Besides being entertained by the Olympics and enjoying those adrenalin rushes from watching speed skating, downhill, mogul and halfpipe events, there may be more to be learned from these exceptional athletes. Obviously physically gifted, what else do they have going for them? What allows some individuals to become Olympians or simply to feel good about their lives, while others land in jail, divorce court for the third time, or are brain dead from a drug overdose…or just have that knot in their gut that prevents genuine satisfaction and joy in everyday living?
While watching babies learning to walk and become toddlers, someone recently noted that the babies fall down repeatedly…and get up each time. Is the Olympic qualifier the one who gets up the most times? How many skiers, boarders and skaters decide falling down makes it too tough an endeavor to pursue? How many students decide the course is too hard, quitting before doing the work to fully understand the subject? How many unhappy spouses decide marriage is too tough to bother with and simply bail without seeking help, then do it again? (Divorce rate for first marriages is 50%, for second marriages, 73%). How many alcoholics and addicts refuse to do what it takes to stop drinking and drugging and stay stopped?
Clues: Life is hard. Not drinking or drugging is extremely hard for addicts and alcoholics. Marriage takes work. Learning new material requires studying. Oh, wait! Becoming an Olympic athlete probably requires a little time and dedication, too. And learning to walk takes persistence from tiny little human beings.
For today, I would like to use my column to pay tribute to those who have worked hard and given up much for what they have achieved. Most would say they gained more than they gave up.
Cheering on their offspring are Yuki Ohno, Bjorn Svindal and Don Cook, single fathers of Apolo, Aksel and Emily. Clearly, these men are unusual fathers and while they may not love their children any more than other fathers, they are different in some way. One guess is that they focused on opportunity, somehow dealing with adversity. They taught their children by example that surviving loss was possible and they could go on and do anything they wanted to do.
A fifteen year old ice dancer moved to a different country and changed her nationality so she could compete in the sport she loves. Fifteen! The younger athletes have done something extraordinary in a short time. The older ones have persisted, giving up who knows how many other, “roads not taken”, to continue to pursue their sport. Chris Del Bosco nearly died of alcoholism, now saying the best day of his life was September 6, 2006, the day he had his last drink. He made it to the finals of Ski Cross competition. If they can do all of this, can you just study hard? Stay sober and clean and go to those stupid meetings? Or simply be the person you would want to have as a friend, coworker or partner?
Perhaps the qualities needed to excel are most impressive when we see them in the Special Olympians, those athletes who were born with a lower than average chance at excellence in any area. Rarely household names, these heroes, the athletes and their families, deserve respect like few others.
Paralympians are astoundingly dedicated men and women with various physical disabilities, hardly “handicapped.” They compete in Vancouver March 12 through 21, 2010. Alpine and cross country skiing, wheelchair curling, biathlon and sled hockey are some of the scheduled competitions. Remind me not to complain about my minor aches and pains or self imposed limits!
Qualities required to excel, in Olympics or in life? How about: dedication, perseverance, discipline, commitment, focus, time and energy, and treating adversity as opportunity for starters. It probably wouldn’t hurt to pray for help from above as well.
My respect and admiration goes to the Olympians, Special Olympians, and Paralympians, but even more to those ordinary people who develop and use the same qualities to meet their personal adversity. A special tribute to those who made their relationships better today. Enormous acknowledgement to all who worked toward their goals with discipline and dedication. And, of course, my absolute greatest esteem to every addict who did not pick up a drink or a drug today.