To be an athlete

Let it be said first of all that I am definitely not an athlete! Just ask my brothers!! While I am a musician, somehow that ability to keep time and rhythm didn’t adhere to my physical coordination. In basketball, I would always be called for “traveling.” In gymnastics, I could do somersaults, and that was about it. In baseball, I got hit in the face while serving as catcher. In rhythmic drill team, I could never get the steps straight. You’re getting the picture…right?

But that doesn’t mean that athletics and I don’t get along. We do–as long as I’m watching someone else perform.

And that really holds true as I watch the Olympic games. Yes, I know there are some who are boycotting watching the games for what they consider valid reasons. I understand those reasons–and in many ways support them. But at the same time, I want to support the athletes who have spent so much time and energy preparing to give the best they can on an international stage.

I still think some of them are nuts! I mean, I can’t imagine going down a steep hill on two small pieces of wood (or one, depending on the sport)…launching myself high into the air and turning somersaults….and planning on landing on two feet as I fall out of the sky. Nor can I see myself going 60-70 miles per hour down a steep ice run, not being able to see where I’m going and steering myself with only slight movements of my body. Don’t even ask me about stepping onto the ice on two sharp blades and depending on a partner to throw me into the air and then catch me before I throw myself into another jump!

Some come, knowing they have absolutely no chance of winning medals. But for them, simply having the opportunity to be there…to represent their countries in a positive way…is reason enough for competing.

And then there are those who come in with the expectations of their countries (and in some cases, the world) sitting on their shoulders. They are supposed to win medals–preferably gold, but at least to be on the podium. Sometimes they are able to live up to those expectations…sometimes the expectations are simply too heavy. And sometimes things simply go wrong that are out of their control.

There are several things that made me think about this. One was watching the men’s short program in figure skating last night. I had so hoped that Jeremy Abbott would be able to redeem himself from his horrible fall in the team ice skating event. He didn’t…and yet he did. He took another nasty fall just seconds into his program, and it looked like he might not be able to get up. But he did–and he skated the rest of his program. It wasn’t what he had hoped for in these games, yet he didn’t give up. He could have…but that wasn’t why he was there. I’m hoping that even though his medal hopes are gone that he’ll have a wonderful long program.

I think of Noelle Pikus-Pace who is competing in one of the craziest sports–skeleton. She has also undergone injuries, a miscarriage, and retirement…only to realize that she wasn’t through. She’s back…but this time she has her family with her. She’s found the balance for her between competition and family.

Then there’s Anton Gafarov, the Russian skiier who was competing in the men’s sprint in front of his home crowd. He had a horrible run and was out of medal competition–but he was going to continue, even though it meant walking to the finish line, not skiing. But the Canadian coach gave him a ski–not just giving it to him, but fastening it for him, allowing Gafarov to finish with dignity.

And there are more stories. There always are from the Olympics. There are so many stories and pictures of athletes from different countries celebrating together, worrying about each other, consoling each other…

Somehow, even in the middle of fierce competition, these athletes have found something else important…something that has helped them understand that while they want to win, they want to help each other do the best they can as well. If only we could do the same…