Thursday, August 23, 2012

Why I Watch the Olympics

My husband and boys were not very interested in watching the Olympics this year. They don't get my obssession with watching the games. They sat and watched a few events, like Phelps racing Lochte or a few gymnastics events, but by and large, they didn't pay too much attention to the whole Olympic thing.

I, on the other hand, LOVE watching the Olympics.  At least I used to, before NBC's crappy coverage this year.  Back in the day they used to show as many of the sports as possible.  Now they only show the few they think will give them the best ratings.  Which is sad.  Because we miss out on some really compelling and moving stories and competitions from lesser known sports and athletes.  I get that shooting and fencing might not make for the most interesting TV, but the athletes have unique and inspiring stories and their struggle for gold is no less real or difficult than the athletes who play basketball or swim.  I'm just saying, it would be nice to get a greater cross section of coverage for the games that showcase the best of the best.  Okay...enough of my rant.  I actually have a point to be made here.

Part of the draw of the Olympics, for me anyway, is the chance to see people who have overcome the odds just to participate in the games.  For them, win or lose, it's all about the journey.  I am always so impressed and amazed by people who have the discipline and determination needed to push themselves beyond the challenges and obstacles that might keep them from becoming world class athletes.  I think I admire them because I struggle with those characteristics.  Discipline does not come naturally for me.  So I love watching athletes who have given all they have, both physically and mentally, for a shot at being the best in their field. 
It gives me hope I suppose, to see Kieran Behan,  the gymnast from Ireland, the guy who was told he would never walk again, step onto the mat and do an amazing floor routine.  Did he win a medal?  Nope.  Not even close.  But he won my heart.  Because he proved that the human spirit is always stronger than we think. 

Kieran Behan - Photo credit: Ian Walton/Getty
A tumor, broken bones, torn ligaments and a traumatic brain injury threatened not only his athletic career, but his very existence on more than one occasion.  You can read more details about him here and here.  Somehow Kieran pushed through the pain and obstacles and in 2011, his perseverance finally paid off.  He won three World Cup medals, becoming Ireland's first World Cup gold medalist in the floor exercise.  Then he won a spot in the Olympics.   And he did all this with no sponsors!  There were no corporate conglomerates like Guiness or some sports drink to back him.  His mom and dad held bake sales and fundraisers and he worked to earn the money he needed to compete and travel.  All of this sacrifice and effort...because the boy who saw his first Olympics when he was maybe 6 years old wanted to be an Olympic gymanst himself.  In my eyes, he was a winner before he ever stepped into the Olympic Stadium. And I wish I had his courage.        

Stories like this are why I look forward to the Olympics.  I wanna hear about the kid from nowhere who bursts onto the scene and makes a name for herself.  Or the 71 year old Japanese equestrian who competed in dressage this year.  I get caught up in the drama as the competition unfolds and I have to decide whether to root for the underdog or the defending champion.

But my enthusiasm for the games is also emotional and sometimes brings on a bout of depression.  Because I want to me more like the Olympians I watch.   I want to be better about developing characteristics that propel me forward in life, rather than wallowing in the emotional baggage that keeps me trapped. I want to be better at facing and overcoming challenge and adversity.  I want to believe in myself to the point that I am willing to push beyond my preconcieved notions of my own capabilities.

This year as I sat and watched the gymnast from Ireland, I wondered out loud what has to happen in my life to motivate me enough to set some clearly defined goals and pursue them with Olympian style passion?  Why is there nothing in me that screams so loud that it forces me off of the couch and out of the house toward the successful completeion of something great?  Where is that drive?

I am 48 years old and the mother of 2 boys who rely on me to instill in them the qualities and characteristics they will need to be happy, successful, functional adults.  I want them to have the kind of determination and discipline required to overcome setbacks and succeed in life.  How can I teach them what I don't have?
So I decided to have my own closing ceremony this year when the Olympics ended.  I want to close the door on my past.  I wanna quit wondering and analyzing how I got so screwed up and walk away from my insecurities and self doubt.   I want to find my path and walk it, regardless of the challenges that are presented along the way.  So I wrote down a list of things I want to work on for the rest of the year.  Then I created an Olympic torch that looked a lot like my backyard BBQ, ran a really lame lap around my tiny backyard and then dropped some little pieces of paper with fears and doubts written on them into the fire and watched them burn.  Then I cried.  A lot.  I don't know why.  I wish Kieran Behan was here so I could ask him what to do next. 


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