I love the human interest stories about the competitors. Some share heartbreaking stories, and others have overcome personal challenges to get to this point in their lives. One can't help but root for them to get through the different obstacles, and I find myself cheering for every one of them.
I admire each competitor's passion and drive to take on these challenges. I watch the videos of how they trained and how much time and effort they put into improving themselves physically and mentally, knowing that all that effort could be wiped out at the first obstacle.
I feel their heartbreak when competitors don't qualify for the next stage and hear their deep disappointment at having failed in their quest. Yet there they are the following season, more determined than ever to conquer the obstacle that took them down the previous year.
As educators, we want our students to feel this kind of passion for something and to demonstrate the determination of these competitors. Yet we often don't allow our students to share what they excel at. I have seen students so excited to talk about video games. They would beat me soundly; I wouldn't stand a chance if they challenged me! Other students have musical, athletic, or artistic talents that we are not aware of in school. When we focus so much of school time on academics and testing, those students who may have talents in other areas might never receive the accolades they deserve.
As I listen to the personal stories of some of the ANW competitors, I wonder how many were poor students in school. Some were drifting through life until they heard about this competition. ANW became an obsession to them, an opportunity to prove to others - but more importantly, to themselves - that with focus and perseverance, they could achieve something they never thought possible.
Our job as educators is to encourage every student to explore new experiences and to persevere when they find something that they are interested in. We don't know what their passions and talents will be, and it will probably change numerous times in their lives. However, they won't know if they don't have the opportunity to try.
School is a great place to start engaging students to pursue their interests!