February 19, 2014 | LXXIII, No. 37

Winter Olympics: Heartbreaks, heros and their stories

Jess Shut Up

Have you been watching the winter games in Russia? We have, on and off, and something has changed for me.

In the past I would be cheering for the USA all the way and be disappointed if we did not get some hardware. I also did not care for all the junk in-between the events. I just wanted to see the flips, falls and finishes in all the events. But something different has happened to me over the past 10 years of watching, not just the Olympics, but all sports. I love the stories behind the athletes.

As I watched a Canadian skier win the gold medal in one of his events this past week, emotions rose in me. As he celebrated with his team and family, I became a fan of his, not as an athlete, but as a human being on earth.

A few moments before he took to the ski hill they ran a 10-minute little story of his life, like they do for most of the athletes. His story was not anything special except for his brother. His older brother has a disease that has made him physically limited. He cannot do very much on his own but as his Olympic brother told us, his mind is fully intact and he is more competitive than the Olympian. In fact, he said that if his brother could be an athlete the ill brother would have more wins than the athelte.

Now, I cannot tell you the whole story as well as NBC did, but this I can tell you: When the brother climbed down from the podium after listening to his country’s anthem and receiving his gold medal and went straight to his disabled brother and placed the gold around his neck … well, I lost it. I became a fan. End of story.

There was also a female downhill skier, from Austria, I think, who had an unusual helmet. Hers was decorated with a cheetah pattern. Her story was that she had a dream to go to Africa, and she did not long ago. When she got there she heard about the cheetah. She heard about its loss of habitat and she fell in love with the cat. She now uses her soap box of skiing to fight for the life of the big cat she loves. She has donated and done fund raisers and is trying to grow some kind of awareness to save the cheetah in another country, not her own. She won the gold. I’m a fan.

There was also the ex-Korean speed skater, now a Russian. No longer wanted on his home country’s team (too old and injury prone) he became a Russian and won gold for them, beating the ones supposed to be younger and stronger.

There was the American hockey star who won the match against Russia with his shots at the end of the game. But I was moved more by his interview afterward in which he thanked his dad for making him shoot shot after shot on the cold ice lake near his home where he grew up.

There was heartbreak too in these events, there always is. A lifetime of work and dedication to make it to this one symbolic event called the Olympics, only to fall just short or have your worst day ever. Lots and lots of those stories, some covered very well and some just a blink on the score sheets, but all just as painful.

That is how our life is too, not just sports, but our everyday life. Some of us work so hard to try and achieve our goals to just fall short, just out of our grasps. We fail on small stages and the grandest of shows. Some of us succeed just as big but the reality is that more of us fail in reaching our full potential.

Just like the athletes, though, we should get up, dust off the snow, lick our wounds and look down the road. There is always next year. There are always the next Olympics. There is always tomorrow. We learn from our mistakes and we try again and again and again. Guess what. Even if we continue to fail, our family still thinks we are winners, our causes still think we are heros and someone else will need us more. We are all winners whether there is a gold medallion around our neck or not.

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