Jeanne Socrates has tried three times to be the oldest woman to sail solo and non-stop around the world. In her first three attempts, she has run aground, had to replace an engine in Cape Town, South Africa, and had her boat knocked over by stormy seas off Cape Horn at the tip of South America.
The 69-year-old Briton is undaunted by the ordeal of seven months alone in a small boat on the open ocean; in October, she will leave Victoria for her fourth attempt.
The fame she might gain from the trip will be fleeting. She will endure endless weeks of discomfort, hard work and danger; she risks harming her health and even losing her life. There will likely be no material rewards even if she does succeed.
But the better question is: Why not?
Even those whose idea of an adventurous ocean voyage is the ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay can't help but be touched by the appeal of Socrates' journey. She is doing something difficult, not because she is forced to, but because she wants to. She is challenging her own capabilities, and in doing so is stretching the reach for all of us.
She stirs up a longing to see what lies beyond that endless horizon.
Call it the spirit of adventure, a yearning to achieve, the desire to go beyond - whatever it is, it's the better part of human nature.
We are driven to do things that are not necessarily connected to putting food on the table or elevating our financial status. These are the things that take us beyond merely surviving to genuine living.
Climbing the tallest mountains, probing the depths of the ocean and exploring the Earth's frigid poles help us to know more about our world, but more importantly, those endeavours help us learn more about human capabilities and endurance.
Olympic athletes are in the spotlight now, where the focus on medals tends to detract from the fact that merely qualifying to compete is an amazing achievement. These are people who, rather than being limited by their current capabilities, went beyond what they could do to something better.
Certainly, a medal is a prize worth winning, but not winning a medal is not failure. The differences between the gold-medal winners and the fourth-place winners are often measured in the tiniest of fractions.
Clara Hughes, who has won six medals in her 16-year Olympic career as a skater and a cyclist, came in fifth Wednesday in the London Olympics women's cycling time trial. No medals for her in her last Olympic competition, but no lack of honour.
"It was the best that I had in my legs and my heart and my head," she said. "I'm disappointed because I always expect more of myself - but when I look at my effort and what I did and what I put into this, and my approach and everything that led up to this point - it was everything. There were just four people better than me."
She personifies this point: The most important thing is not to be better than someone else, but to be better than you were.
We cannot all be solo sailors, mountain climbers, Arctic explorers or Olympic athletes, but each of us is capable of remarkable achievement in our own way. Those achievements may not bring fame or glory, but they bring personal satisfaction, which is more enduring.
What we can learn from the climbers, the swimmers, the sailors and the adventurers is to test ourselves, to reach beyond our grasp, in whatever endeavours we are involved.
We should all have goals. In the pursuit of excellence, we may not always achieve those goals, but we are bettered by the pursuit itself.
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