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No Regrets

"Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time;
it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable."
~ Sydney J. Harris, US syndicated columnist "Strictly Personal" (1917-1986)

Not many people have heard of Bill Havens. But Bill became an unlikely hero of sorts — at least among those who knew him best. Here is his story:

At the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, the sport of canoe racing was added to the list of international competitions. The favorite team in the four-man canoe race was the United States team. One member of that team was a young man by the name of Bill Havens.

As the time for the Olympics neared, it became clear that Bill's wife would give birth to their first child about the time that the US team would be competing in the Paris games. In 1924 there were no jet airliners from Paris to the United States, only slow ocean-going ships.

And so Bill found himself in a dilemma. Should he go to Paris and risk not being at his wife's side when their baby was born? Or should he withdraw from the team and remain with his family? Bill's wife insisted that he go to Paris. After all, competing in the Olympics was the culmination of a life-long dream. But Bill felt conflicted and, after much soul-searching, decided to withdraw from the competition and remain home where he could support his wife when the child arrived. He considered being at her side his highest priority — even higher than going to Paris to fulfill his dream.

As it turned out, the United States four-man canoe team won the gold medal in Paris. And Bill's wife was late in giving birth to their child. She was so late, in fact, that Bill could have competed in the event and returned home in time to be with her when she gave birth. People said, "What a shame." But Bill said he had no regrets. For the rest of his life, he believed he had made the better decision.

Bill Havens knew what was most important to him. Not everybody figures that out. And he acted on what he believed was best. Not everybody has the strength of character to say no to something he or she truly wants in order to say yes to something that truly matters. But for Bill, it was the only way to peace; the only way to no regrets.

There is an interesting sequel to the story of Bill Havens... The child eventually born to Bill and his wife was a boy, whom they named Frank. Twenty-eight years later, in 1952, Bill received a cablegram from Frank. It was sent from Helsinki, Finland, where the 1952 Olympics were being held. The cablegram read: "Dad, I won. I'm bringing home the gold medal you lost while waiting for me to be born."


I first heard of this in the early 1990s when it was related to me by Juray Mora. Due to its popularity as an inspirational story, there have been other versions to the cablegram. One of the versions says something like this: "Dad, thanks for waiting for me to be born. I'm coming home with the gold which you should have won" .

There are times when we have to give up something and become plagued with thoughts of whether we did the right thing. The passing of time tells us whether the right decision was made or not. In the case of Bill Havens, the confirmation took 28 years.

I write this in hindsight to a decision made 2 months ago. We gave up my son's slot in the Junior World Golf Championships which starts today in sunny San Diego, though this was earned after 6 gruelling days on the course last April and early May. We had to give it up because of a very important family milestone.

As it is, I'm glad it doesn't have to take 28 years to know that the right decision was made. Besides, there are 10 more years left for Joaquin to be in Junior Golf.

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