lift and drag

So last week I got some radio play, the fortunate benefactor of being in the right place with the right background and at the right end of the right Google search. A producer found me, talked to me on the phone, and then invited me to come play along to describe some physics of an athletic sport. All combined, it was a fun collection of experiences with what ultimately turned into good press, in spite of embarrassing photographs and a few strange audio clips.

Rounding out the goodness of it all, my friends and colleagues were all really positive and supportive. “Likes” on the Facebook, shared links, tags, the whole collection of good vibes across the ether. But the comment that struck me was from the good friend who simply restated my own line verbatim, appropriately attributed with my initials:

They’ve got to try to minimize the drag and maximize the lift.

This was one of those things that I said that got more streamlined as I was asked basically the same questions in three different interviews. By the time I’d gotten around to describing fluids and specifically the flow of air over olympic athletes for the nth time, I’d consolidated an explanation into this single compound sentence.

What struck me is that I wasn’t trying to be profound — and surely I won’t be even as I become more deliberate about it — but I’m certain that the quote was re-presented to me to suggest that there was a metaphor there that I wasn’t even aware of as I was saying it. And, as it turned out, the very day that my quote aired on a national radio show’s website, I was called into the proverbial principal’s office, the printout of an email exchange between myself and the demotivating entity who’d summoned me upstairs. It was unpleasant. To be fair, I’d crossed a professional line, but it was out of frustration and in an attempt to increase the pace of a process and support some others I was working with. The result: I got my ass handed to me.

That’s all just part of the drag. In retrospect, I could have paid closer attention to my own words about finding the perfect ratio of upward and backwards forces.

The other thing I pointed out in the interview — going back to the glory of the good news of that day — was that both lift and drag increase with speed. That is, the drag is inevitable as you try to increase the lift. This is the great paradox. You can’t not have drag. Some days there’s less. Duck your head, present a low profile, and occasionally lift your chin and spread your wings. But once in a while you have to stand up, in the wind, and face the fury. It isn’t uplifting, but sometimes it’s inevitable.

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