The Want


For the past month, the eyes of the world have been focused on sports. Even the eyes of those who normally don’t care about sports. There have been amazing victories. Humiliating defeats. The underdogs have risen. The mighty have fallen. And every time, someone will have to say, “Well, obviously, The Winner wanted it more.”

And if possible, I would punch that dumbass in the throat.

Seriously? You believe there was a person in that stadium on Super Sunday who wanted to win more than Peyton Manning? You think anybody put more on the line than Bodie Miller in the Olympic downhill, or Shawn White in the halfpipe?

I call bullshit.

This isn’t Little League. Nobody was on that mountain or that field because his buddies wanted him to play. Nobody was there because he got lucky. They are the best of the best, the ones who were blessed with an unnatural level of ability, then consistently out-worked and out-performed every other athlete in the nation. Believe me, there wasn’t a man among them who didn’t want to win with an intensity that could burn him alive.

I know the feeling. Maybe not on a stage of that magnitude, but I’ve craved winning so badly the runs and the rides played over and over, a repetitive loop in my head, so I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t concentrate, could barely eat. I’ve put in the hours, the days, the years, invested my time, my money, my soul. Practiced hard, then harder, pushed myself and my horse to be at our peak at the decisivie moment.

And failed miserably.

Desire is a funny thing. It can drive us to heights we never dreamed we could reach. And it can render us blind, dumb, paralyze our muscles and our brains. If you’ve ever studied yourself stupid for a huge exam only to walk in, sit down and go completely blank, you’ve had a taste of it. You tell yourself to relax. You say, Come on. You’ve got this. You’ve done it a thousand times. But the harder you push, the more you try, the worse it gets.

In sports, we say Try easier. Seems counterintuitive, trying less hard, but any athlete will tell you there is a delicate balance, a crucial point where desire, adrenaline, confidence and ease meet. And when the mixture is just right?


There is no drug, legal or otherwise, that could match the high of being in the zone. Of knowing before you ride in the arena or take the field that you cannot fail. Your body and your mind hum like a tuning fork in perfect pitch. Your heart pounds, but your hands are steady, your vision keen, the world around you amplified, clarified, high definition and 3D. And you know there is no way, in this place, on this day, that it can go anything but right.

And then there are the other days. The ones where you stop when you should go, go when you should stop. When your edges are too sharp, your grip too tight, so that no matter what move you make, it will be wrong. Your body is made of sludge, your mind so full of noise you can’t see, can’t hear, can’t feel, as if you’re smothering in static. What seemed effortless last week is impossible now.

And the worst part? No matter how long you’ve been competing, it’s impossible to guess when, or why. Sure, there are things you can do, mental exercises, visualization, progressive relaxation. And they’ll work—up to a point.

But there will come an inevitable day when desire trumps skill, and you cross that invisible line. When the wanting turns on its maker and eats you alive.

Lucky for me, my failures were never on national television. I don’t have the hopes and dreams of millions riding on my shoulders. And that’s good, because honestly—the weight of my own desire is sometimes more than I can bear.


Kari Lynn Dell – Montana for Real