Loser. Stop for a second and imagine the hurt and shame at being called that. The word carries more barbs than a typical brush with devil's club.
Just check out the Webster's New World College Dictionary definition. It's loaded with words like doomed, ineffectual, habitually fails, easily victimized and even imprisoned.
In our results-driven society, nobody likes being an honorable loser, a happy loser or a talented loser. Put any shiny, peppy word in front of loser, and it's still loser that prevails.
And that's society's loss, because three of the cooler things I saw last weekend at the state soccer and track championships came via losers.
Skyview senior Erika Edwards, the Kenai Central girls soccer team and Kenai Central junior Michelle Edwards were all losers last weekend, but each went a long way into tossing the Webster's definition into serious question.
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Let's start with Skyview's Edwards, who more than anybody knows what it's like to take the stage after Jerry Seinfeld, sing in an opera with The Great Caruso or be a painting on the wall beside a Monet.
Edwards finished up her prep distance running career without a state title by taking second to unbendable East High senior Kikkan Randall in the 3,200- and 1,600-meter runs at state.
Randall finished up one of the most distinguished prep running careers in this state's history with six individual state track titles and three state cross country titles. In many of those triumphs, Randall was Ali while Edwards played the Joe Frazier-like foil.
By definition, I guess all of this makes Edwards a loser.
It had to be tough at times. As a junior, Edwards came back from a knee injury that knocked her out of the cross country season to become, along with Randall, the first girl to go under 11 minutes in the 3,200 at state since 1988.
Yet the main focus was on how Edwards could have allowed Randall make up a large gap and win the race.
Things only got tougher this year. Randall owned Edwards during the cross country season. Edwards persisted, putting in a solid winter of training only to go under 11 minutes and lose again to Randall in the 3,200 this past weekend.
Her supposed final gasp was the blistering 5:00.85 she ran in losing to Randall in the 1,600. The closest anybody has gotten to that time since 1988 is Homer's Beth Ladd, who ran 5:01.2 in 1990. But, again, even the rarest of times weren't enough to top Randall.
But the final gasp was more like the last laugh. Edwards will take her low times, and her ability to continue trying to rise to the sterling level of a competitor, to Northern Arizona University, a Division I school where she has a full ride.
A Division I scholarship doesn't sound very "ineffectual" to me.
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That brings us to the Kenai Central girls soccer team, which went 1-2 at the state tournament and didn't place. In other words, they were losers.
Fittingly, the Kardinals got tossed into the losers' bracket after a loss last Thursday to East. Kenai then beat Chugiak Friday in an overtime endurance contest that required 30 minutes of extra play and didn't end until 8:30 p.m.
When Kenai showed up Saturday morning to play the fourth-place game at 9 a.m. against Colony, it would have been understandable if they put in a disinterested performance worthy of a college student at a Saturday morning class on homecoming weekend.
Kenai senior Jessi Reilly wasn't about to let that happen. Reilly is an energy freak in the vein of Peppy and Stormy, the lead dogs of Iditarod champion Doug Swingley which show as much eagerness to get on the trail 900 miles into the race as they do at the starting line.
Following the hummingbird-like lead of Reilly, who didn't get one rest during the tournament, Kenai challenged for every 50-50 ball Saturday and made all those longs runs back for defense that define the heart of a soccer team.
About 12 minutes into the game, freshman Laura Moore summed up the inspired effort when she went tumbling out of bounds at midfield and smacked her head on the track bordering the soccer pitch.
Not missing a beat, unlike the heart of anyone witnessing the fall up close, Moore popped up and dashed downfield to join the Kenai attack, helping Jamie Montgomery get an opportunity on goal.
Colony may be the Knights, but it was Kenai, despite the 2-1 loss in overtime, displaying the magnificent valor on Saturday.
In the end, it's not about the soccer anyway. This is a group of girls that will one day one day go the extra mile to finish a project at work, help a student in the classroom or make sure the patient's family fully understands the diagnosis.
"The biggest thing I want them to learn is how to set high expectations, do everything you can to meet those high expectations, then be able to handle it if you don't meet them," Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen said.
"Every ref and coach complimented our team on our hard work. How many on our team are going to play on college teams? It's tough to do that. But they'll succeed in life because of the attitude and work ethic they showed this weekend."
Maybe it's just me, but the word "doomed" doesn't seem to fit here.
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Finally, there was the performance of Kenai's Michelle Edwards, who is no relation to Skyview's Erika Edwards except for the fact that she, also, was a loser this past weekend.
Kenai's Edwards wasn't a complete loser. She did lead the Kardinals' 3,200-meter relay team to victory and a state record.
But in the 400, her lone individual event of the day, Edwards was outkicked over the last 50 meters by Ninilchik's Molly Bosick.
Bosick was the first state winner to break 58 seconds in the 400 since 1994, and Edwards' 58.21 would have taken state in five of the last six years, but that didn't change the fact that Edwards had lost the race.
It was a classic case of the pupil outdoing the teacher. Before this season, Bosick was a 100 and 200 sprinter, but her foot speed and strength had Ninilchik Bernie Clark itching to try her in the 400.
Problem is, the 400 is a tough race to learn. There's no question it's a sprint, but therein lies the problem. Sprint the first 300 meters too viciously, and the body will wilt over the last 100. But don't sprint those first 300 at all, and you're not even in the race.
The only way to learn is to try it, and Bosick learned by racing all year against Edwards, one of the state's best 400 runners the past three years.
Edwards had the best time in the state, and an undefeated record against Bosick, coming into state. But by Saturday, Bosick had learned the race and trumped the teacher.
Afterward, Edwards and Clark shared an emotional moment when Clark told Edwards that Bosick never could have won without her example.
"Thanks," Edwards said. "That means a lot to me."
Later, knowing how Webster's felt about losers, I asked Edwards to explain why she was happy to have helped somebody beat her.
"To know I had an effect on somebody doing something special means a lot to me," she explained. "It makes me want to cry."
So how do we know this isn't phony? How do we know Edwards wasn't putting a happy face on a disappointing incident? Could all of this have been for show?
Let me take you to Friday. It's about one hour before Edwards is to run the 400 preliminaries, and track athletes are nervously filing in and out of Palmer High School.
In the background of this activity, a man is carting some heavy equipment out the door and comes to some steps.
The traffic of the athletes, and a certain reporter, buzzes on, oblivious to the man's impending problem. Suddenly Edwards, whose mind could have (and some would say should have) been prepossessed on winning and losing in the prelims, walks back to the man.
"Excuse me," she says. "Do you need any help with that?"
"I've got it, but thanks," comes the reply.
Something tells me both Clark and this man would have a hard, if not impossible, time putting the "habitually fails" tag on Edwards.
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Erika Edwards, the Kenai Central girls soccer team and Michelle Edwards. The three all deserved to have something good happen to them this past weekend.
Initially, Webster's had me thinking "something good" had to be a win. It turned out "something good" was the opportunity to show "something good" already had happened to them long before the weekend, and winning and losing, ever began.
Jeff Helminiak is the Clarion's sports editor. Send comments via e-mail to email@example.com
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