Here’s how it happened.
At age 12, Clark latched onto a swim team at the Little Rock Boys Club as a way to stay out of the house while his parents argued. He wanted to rate among the best of the new swimmers, but felt he had “little to offer beyond hard work.”
The boy had a canny coach, Jimmy Miller, who’d also endured a hard youth. Clark wanted to know why he was required to swim faster than another boy on the team who always beat him in practice. Miller said, “Because you’re stronger.”
On the day of a big time trial to see who would compete in an out-of-state meet, the coach warned team members that they had to make their assigned times or be left behind. He also warned that they’d get whipped on the fanny with a wet towel for every tenth of a second they missed their time.
Paralyzed by fear, Clark felt leaden in the water and missed his time by a second. That meant 10 pops on his behind and utter humiliation.
But before the boy sat down, the coach quietly asked him, “You know what your biggest problem is?” “No, sir,” Clark said. “It’s you,” Miller said. “You didn’t believe you could do it.”
Clark was lucky. At the last practice before the trip (note that he showed up even though it appeared meaningless), the coach gave him another chance. He made it.
His coach said: “So, you did it, just like I knew you could. You were the only one who didn’t know it. Now you do.”
Lesson: Take full advantage of your chances, without ever looking back.
—Adapted from A Time to Lead, Wesley K. Clark with Tom Carhart, Palgrave Macmillan.