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More than the medals, the Olympics offer inspiration

In Other Words

 


When the Olympics came to Atlanta, I was an impressionable 15-year-old involved in two different high school sports. The day after Muhammad Ali famously lit the torch, my family and I were sweltering in the Atlanta heat, working a concession booth at the aquatic center. It was thrilling for me as a young teenager to be at the very center of such an electric venue. The atmosphere of any athletic event has some electricity to it, but the energy in an Olympic stadium sent sparks through the entire city.

I felt lucky to be living in a city that hosted the Olympics, and even luckier to have a front row ticket for many of the aquatic events. As I walked up and down the stands, selling frozen lemonade from an enormous bag draped around my neck, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t impacted by what I saw.

The Olympics also came to Los Angeles when I was living there as a child, and perhaps because of those combined first-hand experiences, along with the fact that I chose athletics over other pursuits in my formative years, I’ve always gotten a thrill of anticipation when the Olympics come around. This year, I eagerly hunkered down with the rest of the country to watch our 529 athletes take their moment.

Besides the remarkable athletic achievements the Olympics always inspires, I find the two weeks when the Games take place to be a moment in time when the world can draw together. It is a singular worldwide event that is for something good and simple, for pure competition and gamesmanship. And each time, I find that there is a hope, however small or naive, that we can come together for something as simple as a sport, something as innocent as winning a game or a race. As a citizen, I have found watching the Olympics leaves me with an enormous sense of pride. As a nation, we can rally around our athletes without worrying about crossing party lines, racial divisions, or socioeconomic separations. It’s as simple and uncomplicated as cheering for an athlete of our country.

This is the first summer Olympic games that have transpired since I became a mother, and I find that this distinction has allowed me to see these incredible athletes through an even sharper lens. In a world where our celebrities don’t often do anything to deserve the word, or the admiration we give them, I find these athletes have a lot to admire. They offer up real role models for our children. Coming from all across America, from every race and background, these kids are making their dreams solid and achievable.

There is a lot our youth can learn from these incredible athletes: the pursuit of a goal, the intricacies of competition, how to lose gracefully and win modestly. They can learn about what it takes to feed their bodies appropriately and how to use their minds to push their bodies beyond their limits. There is the opportunity to learn how to interact with a team for a common goal, how to strategize and design for an achievement. And perhaps most importantly, there is the chance to learn how to take pride in yourself for an accomplishment, no matter if there is a gold medal. For the athlete that has taken fourth or didn’t make it to the final, simply to make an Olympic team is an enormous achievement.

Every four years when that torch is lit, I find that I can remember the thrill of the Olympics being in town, where dreams are sometimes measured in a matter of inches or hundredths of seconds. I can now point to 529 new people of my own country and countless others around the world to admire and look up to. I applaud the excess of courage it must take to follow a dream as far as the Olympics. My hat is off to our athletes and I eagerly await the lighting of the next torch.

 

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