When you fall: The story of Heather Dorniden

*This is the story of one event in 2008. Heather is still running.

It was 2008 at a Big Ten indoor track event. Heather Dorniden, now Heather Kampf, was the favorite in her 600-meter race.

The race was three laps around an indoor track. As she moved into first place towards the end of the second lap, her heel got clipped by the runner she was overtaking and she fell.

One lap to go and she moved from first to last place, flat on the ground.

In her words, “I was making a move to pass Fawn Dorr of Penn State going into the last lap of the Big Ten 600m final, and probably just didn’t account for enough space for my long stride, because I felt my heel get clipped once, and then on the second time I knew I was going down.”

All her work. All her dreams. She fell.

Game over, right? Not quite...

Pretty awesome, right?

Everyone in the arena probably believed her race was over. The odds were in their favor. It was logical for her to give up. The facts supported it.

But Heather did not enter the race based on the odds, logic, or the facts. She was in the race to help her team win a championship.

Her race meant important points for her team.

Without hesitation she treated the situation like a second start to a race she remained committed to win. She launched from the track as though she was leaping from the starting blocks, and ended up winning.

What can we learn?

Heather's race can inspire us to never quit. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

But it's not always that simple. When you look deeper at your own situation, it is clear that there are some things you need to quit much more quickly than you do.

  • Poor performing employees might need to be let go

  • Toxic employees need to be shown the door immediately, or put on performance improvement plans with empathetic boundaries and real consequences

  • Unmet sales projections need action taken within weeks, not months or years

  • Unprofitable divisions need to be given an opportunity to turn around, or sold off or shut down

I like the following image by Sharanda Foster Douglas below:

When should we persevere?

You should persevere when your path is clear. Heather wasn't in a maze with multiple paths to choose from. She knew exactly what to do: Get up and run.

You can do the same. You should persevere when you're on the right path and a little more effort is required. Persevere when you can:

  • Identify a way to do things differently that will achieve a better result

  • Stop doing the things that are hurting you and/or your organization

  • Define, develop, and sustain new habits or processes to be better

  • Your leadership team supports an additional effort.

The CRT is low: The additional effort will be low Cost, low Risk, and takes a relatively small amount of Time to prove itself.

You have the support of strong, wise advisors and mentors who have the guts to tell you where you're wrong and when you need to stop.

I like the graphic from Jim Knaggs below:

There is no universal mandate to quit, or get up and run. Each time you fall will be different. But you will fall. Everyone does. And if you're on the right path, be ready to get up and start running again.

If you choose to persevere, then, like Heather, don’t hold anything back!