachee, Bimbo. We had nicknamed her as Coachee because she was always up and about to ensure success in our sporting activities. She had come all the way to watch my race. At the last 50m, I just had to run; for those who believed in me, for the past two years of not winning, for the glory and for myself. So, with my last energy, I summoned the Barry Allen in me and rushed for the finish line. Guess what? I won. I finally won a 1500m race.  

      One may wonder, what is the moral lesson of this narration? Prior to this time, people may not know this side of the story. They only know that I won and that’s it. They believe I’m strong just like that— a superhero maybe. The point is, no-one cares for your hard work if there is no success. People would only see results. Hence, you must produce results so that your success story can make sense when told. I can’t proudly tell this story if I hadn’t won. The hustle is real and important, but not everyone has to know or understand the process. It will show in your success. Secondly, always know that hard work pays. If I wasn’t on the track early enough to practise, I bet I’d have lost. Always put yourself in a position to win, because opportunities won’t always come to you. The extra effort is what shows the difference.

     The third lesson is: Learn from those that are better than you are. Study their ways and ask questions. The journey of life is long and weary. Sometimes you may have to follow the footprints left behind as you struggle to pave your own path.

     The fourth lesson to learn is: Find what motivates you and safeguard it in a special place in your heart, with your eyes and mind glued to it. Motivation is very key. The young man I had met motivated me. I felt that if he could do it, I could. I didn’t see gender as a barrier or a factor that made me any weaker.             

      Lesson five: Know that people believe in you and are incessantly watching you. Be conscious of that fact. I was able to run three and a half laps because the stranger—Obinna— was watching me and I was conscious enough to know that I could not let him down. You must keep striving and pushing, for those that are watching and believing in you. Keep trying, even for the haters. Clear all doubts in their minds and turn their scorns into admiration.

     Lastly, when you’re about to give up, remember why you started in the first place. Let your motivation re-echo in your heart, like it did in mine as I ran. Resound it. Remember the people who believe in you, no matter how few they are—it may just be one person even. Trust these words: One is enough. You owe it to them and most especially to yourself to succeed. Failure is not and should never be an option. Keep trying. Sometimes, it may seem as though nothing is happening but, with every step you take, you become a much better person than before. With each step you take, you draw closer to who you are truly meant to be. Greatness lies in you. Just believe.  

      In all of these, remember beautiful words, as those of Winston S. Churchill which says, “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” Truly, it is the courage that sustains you in tough times. Also know that luck is good, but have you ever heard that hard work increases your chances of luck? Thomas Jefferson once said, “I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” Don’t be scared to lose. In Robert Kiyosaki’s words, “Don’t let the fear of losing be greater than the excitement of winning.” So, go all out. Dream big dreams. Be bold enough to chase these dreams. Live a life that you won’t regret upon death. In all you do, redefine success everyday. Believe that you can change the world because the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who actually do.  

     It would please you to know that, till date, my 1500m race gold medal from the provost cup is hung among my other medals in my living room as an emblem, representing the one who never gives up on her dream.  

     A true narration by Cynthia Nnadi.


    An entry for the CFWriterz Biannual literary awards.