A True Story of Influence

Photo attribution: Torsten Hauptvogel

Photo attribution: Torsten Hauptvogel

Gymnastics is a sport with a complex scoring system based on risk, danger, possibility of injury, originality, and virtuosity. Other sports carry some risk, but no other rewards it with points.

The events I’m about to share with you are true. They happened at a dual meet one fall evening, during my junior year of competition, McQuiddy Gymnasium, Lipscomb University.

Men’s gymnastics competes in 6 events, one of which is the ‘high bar’ or ‘horizontal bar.’ Movements on this apparatus consist of giant circular motions held by the hands in a variety of positions, intricate hand changes, releases above and below the bar, and a dismount. Remember “risk!”

Back to the meet: next up for Lipscomb, Marty Wilson. Marty’s opening move consisted of a half swing backward with a flip in pike position at bar level requiring a hand release and regrasp. He missed, falling from about 8 feet onto the back of his neck.

He lay motionless and made a sound half horror, half cry for help. I will never forget it. Time stood still. Everyone’s eyes, competitor and audience alike, were on Marty. Everything else that night is a bit of a blur.

The paramedics arrived quickly and Marty was taken with great care to Vanderbilt Hospital. He was in good hands, but there was a meet, a competition, to complete.

Uncertainty had become an unwelcome guest.

The next competitor on the bar took his place and began his routine. In the middle of a simple swing he lost his grip and went flying across the floor. Shaken, but uninjured, he completed his routine.

The next man up also lost his grip and hit hard.

A cloud of doubt and uncertainty hung over that event that night, unlike anything else I have ever experienced.

Prior to Marty’s fall no one had even faltered. Never before nor since have I seen the impact of one man’s mistake burden so many. Risk loomed large.

Mental? You bet!

You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. What a scene of struggle as each young man stepped to the bar confronting his own fear and resisting the powerful mental image of “a fall!”

All of this serves to remind us of the importance of what we see in others, and more importantly, what others see in us. We call it influence. Influence can be for good or for bad. It’s up to us.

I can’t think of the importance of influence without thinking of Marty Wilson. By the way, we all went to see Marty after the meet. He was walking out as we arrived. A slightly bruised spinal cord. A very lucky young man.

A mighty lesson on influence.

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. (Matthew 5:14)

(J. Larry Snow)