Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Human Drama and Carpe Diem

“Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport. The thrill of victory. And the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition. This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”

Narrated by Jim McKay at the show’s introduction

Like many people around the world, I’ve recently spent my evening hours consumed by the Olympics. I loved watching them on TV as a kid and that thrill hasn’t diminished over the years. It’s hard to pass up the pulse-quickening races, moments of physical grace, Oh!-inducing crashes and of course, the heart-warming stories that are always part of the Winter Games.

This year, I’ve noticed two themes running through the stories of the participants. Sadly, one of them is sudden death. The deaths of the young Georgian luger before opening ceremonies and the mother of one of the Canadian figure skaters a few days before her daughter was to skate on home ice are untimely, to say the least. How ironic that Visa is running a commercial highlighting Dan Jansen’s experience with losing his sister just prior to a race.

I’m guessing that these deaths have had one of two effects on the athletes. Some have perhaps unconsciously held back a bit, all too aware of what the tiniest mistake could lead to, given the great speeds and heights they reach with metal-edged apparatus strapped to their feet. (Except for curling, of course.)

For others, it’s probably helped them calm down in an odd sort of way. After all, they’re still able to compete and still have their support system with them, whether in Vancouver or back at home. That’s better than any medal. And the reminder that life is short so enjoy the days you’re given may help them relax, savor the whole Olympic experience and perhaps achieve a personal best.

The second theme I see threading through the athletes’ stories is how many of them gave up their sport—disappointment and disillusionment seem to be common reasons—and then decided to give the world stage one last try. They went back to their grueling training regimens and competition schedules knowing what they were in for, but also relishing the chance to prove (mostly to themselves) that they still had it. For the most part, these athletes appear to be enjoying their Olympics, whether it includes medals or not.

These stories help remind me that these are not superheroes, but very mortal beings who experience the same ups, downs and emotions as any other person. They may commit their lives and bodies to their sports, but that doesn’t mean their journey is either smooth or easy. Only that they’ve devoted themselves to a goal they believe in.

That makes me feel better about moving forward with my dreams. To be successful, I don’t have to be a superhuman imbued with great power or strength. I only have to have the nerve to try. To seize each day’s opportunity to move forward and push through any obstacle that threatens to keep me from my goal.

And so for a few more days, I’ll watch the Olympians participate in “the human drama of athletic competition” as Jim McKay so aptly described it. I’ll look for those who have overcome their personal demons, doubts and fears to risk it all representing their nation in front of the whole world.

Those who remind and inspire me to carpe diem.

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