Telling The Stories

In my blog piece, Golden Hearts, I mentioned how sad I am that the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games had to be postponed because of the worldwide spread of the coronavirus.  I said that I love the Olympics for the sports, but even more for the stories.  I feel strongly that the Olympic athletes give us a shining example of what excellence looks like.  The Olympians show us how the pursuit of excellence in peace can bring a brighter, more hopeful perspective to the world.  It makes my heart hurt to think of those wonderful athletes and excellence creators who will miss what might be their only opportunity to compete in an Olympic games.  I decided I would do some internet-trawling to learn some of their stories. 

I looked at the Team USA website and randomly chose just a few athletes to research.  What I learned touched me heart.  I am sure that I could and will find similar stories no matter where my mouse chose to click.  Let me tell you about some of the people I met.

Abdi Abdirahman

Abdi is a long-distance runner, specializing in the 10,000 meter and marathon races. He is also 43 years old, the oldest man to ever qualify for the USA Olympic running team.  He was born in Somalia and educated in the United States, becoming a citizen in the year 2000.  He spent his high school and college years clothed in competitive running.  I am sure that, as an immigrant from a third world country, he faced many physical, economic, and emotional challenges as he grew into the person he was destined to become.  He would have been competing in his 5th Olympics this year in Tokyo.  Given his age, he may very well not be competing when the Tokyo games open next year. One could say that at least he got the chance to be an Olympian four other times, but I am sure that having to say good-bye to your Olympic so abruptly is gut-wrenching.  As a retiree, I know the satisfaction in leaving a career on my own terms.  It is much more difficult and disorienting when one is forced out because of circumstances beyond his control.

Alexis Allan

Alexis would have been a first-time Olympian this year.  She is an infielder for Team USA Women’s Softball.  At 21, she will likely still be able to compete in Tokyo next year.  Life is uncertain, however, and athletes can never be sure that an injury or bright up-and-comer will not scuttle them off the field. Alexis seems to have entered the “family business.”  Her grandmother, Shelia Cornell-Douty, was a two-time Olympic gold medalist playing first base for Team USA.  Alexis is from Hesperia, California.  When I lived in California, I often drove past Hesperia on my way to Las Vegas.  The locals refer to it as “Desperia” because it is so podunk and removed from the exciting rhythms of modern urban life.   Coming from a small town, inspired by the excellence of her grandmother, and nurturing her God-given gifts, Alexis is following her own star.

Gil Saenz

Gil plays baseball.  He was also meant to be a first time Olympian this year.  At age 32, his opportunity to participate next year in Tokyo is a little more tenuous than Alexis’s chance.  I have hope for Gil, however.  His bio reflects a person who has a tremendous amount of family support, which seems to have instilled a deep commitment in him.  He describes himself as “motivated, dedicated, and loyal.”  He is the kind of person who may be able to let disappointment soak into him and allow it to make him stronger.  I certainly hope so.  When asked what it meant to him to represent the United States in the Olympics, Gil said, “Getting to represent the best country in the world is like no other feeling out there.  It’s an honor and a privilege to wear those three letters across my chest.”  How can you not love having someone like that represent you?

Laura Zeng

Laura represents an American breakthrough in a sport where we did not previously have much of a presence- rhythmic gymnastics.  Many of us look forward to cheering the USA’s artistic gymnasts towards victory each Olympics.  However, rhythmic gymnastics is lesser known, and the United States has not been a realistic contender in the past.  Until recently.  Laura was the first rhythmic gymnast from the United States to medal in the sport in either a junior or senior Olympics.  She won the bronze medal at the 2014 junior Olympic games.  Despite the time, energy, and focus she put into her sport, Laura also graduated from high school as a National Merit Scholarship and committed to Yale University. 

These are just a few of the stories we can tell of our Olympians Deferred.  What jumps out to me is not simply excellence in athletic ability; what stands out to me is excellence of intelligence, excellence of commitment, and excellence of character.

Do you have a favorite Olympian or Olympic moment?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a winning day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Golden Hearts

Last Friday, the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad were supposed to open in Tokyo, Japan.  As everyone who has not been living on some COVID-free planet for the past five months knows, these summer games have been postponed until July 23, 2021 because of our worldwide pandemic.

I’m sad.

I have always been an Olympics fan.  I enjoy the pageantry and the passion.  I enjoy the patriotism. I enjoy watching the sports, even the ones with which I am entirely unfamiliar.  I watch sports I do not understand during the Olympics simply because it is the Olympics.  For two weeks in the summer every four years, the world celebrates excellence.  I have always wanted to attend an Olympics and never have.  Gluing myself to the television screen every waking hour of the day is likely the closest I will ever get.  This Olympic year, I am not going to even get that. 

I know the Olympic games and the Olympic spirit is not cancelled, simply postponed.  I know that my mourning for the vicarious Olympic community experience is selfish considering what is going on around us right now.  It is especially selfish because I am sure that the athletes who intended to be in Tokyo competing right now are having it much worse than I am.  For many of them, I am sure Tokyo was to be the shining zenith of their athletic careers.  A year’s postponement will be the same as a cancellation for some of these athletes.  The “sweet spot” of athletic achievement opportunity will not always linger for another year.  For the people who worked so hard all their lives to achieve a dream, a postponement may crush the dream.  All I can do is pray that they can take that commitment and passion and channel it into another dream.

To me, the most excellent thing about the Olympics is not the sports.  It is the people and the stories.  I love meeting individuals who rise above poverty, obscurity, and hardship to become the best in the world at something.  I love hearing the stories of competitors who purposely slow their own progress to help another athlete.  My heart expands when the commentators tell us about love stories that grow between participants.  I even love the commercials- the ones that introduce us to the relationships between parents and children, coaches and athletes, country and competitor.  The Olympics are games, but they are also a movement, a spirit, and a flame.

As much as I love the games, my real passion is the movement, spirit, and flame.  That flame could ignite all of hearts.  It could ignite our hearts with peace, excellence, performance, and perseverance.  Even those of us, like me, who will never become the best in the world at anything in particular, can use that flame to fuel our efforts to be the best people we can be.  I don’t want to wait another whole year to feel that fire. 

So even if the games of the XXXIII will not be gracing my television screen this year, I am going to use this time to research the golden hearts of these postponed Olympics.  I am going to search for the people, the passion, and the stories that would have been woven into this summer’s games.  Those people deserve for us to know their stories. I need to know those stories to build my own golden heart. 

The good Lord willing, I will be watching the athletes of 2021 next July.  I know the delayed Olympics will still move and inspire me.  However, it is good remember that there are always golden hearts out there if we look!

Do you watch the Olympics? What is your favorite part about it? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirment@gmail.com.

Have an excellent day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

Going For The Gold

I love the Olympics.  I start looking forward to the Games a year before they start.   I glue myself to the television, load up the DVR, and go to great lengths to avoid any sports news to make sure I don’t accidentally hear any results before I see the competition on one of the plethora of Olympic broadcasts on my DVR. 

My fascination with the Olympics isn’t really about the sports, although I do find most of them pretty entertaining.  My obsession is really about the stories.  The people who aspire to compete in the Olympics amaze and humble me.  Their stories touch my heart. They expand my understanding of human nature.  I rarely make it through a single broadcast without being moved to tears. 

I’ve been watching the Olympic trials for various sports over the past few weeks. I am getting excited for the beginning of the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics.  I discovered, completely by accident, that I could find one Olympic trial for some random sport and set the recorder to capture ANY new Olympic trial broadcast of any sport on any channel.  It is like magic. What a bonanza! The Olympic stories are already unfolding in front of me through the wonder of television. These are the stories of athletes who are already celebrities, the stories of the athletes who may be the next legends of sport, and the stories of the athletes who may never be household names. 

Almost everyone has heard of swimmer Michael Phelps.  He has more Olympic hardware around his neck than any other athlete in history.  He has competed for Team USA in four Olympic Games.  He was 15 years old when he went to his first Olympics.  He basically grew up in the pool… and in the fishbowl.  Because his star shone so brightly, he attracted the camera.  The media covered all his escapades.  Those escapades included stunning athletic achievements.  They also included less impressive personal conduct, as a young man tried to figure out who he wanted to be.  He struggled with questionable judgment, turbulent relationships, and substance abuse.  During the 2012 Olympics in London, he continued to achieve.  At least, he continued to achieve Olympic medals… but one sensed that he was no longer achieving personal peace and satisfaction.

In recent years, Phelps sought treatment for his substance abuse issues.  He solidified healthy relationships.  He got engaged. He became a proud father. He reaffirmed his personal and professional commitment to his long-time coach.  The Olympic swimming trials show us a man who seems to have come out of the dark place in his personal journey.  Long ago, Michael Phelps came into his own as a swimmer.  As he earned a place on his fifth Olympic team and won his last race on American soil, he seemed to show us all that he has come into his own as a person, as well. 

John Orozco did not perform as he wanted to at the London Olympics in 2012.  He had a disastrous performance that may have cost the USA men’s gymnastics team a medal.  I am sure this disappointment both haunted and motivated him as he fought his way through four more years of preparation for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.  He worked and competed hard.  He earned the right to be considered for this year’s Olympic team, despite those people who said he couldn’t come back or couldn’t be relied on not to fold under the pressure. 

In the sixteen months prior to the Olympic team competitive selection process, his beloved mother died suddenly.  He also sustained what would have been a career-ending injury for most people.  Doctors told him he wouldn’t be able to compete until at least June.  Before the end of June, he powered his way through the Olympic selection events.  When the selection committee announced his place on the men’s gymnastics team, his face shone with the absolute joy and blessedness of the moment. Uncontrollable tears streamed down his face.  You have to believe he will banish the London demons while competing in Rio.

In women’s gymnastics, Laurie Hernandez, just sixteen years old, competed in her first senior tournament at this year’s US Championships.  She finished in third place. More importantly, she proved to the selection committee that though she be but little, she is fierce.  She fairly crackles with carefully controlled kinetic energy.  She is such a cute young lady, with her bubbly personality, huge sparkly eyes, and curls as springy as the rest of her body, that it is tempting to refer to her as a “little girl.”  This is no little girl, however.  No child could be so skilled, mature, disciplined, poised, and motivated.

In addition to her athletic ability, she demonstrated her value as a teammate.  When one gymnast had a rough performance that seemed likely to torpedo her chances of making the Olympic team, the other competitors rushed to give her quick hugs of support.  Laurie did the same.  However, I noticed her embrace lasted a fraction of a moment longer and seemed to offer connection just a layer or two deeper than the others.  Even through the television, I could feel authentic empathy- a transfer of warmth and comfort to a teammate.  Again, this is no little girl.  As Laurie Hernandez blossomed onto the international stage, the television media captured her unfurling.  I felt like I was watching a young woman discover the depth and breadth of her personal power on her road to Rio.

Vashti Cunningham is going to her first Olympics as part of the United States women’s track and field team.  She is eighteen years old and high jumps on the international stage.  She finished second in the US Olympic Trials, earning her the right to march into the Olympic stadium in Rio and compete with the world.  Her coach is her father, Randall Cunningham.  He was an NFL pro-bowl quarterback- and a high school high jumper himself.  Vashti Cunningham bookends the women’s high jump team with Chaunte Howard Lowe, who is now on her way to her fourth Olympic games.  In addition to competing as an elite athlete, Ms. Lowe has dabbled in a few other endeavors.  She has spent her time between jumps getting married, raising three children, and pursuing a graduate education.

Both of these women are incredible athletes with incredible stories, but I think what moves me most about them is how they represent eternal cycles of excellence.  The legacy of achievement passes from father to daughter, from veteran to newcomer.  In return, the father and the veteran grow and build even richer lives because of their interaction with the daughter and newcomer.  These cycles of excellence prove to me that mediocrity truly is not the measuring stick for our world.  It gives me hope for the future.

I think my favorite story of the Olympic trials, though, is one about a man who will not be competing in Rio.  Troy Dumais has been part of USA Diving for 20 years and competed in three Olympic games. During the diving Trials, he fell just short of making the 2016 team.  As he stood on the springboard for his last dive of the Trials, he knew that it was mathematically impossible for him to secure an Olympic berth.  As he readied himself for that last dive of his long career, the crowd acknowledged his substantial contribution to the sport. The diving community and fans stood and applauded, in appreciation for his skill, inspiration, and mentorship.  His eyes welled up as he took in this moment of love, admiration, and awe.  It was obvious that this outpouring of emotion genuinely surprised, humbled, and moved him.  He steadied himself, took a breath, and finished the competition.  He didn’t succeed in getting a place on this Olympic team, but I think he achieved something much greater without even knowing he was trying for it. 

The Olympics start on August 5th.  I can’t wait to hear the other stories- the stories of American athletes I haven’t heard yet and the stories from the rest of the world.  I will be rooting for the Team USA athletes to go for the gold, but I will be rooting even harder for all the people behind the stories. 

What are you looking forward to most about the Rio Olympics?  We’ve read so many stories about the operational difficulties, it is easy to worry.  Let’s hope for a smooth, inspirational Games.  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. Have a gold-medal winning day!

Terri 🙂