We are in the third and final day of a national junior high chess tournament. It’s a multicultural scene with students from across the country and all ethnic backgrounds. Kids, coaches and parents live, breath and sleep chess for 72 hours. Even in their downtime, teams are challenging other teams to impromptu blitz matches, which is chess on caffeine and steroids…fast and furious.
The tournament is being hosted at the Galt House, a grand hotel in the southern tradition right on the Ohio River. Other groups are gathering here this week, including a regional bodybuilding competition. I noticed it first as I was walking through the lobby. Everyone around me was remarkably fit and tan. Extremely tan. I soon passed by an entire ballroom designated for spray-on tanning with a line of people winding out the door.
Us vs. Them
I was immediately struck by the stark differences between these two groups. One is dedicated to the contours of the mind, the other to the realm of the body. The chess population is primarily made up of gawky, geeky kids; the average bodybuilder looks like he or she walked off the pages of a Marvel comic book. Chess competitors sport baggy team t-shirts; bodybuilders don skin-tight rhinestone-studded garments.
On Closer Inspection
As we spent more time interacting with our bronzed-Atlas neighbors in the hallways and elevators, I came to understand that similar to a chess tournament, a bodybuilder competition is organized into different divisions so participants are up against contestants of like kind. This levels the playing field and intensifies the competition. Both endeavors require a disciplined year-round approach to achieve peak performance. And as Chess Masters stretch the limits of human intellectual capacity, Bodybuilder Champions push the bounds of what the human body can be.
The Edge of Possibility
Louisville, aka ‘The Possibility City”, is home to KFC. At one point Colonel Saunders was flat broke, selling chicken by the piece to local businesses. His breakthrough innovation was to “fast fry” the chicken in a pressure cooker, formerly a messy multi-hour process. We all know the rest of the story.
Next weekend the Kentucky Derby is coming to town. Things are getting livelier by the day. Jockeys are in the final practices with their million dollar steeds. Women are buying derby hats in preparation for perhaps the stiffest rivalry of all—who will be wearing the most outrageous hat this season?
It would appear that pursuit of the competitive edge is compelling to people from all walks of life. It’s part of what makes us human. By testing ourselves against a worthy opponent, we embrace the possibility of exceeding all expectations.
Case in point, the final results are just in: our young chess team from the seacoast village of Blue Hill, Maine, tied for second place in their division on the national stage.
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