In 1936, Berlin, Germany held the world’s attention. But not for the government led by the National Socialist German Worker’s Party. Their leader stood ready to prove the superiority of the Aryan race.
Athletes from around the world traveled to the center of German power to display their athletic prowess in the XI Olympiad. It was the year American Jesse Owens captured four track and field medals — the first American to do so, cementing his place in Olympic history.
But off in Wannsee, southwest of Berlin, Germans, Scandinavians, and other global powers were battling it out for the shooting medals. Eight Hungarians competed. One took silver in the men’s 50 metre rifle, prone.
Their best shooter was conspicuously absent. Karoly Tackas, sergeant in the Hungarian army.
But since only commissioned officers were allowed to compete, he was forced to remain home while two Germans and a Swede took their places on the podium in his event: 25 meter rapid fire pistol, where targets are only visible for an increasingly smaller amount of time. Any competitor who misses a target is automatically ineligible for the next round.
The rule barring non-commissioned officers to compete was lifted for the 1940 Olympics, and Karoly knew the event would be his.
So did everyone else in 1936.
In 1937, everyone continued to believe he’d take gold in Tokyo in 1940 as Karoly kept training. Kept improving.
In 1938, everyone still believed he would win. You could say he was the man with the golden right hand. He believed it too. One training session, as he prepared to lob a grenade like had thousands of times before, something was different.
All of that changed one day in a routine military training session.
As he prepared to lob a grenade like had done thousands of times before, something was different. Pull… Click… Boom… But the boom of the explosion felt too close.
He held a faulty grenade. Or rather, he had held a faulty grenade. It exploded early.
Looking down, he saw a bloody stump. Gone was his right hand — and his dream of 1940 Olympic gold.
For a month, Karoly lay in the hospital bed, feeling useless. Utterly depressed.
But he determined to figure it out.
As soon as he was out of the hospital, he taught himself to shoot left-handed. At first, he could barely hold the pistol — nevermind shoot straight.
He was manically focused on getting this right. For a full-year, he trained to do the opposite of what came naturally.
Frustratingly, agonizingly, he started to make progress using his left hand.
In 1939, he stepped back into the public spotlight and competed in Hungary’s National Shooting Championship.
His friends were shocked to see him there and thought he had come to spectate.
“I’ve not come here to watch. I’ve come here to win”, he told them. And win he did.
He was back, and ready for the 1940 Tokyo games.
But he faced circumstances outside his control.
But in 1939, the same Germany that hosted the world igniting global war by attacking Poland. The 1940 Olympics were canceled. And so were the 1944 games.
He grew depressed and frustrated. Yet through all of this, Karoly persisted. Shooting. Training. Improving his craft.
It was 10 years later — in 1948 — when the world finally came together in London, just three years after being torn apart by global war.
As British athlete John Mark circled the track in Wembley stadium to light the cauldron in front of thousands, the stadium’s marquee held these words:
“The important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning, but taking part. The essential thing in life is not conquering, but fighting well”
That could have been Karoly’s motto.
He had fought well to come back from the hospital bed to his country’s winner’s podium. Now it would be time to step onto the global stage and fight for his dream. Gold in the 25 meter rapid fire pistol event.
Quiet and steady, Karoly didn’t let on to the inner flame burning in his soul. When the world record holder (and favorite to win) Carlos Díaz Saenz Valiente approached him, confused why he attended, Karoly replied, “I’m here to learn”.
When the world record holder, and favorite to win, Carlos Díaz Saenz Valiente approached him, confused why he attended with only a stump of an arm, Karoly replied, “I’m here to learn”.
It wasn’t even close. Karoly shot better with his non-dominant hand than anybody else in history had with their good hand.
On the podium, having bested Valiente to take Olympic gold, setting both an Olympic record and a world record in the process, Díaz Saenz Valiente turned and said, “You have learned enough”.
He had accomplished the unthinkable.
With one hand. With the wrong hand.
Four years later, Karoly was back at the Olympics to defend his title as the world’s best rapid fire pistol shooter. He fell one point shy of tying his Olympic record score of 580 points from the London games.
Karoly went on to rack up 35 national shooting championship wins in Hungary during his life. All of them with his left hand.
So what is your excuse? What is holding you back from “fighting well?”
Out of money? Out of time? Lose your friends, your marriage, your job, or your looks?
You might have to switch hands along your journey to success. You might be forced to do that because of circumstances outside your control.
There isn’t an excuse big enough that can stop you from accomplishing your dreams when you decide that you’ll do whatever it takes — even if that means switching hands.