For a year and a half, Jordan Malone struggled with injuries and pain so persistent, he nearly decided that trying to get back to the Olympic Winter Games just wasn’t worth what it would require of the 29-year-old Texas native.
“Coming back from an injury-plagued season last year, I actually thought I was going to quit,” he said during the U.S. short track championships last month in Kearns. “In my sport, being 29, you’re a grandpa. It may not seem like much, but I’ve been doing this for 25 years. And I’ve been making teams for close to 14 years. It’s been a lifetime.”
But overcoming the odds is actually what defines Malone — as a person and an athlete.
The only child of a single mom, Malone battled asthma and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder as a child. He started competing as an inline skater at age 5, and while he was successful, he made the switch to ice in 2004 because he wanted a shot at the Olympics. He wanted it so badly that he competed for a spot on the 2006 team with a broken ankle.
He made the team in 2010 (overcoming a knee injury to do so), and helped the U.S. men’s relay team (5,000 meters) win a bronze medal. Nearly two years ago, he again faced physical injuries and illness, and he just couldn’t seem to stay healthy. So earlier this year, he did some soul searching.
Was it really worth it to fight back from the injuries for one more shot at Olympic glory? Or was the ride he had, the success he achieved, all he could have hoped for?
“The realization that made me keep going is that I’ve never been happy with anything I’ve ever given up on,” he said the day he made the U.S. World Cup team. “So it can’t be now.”
His goal in August was pretty modest.
“Just to be in the mix,” he told the Deseret News of competing in the short track championships. “I’m on my way back. I wouldn’t say I’m back yet, but I’m doing better. I’m expecting I will get better throughout the season, just like I got better throughout this competition.”
He claimed he was just trying to “shake the rust off” after not competing for 18 months. Apparently he shakes off rust faster than most of us.
Malone’s comeback just got a lot more intriguing this weekend at the World Cup in Shanghai, where he earned the bronze in the 1000 meters (in a tie) and helped the U.S. men’s relay team earn gold.
His success, individually and with his teammates who’ve struggled to find cohesiveness in the wake of a scandal that resulted in a complete overhaul of U.S. speedskating, is a moment of triumph for everyone who struggles in sports or life.
It’s proof that defying the odds is simply a matter of being more dedicated than disappointed when setbacks seem like roadblocks. When you work hard and have faith, you will eventually have opportunities to realize those dreams.
"First opportunity for a medal at the international level in over a year for myself and I bring home a bronze medal. I'm very happy with the way things turned out,” he said. “Unlike the regular WC format, these races are Olympic format, meaning we aren't split up. You race all the top dogs, and that means there's no doubt that you are a medal contender when you bring one of these medals home.”
His individual medal was a tie, something that’s almost unheard of in the sport.
“I have to say, I've never even seen anyone tie for a medal before,” he said. “But leave it to me to create some odd situation like that.”
And leave it to Malone to remind us why even the most unathletic among us love to see athletes overcome adversity.
Life is hard.
And if you’re doing it right, so are sports.
Malone isn’t at the finish line, but he’s picking up speed.
“Overall I'm very happy with the way the season is starting and extremely happy to have been a part of men's relay gold,” he said.
What he and his teammates accomplished this weekend, after all they’ve been through, is a triumph that not many outside the sport will fully comprehend. But thinking your ship has sailed, your dream has died or your prime is past, well, a lot of us can relate to entertaining those kinds of thoughts.
And then we hear a story — about a guy who's been around the rink a few times, about a guy who’s fallen down a lot, about a guy who nearly decided that the ease of giving up was more appealing than the sacrifice and grind of chasing a childhood dream for even a few more months — and we take heart.
Sometimes what looks like the end of a dream is just a turn in the road. And all that’s required of us is to keep moving forward. It isn’t always the end that is the reward, but in most cases, it’s the goal that provides the most enlightening path.
Malone didn’t come back to do well. He didn’t fight back from injuries and illness to participate.
He’s coming back to win Olympic gold. And even when the days are good, the skating seems easier and he finds a place on the podium, he never forgets why he made that difficult choice in a dark time.
“I’m happy but not satisfied,” he said after collecting his medals in China. “I'll leave the job of satisfaction up to the Olympic podium."
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