Monday, February 1, 2016

Competing for Health

by Sue Aquila

Fifteen years ago I opened my business. Not long after I opened my first retail store, a national chain decided to open a competing store across the street. Before they opened, I was invited to meet with some of their corporate executives. Their message was direct and simple: sell to us for a paltry sum or we will put you out of business.

I bluffed my way through the meeting with a polite “no thank you” to hide the genuine fear I felt. Everything was riding on my business -- financial health, personal health and my ego.

Experiencing the gut wrenching fear of intense competition was the best thing that could have happened to me.

The fear required me to focus. I knew we had to get great and stay great with our competitor an arm’s reach away. Competition made us better and made us stay better. What happened to that national chain? They went out of business (as did five other competitors). Many years later my business is now defined as an “institution” in our community.

We have no direct competition right now and I don’t like it. It is easy to make mistakes when you realize people do not have a lot of choices. Competition keeps my businesses healthy and all of us on our toes.

One of the things that drew me to triathlons was the idea that I was competing on two levels; publicly and personally. I save my best performances for race day because I want to win. I want to win overall, I want to win my age group and I want to have my best race performance ever. I rarely accomplish those goals but I love giving it my best effort. I improve because I compete.

My training friends joke that we have “stalkers” at local races. The people that place a target squarely on your back and define their success by how they do relative to you. This known competitor does legitimize your performance. Every great legend, whether in athletics or politics, needs a great competitor. Someone to help you elevate your game and make you dig deeper.

This past summer, I had an opportunity at the Endurance Corner Boulder camp to listen to two guest speakers, Chrissie Wellington and Mirinda Carfrae. After following Chrissie for years, I realized the one thing that has been missing to cement her legacy was the legitimacy of a true competitor; someone to define her performance beyond the freak of genetics. Kona enabled Chrissie to cement her legacy by succeeding beyond her injuries and being legitimized by Rinnie’s valiant run and chase.

Chrissie is now an institution and someone who welcomes the competition as part of her process to give her best. As the gap narrows, I believe her best performances are ahead of her.

Where do you find your external competition? Like Chrissie and Rinnie or my local “stalkers” and me, look outside yourself to find something to push you further.

Sue Aquila is a USAT Level 1 coach who balances her ironman training with running a successful business that she built from the ground up. She blogs regularly at You can also follow her on Twitter @fewoman.
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