Life Lessons from the Olympic Games

Dang it, I don’t want the Olympics to end. I’m going to miss coming home from work every night and getting unreasonably excited about volleyball, track, swimming, gymnastics and the 24 other sports represented at the 2016 Rio Games. It’s so inspiring and motivating watching these athletes lay everything out there day in and day out as I’m on the couch sipping on a glass of wine (day in and day out). Hubster and I cook, recount our day and then settle in for an evening of the best of the best…this after a day of putting in our own training, long hours of work and being our own version of the best of the best.

I’m sure Olympians would crush me for saying this (they are Olympians after all), but I wish the Games were a year-round event. I love the thrills, trash talking, tears and patriotism that come with the 2 1/2 weeks of celebration of sport. Sure, the biggest tangible lesson from the Olympic games is, “Be the best and you will win a medal,” but, as anyone who has been tuning in realizes, the life lessons are far more reaching (and, dare I say, important) than simply being the best.

Sportsmanship Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 12.14.05 PM

Please let us not forget this indelible image of the true Olympic Spirit of athletes helping each other. Nikki Hamblin from New Zealand fell and knocked USA’s Abbey D’Agostino out of the race. Instead of shouts, finger-pointing and blame, the two helped each other up and finished the race together with an embrace that meant way more than any sprint to the finish every could. Total #BFF moment.

Thank you for showing us that love of sport and love of country are distant relatives to love and respect of each other. This gesture will last a lifetime.

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 12.29.35 PMBe Unique

Sure, swimming, gymnastics, track and field and volleyball are the darlings of the Summer Olympics. They monopolize the coverage and the athlete celebrity profiles. This year, there are 28 sports in the Summer Olympics and while we may not know the names of our badminton players or worship at the feet of our USA pole vaulting representatives, rest assured they are working just as hard to reach the podium as their high profiled counterparts. There is literally a sport out there for everyone and it’s ok (and awesome) to find that one sport just for you.  I loved hearing the interview with USA’s first Gold Medal Winner this year, 19-year-old Ginny Thrasher. She won her first-ever Gold in Shooting and became the first American to stand on the podium at this year’s games. She was unjaded, unscripted and truly excited. How refreshing! Her answer to what’s next after the Olympic games? It’s back to college in  West Virginia, where she will be a sophomore. “I get home 20 hours before the first class. So I’ll be in physics at 8:30 a.m.”  Well, we also hope you’ll be back in 2020.

 

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Age is Just a Number

Thank you Anthony Ervin and Kristin Armstrong for showing us that the only barriers to success are often the self-imposed ones that tell us that, “We can’t do something.” You both proved that age is just another limiting label we and society place on our potential achievements. I’m sure you’ve battled those naysayers for the past four years who said that you didn’t stand a chance. Hell, those naysayers may have been some of your own negative self chatter, but it didn’t stop you from trying. Thank goodness for all of us who got to witness your efforts and your triumphs.

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 12.44.50 PMOne of my favorite moments was from Kristin Armstrong when she literally had to ask, “Did I win?” before collapsing to the wet pavement after her gut-wrenching cycling time trial. In an interview after the race she said, “A lot of people have asked me why I came back.  I came back because I Can.”

Being 43-years-old doesn’t guarantee me a Gold medal or a spot on top of anyone’s podium, but it does permit me the chance to keep trying, to keep thriving and to keep pushing myself…because I Can.

 

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Focus Only On Your Race

The photo on the left shows it all. It’s the moment Le Clos knew he had been beat.  I think it was this decisive moment, captured so brilliantly, that encapsulates the essence of what not to do in competition. Don’t focus on the competition. Control only your race.  The second you take your eye off the ball, it’s over.

I talk with athletes all of the time who are stuck in the comparison trap. They’re never fast enough, they’re never talented enough, or they’ll never beat so-and-so. Bottom line? Maybe not. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you raced your race and focused on your performance. When you let other people into your head, they win by default and they didn’t even have to do a damn thing.  Focus on your race.

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 1.32.47 PMLeave It All Out There

“I saw the 300-meters to go sign and I thought … ‘Oh my goodness. I could actually win this, ” said Mara Abbott. “Then I looked under my shoulder and they were right there.”  My heart breaks reliving this moment when American cyclist Mara Abbott was just 150 meters from the finish line when she was passed at the last second by three cyclists who had been working together to catch her in the remaining meters of the race. She went from first to fourth in a split second with the finish line about 10 pedal strokes away. While it was devastating and nerve-wracking to watch it unfold on live TV, Abbott showed poise and grace in her post-race interview.

“The ironic part is . . . you’re in that situation, and you don’t actually believe you can win,” Abbott told a reporter on NBC’s broadcast. “I didn’t believe it until I passed 200 meters to go, then I thought, ‘Oh my God’, this is going to happen — and then they passed me. So, I guess that’s what they say about counting your chickens before they hatch. I rode that race to the absolute best of my ability, and I didn’t leave anything out there.

We’re not all fighting for a gold medal, but we should all strive to race to the best of our ability. It’s all we have.

(This poignant personal follow-up from Abbott appeared recently in the Wall Street Journal. It still stings for all of us who were following along)

 

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It’s Always A Team Effort

Dozens of individual medals were distributed, but not one of those rock stars would say that they got there by themselves. Teammates, coaches, family and loved ones are, no doubt, the biggest pieces of the success pie. Triathlon Gold Medalist, Gwen Jorgensen, even said she wishes her coach and husband could stand on the podium for her because that’s how instrumental they’ve been to her success.  The best memories are made with others and with the support of others. My best friends (and hubster!) are also my training partners and teammates. It’s made these crazy endeavors so fulfilling; and if I’ve learned anything, I’ve come to discover that fulfillment is way better than any achievement.

The Rio games will come to an end tomorrow, but these shining illustrations of the spirit of the games will burn as bright as the Olympic Torch. In my opinion, that’s worth its weight in Gold.

 

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