Wheelspin Column | The Pain of Losing

Cycle News Staff | April 7, 2021

Cycle News Wheelspin


The Pain of Losing

By Keith Dowdle

The greatest riders in the world seem to possess something—or lack something—that the rest of us just don’t. From MotoGP to supercross to off-road and enduro racing, even after the most horrific crashes, sometimes involving serious injury, as soon as they’re back on the bike, they’re right back to race speed. Everyone who follows AMA Supercross knows what Ken Roczen has been through over the past few years, but he’s back and in the hunt for a Supercross championship. Valentino Rossi has been hurt so many times it’s hard to remember them all, but he’s still out there and always a threat to win. Hell, one year at the Daytona 200, the Honda team literally had to carry Miguel Duhamel to his bike because he was hurt so bad that he couldn’t walk—and he won the race!

But how do they do it? Is it a lack of fear or perhaps a lack of self-preservation, or perhaps it’s something about their anatomy—large attachments, one might say. Of course, there’s certainly a level of talent and skill, but there must be something more because most of us mere mortals slow way down after a bad crash, and it often takes months before we’re fully back in the groove.

Dave Despain and I were having lunch once upon a time with AMA Hall of Famer Scott Summers and this subject came up. Scott had an incredible career in racing and is one of the most accomplished off-road riders of all time, with five GNCC National Championships and four National Hare Scrambles Championships. But it didn’t come without challenges. From broken collarbones to a severely fractured femur, he had his fair share of injuries along the way. But as all the greats do, he was always able to overcome those challenges and get right back up to speed to compete at the highest level. He amassed 69 national overall victories, 15 national class championships, three ISDE gold medals, and finished third in his one and only attempt at the Baja 1000.

Like many pros, Scott Summers had the knack not to let injuries get the best of him during his racing days.

During our lunch, I made a comment about how he must have really large attachments, since he shows no fear at all even after a bad crash. But Scott quickly disagreed with me and instead went on to tell us how he approaches injury and how he’s able to be right back up to race pace. He told us that during his recovery he analyzes the crash that caused the injury over and over again in his mind. Recounting time and time again exactly what happened until he’s certain that he understands why it happened—how it happened—and then he trains his mind to not repeat the same mistake. By doing this, he says that the crash becomes irrelevant history, and he no longer thinks about it once he’s back on the bike. He views the accidents as one-offs against the backdrop of thousands of hours of seat time. The immense practice he’s put in to develop and hone his talent is still there after an accident. One mishap doesn’t erase all that muscle memory and skill. So, by analyzing what went wrong, he incorporates the accident into his lifetime body of work—and uses it as a learning opportunity.

He also said that for him the pain and disappointment of losing are worse than the pain from injury. It wasn’t so much about wanting to win as it was about not wanting to lose. From the investment of time and sweat while training to get back in physical shape, to the hours and hours of practice, to the personal sacrifice, for him all of this made the thought of losing unbearable, thereby erasing the worry and fear of another accident.

So maybe that’s the key to a successful racing career at the highest levels of our sport: to fear losing more than getting hurt. Train your mind to understand why an accident happened and then put it behind you as one more learning experience. That way, you can focus on the joy of winning and never feel the pain of losing. CN

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