Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Summer Olympics - Tales of Perseverance and Dedication

THE SUMMER OLYMPICS HAVE come and gone, and, as is the case of any Olympic games, there were so many amazing stories, so unforgettable moments that these magnificent athletes provided for us over the past two weeks. Usain Bolt once again claiming the throne of “World’s Fastest Man.”

The adorable and bubbly Missy Franklin beginning what looks to be a highly decorated career with four gold medals. The United Kingdom’s own Andy Murray crushing Roger Federer on the grass courts of Wimbledon. The sight of South African runner, Oscar Pistorius, the first ever a double amputee to compete at the Olympics. And, of course, the birth of the “McKayla is Not Impressed” meme.

But for me, the two athletes I will remember the most from this Olympiad are Gabby Douglas and Michael Phelps. Both of them have etched their names in sporting lore, but their stories coming into these Summer games could not be more different.

For Gabby Douglas, her journey to Olympic glory as the all-around women’s gymnastics champion and member of the Team USA’s gold winning crew, “The “Fierce Five”, almost never happened. Indeed, just a few months ago, she considered quitting gymnastics for good. Gabby Douglas, raised by a single mother in Virginia, fought injuries and overcame the odds to be a part of this year’s Olympics.

As a test of her commitment, much like Abraham, she left her home and went to a land she did not know – rural Iowa. For two years, she lived with a white family while she trained, away from her family and friends. With all of that, even her own coaches did not think she had it in her to win in London. But in the end, Gabby outdid herself, scoring, soaring, higher than all of the other competitors. All of her struggles, all the adversity, she faced, paid off in one golden moment.

Gabby’s story teaches us an important lesson – our times of trouble can serve as a great teacher. From our struggles, we grow stronger, wiser, so when trouble comes knocking at our door, we are better able to answer the challenge. During our tough moments, the times that test our mettle, we are able to shine the brightest.

But it is not only difficult times that can help us, like Gabby, to achieve new heights. Sometimes we are challenged by our own success! It isn’t easy to stay hungry and humble when things are going well. It can be tempting to rest on our laurels and bask in our past achievements. Prosperity can breed complacency; success, a sense of apathy or disengagement.

This brings us to perhaps the greatest Olympian of all time - Michael Phelps. After competing in both the Summer Olympics in Athens in 2004 and in Beijing in 2008, there were those who said that Michael Phelps shouldn’t bother swimming again - he had nothing left to prove. Already having 14 gold medals, they said that perhaps he will not train as hard and maybe he would be surpassed by younger, hungrier, swimmers. So what did Michael do? He went out and won four more golds, along with two silvers, making him the most decorated Olympian of all time. Even with all his success, Michael Phelps still pushed himself to be the best.

So it should be with us. May the lessons of these two Olympic greats inspire us to always seek to learn from our hardships and from our accomplishments. With a nod to Michael Phelps, we pray that when our lives are going swimmingly, we strive to cherish our success and continue to work hard, never for a moment taking it for granted, lest we wind up all wet. And with a nod to Gabby Douglas, during our difficult moments, we pray we do not lose our balance, even when our lives are uneven and we feel like tumbling to the floor. In these moments, may we have the strength to vault to new heights, and stick the landing.