In his book “The Life God Blesses,” my friend Gordon MacDonald tells a story about his experiences on the track team at the University of Colorado in the late fifties. In particular, he remembers the difficult workouts he did with a teammate named Bill.
“To this day I have anguished memories of our workouts each Monday afternoon,” says Gordon. “The memories are onerous because the workouts were. When those Monday workouts ended, I would stagger in exhaustion to the locker room.”
But Bill was different. Undoubtedly those workouts were demanding to him too. When he was finished, he would rest on the grass near the track. But after about twenty minutes, while Gordon showered, Bill would repeat the entire workout.
Bill didn’t consider himself to be an exceptional athlete in college. During his years at the University of Colorado, he never earned a medal in national collegiate championship competition, nor was he named an All-American.
“I was not a great athlete,” observed Bill, “but I had a ‘bag of tricks’ theory...that is, there is no big move you can make in your training or competition, but there are thousands of little things you can do.”
Bill might not have made a great impact during his college years, but his discipline and desire paid off over time. His best events were the long jump and the 400. He kept working on those and added other skills so that he could compete in the decathlon. Through disciplined effort and continual improvement, the un-spectacular college athlete who had worked out next to (and ahead of) Gordon MacDonald become a world-famous athlete. Bill was none other than Bill Toomey, the decathlete inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame in 1984. He set a world record in the decathlon in 1966, wond a gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics in 1968, and won five national decathlon championships in a row — an accomplishment that has yet to be matched in his sport.
What elevated Toomey to such high accomplishment was his discipline. Gordon MacDonald’s insight says it all: “The difference between the two of us began on Monday afternoon during workouts. He was unafraid of discipline and did the maximum; I was afraid of discipline and did the minimum.”
“Discipline is doing what you
really don’t want to do so that you can
do what you really want to do.”