Dateline: 2 a.m.
It's not about the ring.
It's not about the trophy.
It's about the nights.
And the demons within.
Winning isn't about winning.
Winning is about losing.
Winning is the day.
Losing is the night.
Winning is today.
Losing is forever.
Winning is a crowd.
Losing is alone.
Alone in the night.
Dreams of a win.
Nightmares of a loss.
Trophies come with salad and rolls.
And banquet chicken.
Round tables with too many forks.
Friends, colleagues, and shirt collars that won't button.
Combed hair, shined shoes, limos with champagne.
At some point, between coffee and cleanup, the lights go down, and someone stands up.
The banquet room gets quiet.
Your table goes silent.
And your brain starts to scream.
"Will it be me?"
"Was it better than good?"
"Was it great?"
And then the person with the light shining on them says something you don't hear.
Words about "deserving" and "everybody."
None of it is true. Just polite.
No one deserves to win.
To win you have to take it, fight for it, scream, claw, kick, bite, sweat, cry, lose sleep, lose time, push, push, push.
If not, you deserve to lose.
And then the person with the light shining on them asks for the envelope.
And your life.
I know, I've sat at round tables. With too many forks.
And the remains of banquet chicken.
I never look at the person with the light shining on them. I stare at my cup of black coffee, and the tiny circles of waves, that is me.
I hear the fumbling with the envelope.
I hear the room breathing as the person with the light shining on them sees the name.
I watch the rings of the coffee waves.
I hear the person with the light shining on them adjust the microphone, and their throat.
I watch the coffee waves.
And I hear someone else's name.
I clap. For them, not me.
And drink the coffee waves.
While trying to smile.
While trying to say something.
While trying to breathe.
In the spotlight, the winner.
In the dark, me.
Winning helps you sleep.
Losing keeps you awake.
I have a fireplace mantle full of wins.
I have a darkened bedroom ceiling full of loses.
I am driven to not lose, as much, if not more, than driven to win.
I never, never, get over the losses. I've come in second. It sucks.
Losses drive me to wins.
Those competing in the Bassmaster Classic know this feeling.
Fifty-one dreaming of a win.
In the end, one will sleep.
Fifty will not.
Don Barone is an award-winning outdoors writer and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association and the Outdoor Writers Guild of the U.K. You can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com.