The Power of Functional Reserve

20 Feb

Reading Sports Illustrated is my guilty pleasure.  It’s time to be honest about it. Not only do I like the stats and the sports discussion but I like the stories about real people beating the odds, conquering their demons, becoming someone new.  It’s very inspiring stuff.

“Consider a scientific phenomenon called functional reserve. The human heart has a reservoir of unused ability, like a powerful car that can go 150 mph but never gets pushed above 75. A normal heart will pump about 60% of its blood volume with each beat. But one cardiologist tells the story of a bodybuilder who thrived for nearly a decade with a heart that could pump only about 10% per beat…The body finds a way to compensate, at least for a while.  Functional reserve is not just for the heart.  Every organ has this hidden power, this ability to outperform its perceived limits when the need is desperate.”  (From February 20, 2012 issue)

The human body is an amazing creation.  If I were more scientifically inclined, I could probably elaborate on what I read in a not-very-scientific-article.

Instead, let’s substitute the word organ for person and move into a realm I am more comfortable with:

Every person has this hidden power, this ability to outperform its perceived limits when the need is desperate.

We’ve heard the stories and seen the YouTube videos of women lifting entire cars off of their toddler’s legs. Of people running 72 hour races (if you really want to feel sick, go read about the TripleIronMan events – 7.2 miles of swimming, 336 miles of cycling, 78.6 miles of running all done back to back).  And we all know about Aron Ralston, having to cut his own arm off with a pocketknife.

Some of us believe it is the grace of God who gives people their functional reserve.  Others believe it is purely a scientific result.  Some of us believe those two aren’t incompatible.

Regardless, people do amazing things when they need to.  People outperform their own perceived limits and the perceived limits we put on them (in the sports realm, think Brady, Lin, Tebow, etc.)  But so does the woman juggling a household and three toddlers and the unceasing demands of it all.  So does the man working long hours at his career but still showing up at all of his son’s sporting events.  The woman scared of traveling who goes on a missions trip. The man scared of public speaking who agrees to talk about his entrepreneur successes at a local non-profit.

If I spent less time judging people’s limits and more time encouraging those I see who are surpassing theirs, I think I’d be a more joyful person. It’s time to expect great things from those we know and cheer for, to not admit defeat before the clock runs out, to stay in the bleachers until the last second and see the game to its completion good or bad.

Because, as Theodore Roosevelt put it so eloquently:

In the battle of life, it is not the critic who counts; nor the one who points out how the strong person stumbled, or where the doer of a deed could have done better.

The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually strive to do deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he or she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.


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