Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Olympics, Winning, and Losing

During the Olympics, NBC covers tons of stories about athletes who overcame obstacles and trained hard for hours a day for years to win a gold medal. Some reports tell about humble athletes, whose natural abilities raised them up to glory. We eat up stories about Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, and Simone Biles. These stories inspire us to pursue greatness.

We all want and need to believe that our dreams will come true if we work and believe hard enough. We believe that it is possible. Children's interest piques in gymnastics and swimming and ice skating. Some of those inspired children become Olympians themselves, all because of the victors and their stories.

I'm not trying to take away from their victories or make it sound like the gold (or any) medalists haven't earned their rewards, but what about the athletes who don't win the medal they wanted or any medal at all?

Chances are, those who get the "participant ribbon" worked just as hard and just as long as, or perhaps even harder and longer than, the winners. Some of them come from even humbler circumstances or had to overcome and sacrifice even more to get to the Olympics. But despite their best efforts, they lose the race. Or someone else nails their dismount better than they did. Or the other team plays just a little bit better and scores more. And because these athletes don't win or come close to winning, we don't hear about them.

This Olympics, I keep thinking about those who "lose," despite doing everything right. How do they feel knowing that they gave everything they had, and it still wasn't enough? That their best will never beat someone else's? How long did they dream of and train toward winning a gold medal? How do they feel about the time they spent working toward a goal that will never be theirs?

I'm not an Olympian, but I know the feeling that my efforts sometimes don't actually contribute to the end result. There have been times when I have worked as hard as I can and done everything I can do, and still nothing. I struggle to accept the results and to feel that my best is good enough when it clearly isn't. It makes dreaming seem like a cruel trick.

And yet. . . . (Yes, there is a hopeful ending to this post.)

Yet most of the Olympic athletes are young in their early thirties, twenties, and even teens. Some will have chances to try again in the Tokyo Olympics. For those who won't return, life goes on. Even for those who win, time goes on. Life doesn't stop after the Olympics. Everyone must find a way to move on to the next goal, the next step.

I would love for NBC to run features that catch up with some retired Olympic athletes: some who won gold and perhaps some who didn't. What have they done since they stopped competing? What have past water polo players moved on to do? What is Michelle Kwan doing now? What is Misty Mays up to these days? Do they coach? Do they have families? Did they take up a different career? Your accountant could be a former Olympic diver. Who knows?

I guess the point is that sometimes dreams change. Whether we reach them or not, dreams evolve with life. Everyone, gold medalists, Olympic participants, and us normal humans alike, must realize that dreams, unless obtained at the end of our lifetimes, are not the end-all goal. Getting into a certain college, obtaining a dream job, or achieving a weight limit are admirable goals, but regardless of whether we achieve them, life goes on. We learn to dream new dreams.

So, at the close of the Olympics, I want to wish everyone happy dreaming!

What were some of your favorite moments in the 2016 Olympics?

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