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Effort Not Result

Suffering from terminal spinal cancer at the age or 47, former North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano spoke with a reporter earlier this year. He looked back on his life and told a story about himself as a 23-year-old coach of a small college team. “Why is winning so important to you?” the players asked Valvano.

“Because the final score defines you,” he said, “You lose, ergo, you’re a loser. You win, ergo, you’re a winner.”

“No,” the players insisted. “Participation is what matters. Trying your best, regardless of whether you win or lose—that’s what defines you.”

It took 24 more years of living. It took the coach bolting up from the mattress three or four times a night with his T-shirt soaked with sweat and his teeth rattling from the fever chill of chemotherapy and the terror of seeing himself die repeatedly in his dreams. It took all that for him to say it: “Those kids were right. It’s effort, not result. It’s trying. God, what a great human being I could have been if I’d had this awareness back then.”

Gary Smith in Sports Illustrated, quoted in Reader’s Digest