It is what happens in the exchange zone that counts. We hold the baton we run with for such a short period of time. We receive it from another, carry it for a while, and then hand off to the one who follows.
In track and field competitions, there are team relay events. In these events the goal is for a team of runners to cover the course as quickly as possible carrying a baton from the starting line to the finish line. Because the race is a team event, how well you finish the race depends on the actions of others.
The baton is about 12 inches long, smoothly cylindrical, free from adornments, and is often referred to as the “stick.” When a baton hits the ground it makes an empty “ping” sound, a sound no runner ever wants to hear.
On a highly competitive level, races are won or lost because of what happens in the exchange zones. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, both the American men and women dropped the baton in the 4 x 100 meter relay, failing to place despite being international favorites to win the gold. In 2004 in Athens, shoddy baton passing by the American men allowed a British team to pull off an upset and the women were disqualified after a failed exchange. Finally in London in 2012, the American women got the exchange down, won the gold, and broke a 27 year old world record. The men broke the men’s world record also, but finished second to a faster Jamaican team anchored by Usain Bolt.
A lot has to go right for a smooth exchange of the baton to occur. It takes each team member doing their part properly. Timing is critical. It should be timed so that when the approaching runner hits the mark, the outgoing runner starts to sprint. Form is also critical. The receiving runner reaches back and makes an inverted “V” with his hand in an upward position and his arm parallel to the track.
The approaching runner moves his arm in a downward motion and places the baton in the receiving runner’s up turned outstretched hand. The delivering runner should always run through the pass, never slowing down until after the exchange is complete. The passing runner must stay in his lane at all times both before and after the pass to avoid interfering with others exchanging the baton also.
Just from this overview of the transfer, you can see that there are many moving parts that can go wrong. Obviously the ultimate goal of passing a relay baton is to do it in the fastest way possible and it is a work of art when it happens seamlessly. Good things happen when smooth exchanges occur.
You see it doesn’t really matter how talented the carriers of the baton are if the passing of the baton does not go smoothly. The thing is the exchange.
If you are breathing, which I would guess most of you are, you have a baton in your hand. My question to you is “What are you going to do with it?” Is there something in your life that is bigger than you? Something that you are able to influence in your days here, but that lives on after you are gone?
You are who you are today because of others who have passed the baton to you. The influence of the lives of others has shaped you to the person you are today. You have taken the history you received and have made your own decisions to get to where you are today. You are out on the course with maybe 70, 80, or 90 years to walk this planet if you are fortunate and then you are gone.
Looking down the track behind you, you can identify and recognize those who have carried the baton before you.
The baton may have been fumbled when it was given to you or it may have been a smooth exchange, but you decide what happens to the baton when you are carrying it. You will also be involved in whether or not your exchange of the baton is a seamless exchange or if the one who takes it from you has to pick it up off the ground.
When we talk about success involving the baton, each of us has the power to define it in our own lives. Our lives should not be about ourselves. We can’t take the baton with us. No one ever has. Over the spectrum of mankind our time here is very short.
Are you running a good race and preparing for the exchange ahead?
My challenge to you is to do the best you are able with the baton that you have been given. It is only yours for a while. Recognize those who have gone before you. Appreciate them. It is because of them that you have the baton today.
The baton goes from one generation to the next. We are called to carry the baton from the generations before us to the generations that follow us. If we forget those who came before us, we may forget those who come after us.
When it is all said and done, your life is nothing more or nothing less than what you do with the baton in your hand in between the exchange zones. You have been entrusted with it for just a little while. Be sure you make a difference with the days you carry it and then equip the recipient for a smooth exchange at the end of your time.
That is the best any of us can do.
We should not forget that it is an honor to carry the baton. Carry it well, and when you hand it off, what you have done with the baton will live on in those you pass it on to.
Just a thought...
Rick Kraft is a motivational speaker, a syndicated columnist, a published author, and an attorney. To submit comments, contributions, or ideas, e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to P.O. Box 850, Roswell, New Mexico, 88202 - 0850.
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