Saturday, March 7, 2015
Competition: Latin from cum petere - to compete with
In the March issue of my favorite magazine of late, "Ultrarunning," Gary Cantell has an article titled "Complete" where he nicely defends our sport of ultra running from those who say we are not competitive. Some I suppose see ultra running as not much more than a pack of long distance jogs/hikers and mistake our camaraderie for a lack of competitiveness which somehow makes us a lesser sport. After reading Gary's article I remembered that I had once heard that the word compete comes from a Latin root that gives the modern definition of the word compete an entirely different spin which nicely illustrates the spirit of ultrarunning competition. So I wrote a letter to the editor about this and I'm hoping it gets published. Here is that letter.
Re: response to Gary Cantrell's article "Compete"
It is true that the modern definition of competition is to "strive to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others who are trying to do the same" but if one takes a look at the Latin roots of the word compete one comes away with a very different sense of the word that aligns very nicely with the spirit of our chosen sport. The word compete comes from the Latin phrase cum petere. The Latin word cum means "to seek" and petere means "together". The meaning of the Latin phrase cum petere is to compete together which brings a completely different flavor then competing against. When we compete together we are seeking to conquer goals together, we are jointly striving to find out what is possible. How far can we run, how quickly can we cover varying and challenging terrain, and what can we learn about ourselves and the human experience in the process. In this spirit of competing with other we still celebrate the victor for he or she is the one who has done it the best and has inspired us all. But what about those who came second, third and further on done the list? They are also important in the competition because they are the ones who in a sense pushed the victor to achieve those heights. Rather than feeling a sense of superiority the victor should feel gratitude towards those who followed and pushed him to the top. This happens all the time in ultra events when we see finishers remain at the line to cheer those who come in after them. In the ultra community we celebrate all competitors even those last few finishers and the dnf's too - we admire their courage to finish or even start something of incredible difficulty and to endure unbelievable pain that most others could not even imagine is possible. So, to those in other sports who say we are not competitive, let them. Maybe the real truth is that they cannot even imagine how competitive we are because they don't know the deeper meaning of competing with others.