Think stories can’t make a difference to your view of the world? Luke Clark finds inspiration in perspiration

Today I’m writing this story from my spare room. A great room in fairness, and after some time and investment, it’s more than fit-for-purpose as an office. Which is just as well – because it was from here that I marked the end of my last in-house role more than a year ago, and from here that I began my first company leadership role for CP5, the start-up company that I co-own. And it’s here that I recently saw in my third lockdown in the space of 14 months.

Today, it’s from this same spare room that I write about one person, far away and coming from a completely different walk of life – Sifan Hassan. You may know her as the Ethiopian-born 28-year-old now competing for the Netherlands, who as of last night, became the gold medallist in the women’s 5,000-meter track race.

The point is, she didn’t just win – after all, she was widely tipped to win, and possibly even to win this race, plus the 1,500 and 10,000 metre events as well.

What makes me write about her is not just the fact that my family and I watched her final (with me incorrectly Dad-splaining the fact that it wasn’t yet the final) and then watched her incredibly strong kick to win the race by several metres from Kenyan Hellen Obiri.

What caused the connection for me, was the fact that 11 hours previously, Hassan had fallen dramatically in her 1,500 metre heat – to leave her at the back of the pack with just one lap to go. But then, the miracle: she successfully got up, recovered her composure, and won her heat. Eleven hours later, she won her first final of the Tokyo Olympics.

And thanks to a social media meme of her miracle recovery, I was this morning able to link that earlier act of bravery with this later feat, connected by less that half a day. And as a consequence of that connection, I was feeling completely charged by it.

I wasn’t alone – the world’s press were wholly celebrating the effort. Hassan herself made the same link right after the race too. With the cameras on her, she pointed to her left shoulder, her right knee, and her hands – indicating all the pain that she had overcome to win the final.

And within a few more seconds, there she was on the ground, crouched in a half circle on the ground and draped in the Dutch flag, praying in thanks for the strength she found to survive and then overcome her day’s challenges.

“I told myself ‘No.’ I didn’t want to regret it later,” she told the cameras about the fall and later recovery. As beaten silver medalist Obiri noted, “To come back (11) hours after that, and to run the race – you can see that she’s great.”

What had inspired Hassan? Only she will know – although adrenaline was certainly involved: she later noted that after the fall: “I felt like someone who drank 20 cups of coffee.”

As one small story, it was the perfect hero’s journey. And around the world, it will no doubt warm the hearts of a lot of people holed up in whatever mental cage is currently binding them.

There is no logic to how stories do this to us. Yet my gut feeling is that Hassan’s story will also help the cases of those who argue that these Olympic Games matter. That immigrant lives matter. And that one woman from what many might have regarded as the middle of nowhere, matters.

All of those big issues should, in truth, matter more. And our logical brains know that a single story of a single person, picking herself up off the ground and carrying on, should not outweigh the power of data or reasoned argument, in their ability to inspire us to act.

But that’s what the best stories do. They connect with something deeper in us than logic. And when they do, they connect the struggle, and the strength, of one person – to everyone sitting in their spare room trying to find a good reason to push on.

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Photo by Matt Lee on Unsplash