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 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 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 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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a winning day!