In retrospect, it's the only way it could have--should have--ended. Last night the Virginia Cavaliers beat the Texas Tech Red Raiders in overtime for the NCAA College Basketball Championship. (My apologies to any Texas Tech fans.)
Virginia crossed a huge chasm to accomplish its first-ever championship, a plunge into perseverance. In last year's NCAA tournament, Virginia was on the wrong side of history, becoming the first No. 1-seeded team in history to lose to a No. 16 seed. It was an upset for the ages. Utter March Madness.
The coverage after that game was brutal, to say the least. One CBS Sports writer had this to say after Virginia's loss to University of Maryland Baltimore County in 2018 (edited for brevity): "For Virginia it's pain and embarrassment. It's a stain that will never be removed, a scarlet letter on the program."
Virginia coach Tony Bennett commented after the loss that the game "can't define our team or us." The CBS Sports writer responded, "But for him, and for Virginia, it will. Forever."
Every day since that loss, all throughout a wildly successful 2018-2019 college basketball campaign that ended with a 35-3 record, every player on the Virginia team had to deal with the pain of that loss. They had to carry on knowing that the sports world, or what probably seemed like the entire world, were all saying: "Yeah, we'll see how they do come tournament time."
Bennett has been questioned relentlessly about his slow-down, defense-heavy style (he calls it "patient flow"). It was clearly successful in the regular season, but critiqued as a horrible idea for the breakneck win-or-go-home environment of March Madness.
Virginia star Ty Jerome said after the victory, "Coach Bennett said something that stuck with us all year long and through this game. Run to the start line, not the finish line."
How the team and its coach dealt with the overwhelming naysayers.
In other words, be eager, ready, and raring to go to tackle all the interim obstacles on your way to redemption. Don't just sprint to that desired end state that lies ahead to get the past more quickly behind you. Accept the fact that overcoming adversity requires overcoming adversity.
What gives you the fuel to do that?
Knowing that nothing in your painful past, no matter how monumental the disappointment, defines you. Nothing. Not for the Virginia Cavaliers, not for Coach Bennett, not for me and you.
I can say from first-hand experience that this spirit has been key for me in working through adversity I've faced throughout my life. And I'll always build on it with this sentiment: Past struggles don't define me, I define them, and exactly what role they'll play in my growth as a human being.
After the game, several ESPN announcers called the Virginia championship win one of the best stories in the history of college basketball. I call it a story we can all relate to. For anyone who ever doubted us. Turned on us. Mocked us. Underestimated us.
The end to this story?
Persistence, not pestilence. Redemption, not ruin.