Chad Rowan was going to be a basketball star. He was an All Star high school center on his way to college on a full-ride basketball scholarship. No doubt, Chad and everyone around him had high expectations for his basketball career.
But fortunately for him it did not turn out that way. He rode the bench his freshman year, then quit the team and dropped out of college. Though he was 6’8” and very strong, he was competing in the wrong sport.
Five years later, Chad Rowan was crowned the first non-Japanese champion of the sport of Sumo. Under his wrestling name, Akebono, he achieved Yokozuno status, the highest level in the sport, within a few short years of his professional debut. From there, Akebono dominated his competition for eight years.
But starting out, Akebono was not expected to succeed in Sumo. His height and slight lower body were considered a great disadvantage. In a sport where the goal is to knock your opponent down, Akebono was just too top heavy. He would be easy to topple by the shorter, stockier Japanese wrestlers who would have the advantage of leverage.
He was also a foreigner in a foreign land, where societal pressure weighs heavily on the outsider. No Japanese Sumo fan would want to see their favorite wrestler lose to an American. All of this greatly lengthened the odds for Akebono.
On the other hand, Chad Rowan had been expected to be a great basketball player. He was a native Hawaiian recruited to play center for Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu on scholarship. His height and slight lower body would be a great advantage in basketball, giving him leverage over his basketball opponents. But Chad Rowan flamed out as a collegiate cager. He didn’t even last a year.
As it turned out, Akebono’s “disadvantage” became his greatest weapon in Sumo. His height actually gave him leverage. He used his long arms to keep opponents from gaining a strong grip on him, and often he used his height to pick up shorter wrestlers and walk them out of the ring. Akebono revolutionized the sport, and paved the way for other foreign competitors to succeed.
But what would have happened if Chad had never left the basketball arena and entered the Sumo arena? Obviously, the great Yokozuno Sumo champion Akebono would never have existed. Neither would his 11 championships and 654 career wins.
Which is why it is so important for all of us to know where we should be competing in life. Choose the wrong arena, and you may toil in obscurity, while a championship life could have been yours if you had just chosen the right arena. Funny how those pesky expectations – ours and those of others – are often the reason we choose poorly.
Like Chad Rowen, you may not start out in the right place, and your expectations may lead you astray. But if you find the arena where your differences are advantages, like Akebono, you could become the next 518 lb. Sumo champion…