What Is the Secret to Hillary Clinton's Grit and Resilience?

Hillary credits sports as key to her ability to lose graciously and bounce back.

Posted Nov 13, 2016

Krista Kennel/Shutterstock
Source: Krista Kennel/Shutterstock

Regardless of your politics, it's impossible to deny that Hillary Clinton has awe-inspiring powers of resilience, perseverance, and grace under pressure. Over the past few months of this brutal and gut-wrenching 2016 Presidential campaign, I've repeatedly asked myself, "How does Hillary continue to get up, dust herself off, and go back in the ring after being kicked down and blindsided again and again?" The vicious attacks were painful to watch. 

As the father of a 9-year-old daughter, I am eternally grateful to Hillary Clinton for being such an incredible role model of equanimity and tenacity during both her 'thrills of victory and agonies of defeat.' In the days since failing to win 270 Electoral College votes—but still winning the popular vote by a sizable margin—Hillary Clinton's true mettle and qualities of "strength lined with tenderness" have shined the brightest. 

Personally, the results of this Presidential election triggered an immediate "fear-evoked" freezing response in me. I was paralyzed for at least 48 hours after realizing the election results in the wee hours of the morning on Nov. 9, 2016. I didn't leave my house that day. I literally curled up in the fetal position and hid under the covers. I was feeling so hopeless and sorry for myself, Hillary, our country, our planet, etc. Until the next day, when I saw the candid snapshot of Hillary walking her dog on a nature trail.

Watching the MSNBC story of a mother from New York who was out on a hike with her daughter feeling "heartbroken" after Clinton's concession speech....and, then, bumped into Hillary and Bill Clinton on a trail in the wilderness sparked an Aha! moment. I said to myself, "Snap out of it, Chris!! If Hillary is out there on a nature walk, getting some exercise, clearing her mind, and able to muster a smile to pose for a picture with a total stranger, what the hell are you doing shut up inside, wallowing in self-pity?!?"

The picture of Clinton walking in the woods inspired me. So, I rallied myself to go for a jog that afternoon—which created an upward spiral and brought me back to life. When I got home, I decided to go in pursuit of some answers to figure out what gives Hillary Clinton the ability to bounce back so quickly and to accept defeat graciously, which inspired this blog post. 

Hillary Clinton's Gestalt Embodies the Core Tenets of "The Athlete's Way"

Through the lens of athleticism, Clinton's prowess and code of conduct on the playing field of politics always seemed very sportsmanlike to me. Unfortunately, in terms of 'likeability' Hillary's grit didn't necessarily come across as 'warm and fuzzy' to many voters. In some ways, her lack of vulnerability as a public figure seems to have backfired by making her seem unrelatable to the average American.

That being said, when Clinton was suffering from pneumonia back in September 2016, I realized that seeing chinks in her armor for the first time made her more relatable to me. I wrote about this in a Psychology Today blog post, "Showing the World Her Wabi-Sabi Humanizes Hillary Clinton." Without knowing her history of sports and competition, I wrote about Hillary Clinton's resilience as a metaphor of athletic stamina based on my life experience stating,  

"No matter what, even when you feel meek and weak, you hold it together, you get up the mountain, you reach the finish line, because that is the human way; that is the athlete's way . . . Hillary has the athletic mindset of determination and resilience to 'power through' that rivals anyone I've ever competed against in an ultra-endurance marathon."

To my surprise, after a quick Google search looking for Hillary Clinton's connection to sports and competition this morning, I learned that athletics has played a pivotal role in her personal and political life. Within less than 60 seconds of searching, I discovered that, as U.S. Secretary of State, Clinton worked with The Center for Sport, Peace, and Society at the University of Tennessee (along with ESPN) to implement the Empowering Women and Girls through Sports Initiative

In this video clip from June of 2012—on the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX (the landmark federal civil rights legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in education)—Secretary of State Hillary Clinton describes their partnership:According to the United Nations, when girls participate in sports, they are more likely to graduate from school, participate in society, and earn higher wages. When women and girls can step onto the athletic playing field, they are more likely to step into the classroom, the boardroom, and step out as leaders in society. In the video above, Hillary Clinton says, 

"Whether as competitors, teammates or simply as fans, people can find common ground in sports. And that can be the beginning of developing better understanding and ​respect—and even friendships—that extend outside the arena or the playing field.

In addition to what sports can make happen between people they can also bring about transformative change within people. Sports can make you stronger, tougher, more confident, more resilient...and those qualities can stay with you long after you finish the race or the final buzzer sounds.

Now, I know this from my own life. I was never a great athlete, but I loved sports. I played softball, I played soccer, I played, tennis, I did whatever I could . . . Sports helped me learn how to be part of a team. It also helped me learn how to lose. You know, you can’t win every time you go out. And, you have to figure out what you’re made of after you do lose. And decide whether you’re ready to get up and keep going."

The Center for Sport, Peace, and Society is dedicated to utilizing sports as a way to change lives, local communities—and the ​world—through teaching, research, and service. The center is on a mission to train a new generation of change-makers who are using the intersections of sport, education, and media to tackle some of the world’s most complex issues.

Hopefully, one of the silver linings of this mean-spirited and divisive election will be that people from all walks of life across the United States can find personal inspiration from observing the admirable character traits of Hillary Clinton such as perseverance, resilience, and grace under pressure.

Lastly, I believe that the peace-building and nonviolent aspect of sports and physical activity shouldn't be underestimated as an integral way to heal our individual and collective post-election stress disorder and bring our divided nation together.