“Areté implies a respect for the wholeness or oneness of life, and a consequent dislike of specialization. It implies a contempt for efficiency… or rather a much higher idea of efficiency, an efficiency which exists not in one department of life but in life itself.”
-Robert M. Prisig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Have you ever heard of Michael T. Joyce? Neither had I. Until author, David Foster Wallace introduced him to me. He is an incredible talent, who has worked for years to tirelessly develop his craft. At 22 years old, he had aspirations to improve, and to beat the best and to push back the walls that bound him. During the summer of 1996, Michael T. Joyce was ranked the 97th best tennis player in the world. If he played on a public court, he’d be a spectacle and amass a crowd of onlookers who’d watch in awe. He’s fast, he’s strong, and he can hit a tennis ball with pinpoint accuracy with a backspin that could bring the ball right back. But he’s not Pete Sampras, and he hasn’t earned his way to play against Andre Agassi. That’s when I realized; I am Michael T. Joyce.
I skipped my cool down. It never even crossed my mind to do it. I was done, and my collegiate career was over. I entered the showers more numb than upset. I stood there for a moment, with my eyes closed as the cool water rushed against my face, and then I sat. My back was against the wall as I was sitting in a puddle of my own filth. The thought popped into my head to where I was about a year ago. Finishing the season prior with a similar sense of disappointment, but with an optimistic outlook of what this year would bring. If I could go back to then and see where it is that I am now, would I do it all over again? Undoubtedly, yes.
When I committed to run for Texas following my junior year, I had missed the three previous seasons and had not produced a single result in over thirteen months. But in an act of faith, Coach Hayes and Coach Thornton decided to take a risk on me, for which I am forever grateful. Unfortunately, this year did not unfold as I had planned. There was so much more that I wanted to give to this team, but I did not PR and I did not hit my goals. I was perpetually injured and unable to compete at the level my teammates deserved. My performances were lacking, and I was a constant headache for our training staff. Following my final race, when Coach Hayes entered the locker room and saw me hanging up my burnt orange jersey for the final time, we shook hands and I thanked him for everything. But there was one thing I wanted to make sure he knew, as well as everyone who I had the pleasure of meeting and interacting with while spending the last year in Austin—I loved it.
I woke up this morning, and I still have a smile on my face, and isn’t that the ultimate purpose of running, to find happiness? It just so happens that in my hedonistic pursuit I stumbled upon the sport of running and acquired the desire for arbitrary feats of endurance. Athletics is one possible mean to the same end we are all chasing. And while it is easy to become absorbed by the tunnel vision required to be successful, now at the conclusion of my season, I can look back with the proper perspective that is no longer blinded by frustration. Although the list of things I hope to accomplish continues to grow, I try to remind myself that they are all part of the single greatest achievement worth pursuing, and that is satisfaction.
As articulated by Aristotle, the ultimate virtue is namely eudaimonia, translated literally as “good spirit,” but often intended to mean “well-being.” As people we are ceaselessly striving towards this ideal, but perhaps aiming towards it is what provides it most fully. And through the various stages of my career, I expect to have many bad days to accompany the good. But much like an aspiring tennis star, I will continue to look towards winning against the best. Yet whether I get there or not, I hope to conclude in much the same way Michael T. Joyce was personified: “He will say he is happy and mean it.”
I was recently told that the biggest advantage a post-collegiate athlete could have is a strong support system. To be surrounded by people who believe in you and accept your decision to put aside some of the temptations of the real world (re: money), to pursue a dream you have been chasing since you first started competing at five years old. Throughout my years in college, I was given endless opportunities by so many people to play a sport I love, and I could never thank everyone along the way enough for what they’ve given me. To my parents, family, coaches, teammates, friends and fans, thanks for being a part of the journey, and I am excited to enter into the next stage of my career, and I trust you will join me. Right now, I need some time off to recover, get rested and healthy, but I am excited to make up for some lost time.
David Foster Wallace-The String Theory