Failure kicked them when they were down and out. They didn’t care. They picked themselves up, stared failure straight in the eyes, and got back to work. No tears, no self-pity, no excuses. Just fierce determination and incredible resilience. That’s how Trafalgar girls deal with setbacks.
This past weekend, our robotics team headed to Philadelphia to compete in the regional MATE-ROV competition. The acronym stands for Marine Advanced Technology Education Remotely Operated Vehicle – that’s a mouthful that means building and operating underwater robots. It’s only our second year competing in MATE, and it’s been a learning journey for the entire team. Water is a fickle friend, and perfecting a water-tight seal on a robot that’s immersed in a swimming pool has proved challenging for the girls.
Unfortunately for this year’s team, things didn’t go quite as planned. After being immersed for only a short period of time, the robot stopped working. It appeared that the seal had failed, and water was seeping into the body of the robot. Undeterred, the girls pulled the robot out of the water and set to work dismantling the body. They had a limited amount of time to fix the problem and get their robot back into the pool if they were to remain in the competition. Focused and determined, they worked as a team, collaborating under immense pressure to find a solution before time expired.
This is the part in every Hollywood story when the team does it: Against all odds, they fix the problem, run back to the pool with seconds to spare – at least one of them trips along the way and gets helped to her feet by a teammate – and with much fanfare and applause, they win the competition. It’s a great story. Unfortunately, it’s not our story. But as far as I’m concerned, ours is even better.
The girls couldn’t fix the problem in time. They were out of the competition with no shot at moving on to the finals. But what I love about our story is what happened next. The girls decided to keep trying, and asked the organizers if they would be allowed to test their robot in the pool after the competition was over. They were told, yes. The pool would remain open until 3:45, so if they were ready before that time, the pool was all theirs.
At 3:35, with no expectation of glory and no crowd to cheer them on, the girls carried their robot back to the pool area. They placed it in the water, stepped back, and held their breath. And perhaps not surprisingly to anyone who knows the intelligence and problem-solving abilities of these girls, the robot functioned – it wasn’t perfect but it worked (sort of).
That’s why I love our story. It’s a tale of determination, imagination, and resilience. But it’s also a tale of patience, kindness, and support. Not every girl on the team could be hands on fixing the robot, but every girl on the team stood together as one, offering suggestions, providing encouragement, and keeping spirits high. Our girls might not have placed first in the competition, but they won something more important – a sense of achievement and a tougher skin. They now know what it’s like to fall and get back up again. They know what it takes to push disappointment aside and to persevere. And they know the pride in completing a task simply because you want to prove you can. These things don’t hang on a wall like a shiny first-place medal. But these things endure and create character – something we nurture at the Castle.
In the end, the girls did win a prize. They won the Guts and Glory trophy, awarded to the team that overcame hardship with determination and resolve. (They also won the award for Best Dressed but I’d expect nothing less from Team Waldo!) But it’s this notion of guts and glory that I want the girls to focus on. At a time when children are often fiercely protected from failure by well-meaning parents and school systems, there’s something immensely important in saying, “Congratulations, girls! You failed. But you failed with grace and grit!” The shine on a first place medal will fade over time, but the pride of accomplishment in the face of adversity is a gift that lasts a lifetime.
Well done, girls. The entire Trafalgar Castle community is immensely proud of you.