Published in the Ferndale Record, February 26, 2014
In a recent conversation with one of my children we talked about Olympic athletes. He’s met more than a couple and I asked him about their common characteristics.
After some careful thought, he said two things. First, they are gracious. Maybe it has something to do with representing our country, he said. But their kindness, willingness to engage the public and take time with fans was paramount.
The next thing he said was less predictable. “They are all cold-blooded killers.” Their sport is a primary focus and they are fierce competitors. Observing them in ‘normal’ conversation and then in their sports element is to witness acute extremity.
The Olympics inspire me even though I’ll never be an athlete on the world stage. I’m drawn to the dedication involved in the pursuit, the sacrifice, and the laser beam focus that prevails despite inevitable setbacks.
When our family gets together to watch the Olympics (yes, we do that), we see snowboarders and skiers climb into the sky performing impossible tricks, executing flawless landings. Our favorite thing to say (with mouthfuls of cookies) is, “I could do that, but I don’t want to.”
Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci stunned the world at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and is just eight years younger than I am. At 22 years old, I thought whatever she did that made her great wasn’t totally out of my reach – if I really wanted to do it.
Fact: I never really wanted to do it. Well that, and of course, Nadia had that whole talent thing going for her.
But within my capability are the desire, the focus and perseverance that can accompany anything I choose.
So, I ask myself: What do I want that much? What demands my unrelenting focus? What do I have to do to get what I want? Am I willing to do it?
For me, and maybe most of us, the answers don’t involve world-class training or years and money spent on coaches and training camps. It’s about what I’ve already chosen and how I can make it my best.
What do construction workers, artists, farmers, ballerinas, grocery cashiers, school teachers, plumbers, book editors, Mary Kay representatives, engineers, park rangers, bank tellers, custodians, meter maids, entrepreneurs and tattoo artists do to keep an unflinching, beady eye on important personal or career goals?
Olympic athletes don’t make up most of the world. But they have something to teach the rest of us. Reptilian, steely focus born of practice and desire is the stuff of dreams, whether it involves marriage, gardening or Zumba.
Jeremy Abbott, a U.S. figure skater, took a brutal fall against the boards during his short program in Sochi. He was visibly hurt and no one would have thought any less of him for limping off the ice. But he stood, gained his composure, and completed his skate – to a standing ovation from the Russian audience.
Most of us won’t get applause for showing up to our jobs when we don’t feel like it, or given 10.0s for sticking to our workouts, but the effect on our spirits is resolve and discipline.
We strongly suspect, and would probably be right, that we’re capable of more.