USA Today Sports staff writers have compiled a list of what they consider to be the ten hardest things to do in sports. They are as follows (listed in order from hard to hardest):
- The Downhill: The downhill is an 80-mph exercise in balance and control. With little protection, ski racers hurl themselves down an icy mountain course, alternately digging in their edges to carve the fastest line through turns and putting their skis flat on the snow to gain speed in the straightaways. They fight gravitational and centrifugal forces at every stage in the race.
- Saving a penalty kick: On the soccer field, the goalkeeper's job is to protect a goal that is 24 feet wide and eight feet high — 192 square feet waiting to swallow a ball about 9 inches in diameter. During a penalty kick, the goalie has 0.25 seconds to move and block a ball traveling at more than 60 mph.
- Tour de France: The Tour de France covers more than 2,500 miles in three weeks and requires a variety of cycling skills that must be performed at levels far beyond those of recreational riders. On flat stretches of the course, tour riders must maintain speeds more than 30 mph for hours on stretch. During mountain climbs, cyclists must be able to ride up mountain roads with grades as steep as 15%.
- Running a marathon: Running a 26.2-mile race is physically demanding and requires a runner to be disciplined, well-trained and able to withstand pain. Runners, including elite marathoners, often suffer from nagging injuries in the lower back, knees, shins, ankles, Achilles' tendons and feet. However, most runners will say the reward of finishing a marathon justifies the pain.
- Returning a serve: Traveling at over 130 mph, a tennis serve by today's top tennis players is traveling at 185 feet per second. At that speed, a player trying to return the serve has a half second to react and return the serve.
- Landing a quad: Executing a quad toe loop requires a skater to balance height and rotation while skating on a metal blade a quarter of an inch wide. During a successful quad jump, a skater will reach heights of 18 inches above the ice and experience 300 pounds of centrifugal force, all while spinning four times in just over .5 seconds.
- Hitting a long straight tee shot: Driving a golf ball far and long seems to be an easy thing, until you try it; even professionals have trouble with it. Last year on the PGA tour, only two players, Tiger Woods and Chris Smith, ranked in the top ten for both driving distance and greens in regulation.
- Pole Vaulting: Vaulting is a matter of redirecting kinetic energy of the runner's approach speed upward, aided by a long fiberglass pole. To do it, athletes need speed for the sprint, strength for lift-off and flexibility to bend the body over the bar.
- Race car driving: Skilled drivers encounter a host of problems, but rounding the corners of the track is equivalent to having three 300-pound linemen pushing you for three of the four hours it takes to conclude a race.
- Hitting a baseball: Considering that a major-league pitch can reaches speeds more than 95 mph, hitters have only 0.4 seconds to find the ball, decide where the ball is going and swing the bat.
Each of these feats requires tremendous discipline, training, conditioning, sacrifice, talent and skill. The list is quite certainly not comprehensive. Neither would it be met with full agreement, even by other athletes or sports professionals. What about swimming the English Channel or climbing Mount Everest, for example?
Certainly, the difficulty of conquering these athletic feats pales in comparison to facing some of the toughest situations that life can through at you. Case in point, I'd much rather run a marathon than face divorce, financial ruin, chronic pain, or a cancer diagnosis, much less the loss of a spouse or the death of a child.
No amount of mental, psychological, emotional, or spiritual training or skill can fully prepare you for those moments. In those times of greatest testing, confidence in the presence, goodness, and the love of God alone will carry you to the finish line.
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).