Tuesday, July 31, 2012

London Olympics: Hearts of Gold

I've been watching the Olympics rather religiously. It was a tradition of sorts in my family, and it seems that the ritual has stuck. After all, who cannot appreciate the world's finest athletes competing, sacrificing, and fighting for gold. There is no lack of drama, back story, media hype, and suspense. Perfectly sculpted bodies, with laser-like focus, disciplined, and meticulously trained keep us on the edge of our seats as they run, flip, fly, dive, kick, paddle, reposte, fling, spike and shoot.

The margin for error at this level of competition can be a hair off center, a splash, an extra hop, a perry, a point, or hundredths of a second. The majesty and poetry of what their bodies are capable of doing is inspiring, jaw-dropping, and often downright unbelievable. With steeled nerves, icy veins, and expressions that indicate their minds are on parallel planes, they take their positions...gravity is defied, time slowed, and sometimes for only mere seconds, they captivate millions. On this stage, heroes are made, naysayers quieted, nations shocked, hopes shattered, careers forged, and dreams fulfilled.

The true magnitude of what these athletes can accomplish boggles my mind. Some show such resilience and perseverance, while others succumb to pressure and scrutiny. While we all love to see our respective countries victorious, I think we allow ourselves to be consumed by whether or not a medal is won. Such seductions are inevitable, easy even. However, my attention is often stolen by an athlete who is simply grateful and humbled by the opportunity to compete, tasked with carrying not only their own aspirations, but those of an entire country.

A couple of nights ago, I was watching men's gymnastics and saw an unlikely competitor, an underdog from Ireland that had overcome amazing adversity. The announcers mentioned the sacrifices this young man had made simply to make it to the games in London. They alluded to the support from his family, all the bake sales and car washes, scrounging together enough funds to compete in various events. But that isn't all. He overcame countless injuries, a botched leg surgery that left him with extensive nerve damage and doctors that told him he would never walk again. Later, he suffered a brain injury that threatened his gymnastic hopes again.This too he overcame. With such a display of tenacity, resolve, and sheer will, who could not wish him the best? Who among us could not root for him?

I don't want to take away from any other athlete's success, plight, or their similarly daunting obstacles. Please revel in the dominance of the USA's women's beach volleyball tandem of Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh. Cheer for the Michael Phelps's, the Dana Vollmers, and the Ryan Lochtes. I certainly did, but don't forget that the hope of some countries rests upon the shoulders of young men with torn rotator cuffs, on surgically repaired legs, and damaged brains...upon the dreams of boys so brave that they defied doctors and science, simply refusing to give up.

In my mind these are the true champions. Not the privileged with unfettered access to facilities, unlimited resources, or those endowed with impressive frames or inherent physical prowess, but those who were laughed at, ridiculed, and told no. Kieran Behan did not win a medal in this Olympics, but he won something more grand than gold: not only was his dream of reaching the Olympic stage realized, but he walked away with our hearts and knowing that he has set an example for everyone who will ever face adversity, or have to hear the unsavory echo and seemingly insurmountable weight of the word no. It is this aspect of the human soul that makes me truly awestruck and fraught with compassion. Winning an Olympic medal is undoubtedly an impressive feat, but sometimes just getting there is in a class all its own.


heartinsanfrancisco said...

I agree completely. Such people are winners, hands down. When Diana Nyad attempted her Cuba to Florida swim last year (she is currently doing it again) and had to abort, I did a post stating that she was already a winner, just for trying. Kieran Behan is of that rare class, too. In my mind and heart, he was the biggest winner there.

Brown said...

So true. Today I watched a video of an archer in the Paralympics. He has no arms and won the silver medal.

I've vowed to watch it whenever I need to be inspired.