Olympics Inspire Ordinary People to Great Feats

Olympics Inspire Ordinary People to Great Feats

Olympics Inspire Ordinary People to Great Feats

By Cheryl McGinnis

Though it''s time to buy Halloween candy and think about pulling out those running tights, it seems like only yesterday that it was summer and we were heading to the pool and tuning in to the Olympic events.

Many of us lived vicariously as our Olympic athletes reached for the gold that only a few can grasp, not knowing whether they would experience victory or defeat. But, most importantly, they were willing to take the risk. Along with the rest of the world, we all watched with awe and envy at the strong, graceful bodies racing down tracks, slicing through water and tumbling nimbly over gymnastic bars.

As we store away our shorts and summer memories, let''s reflect on what a philosopher once wrote: "There are no great people, rather there are great challenges that ordinary people are forced to meet."

Since 1896, when a Frenchman named Baron Pierre de Coubetin organized the first modern Olympic Games, thousands have made the choice to pursue excellence, rather than sit safely as spectators in the stands.

But there is more to the Olympic Games than victory. It is essential that all of us (the ordinary people) understand that the difference between victory and defeat is only a fraction of a second. These dedicated athletes train for years just for that moment of perfect performance. In 1936, Jesse Owens dared to defy Hitler''s philosophy of "the superiority of the Aryan race" by winning four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics. However, it wasn''t until 15 years later that Owens was able to take the victory lap that he had earned. Wearing the same uniform from years past, he smiled as the mayor Ernst Reuter spoke these words to the crowd, "Jesse Owens.15 years ago. Hitler refused to shake your hand. I will try to make up for it by taking both your hands."

With that example, we should accept our challenges whole-heartedly. We are free to embark on our challenges with hands and feet unbound. We have no limitations. No excuses.

Another athlete that captured my attention was the Netherlands '' Fanny Blankers-Koen, one of the world''s greatest sprinters. After facing the disappointment of two consecutive Olympic Games'' cancellations, Koen married her coach and gave birth to two children. She continued to train, keeping her sights on the 1948 Games.

Despite the newspaper''s scandalous stories about her leaving behind two small children to jump and run in London , Fanny became even more determined to prove that a 30-year old mother of two could compete with younger competitors. Today she is still the only woman to have won four gold medals in the same Olympiad. She has shown that despite all odds, any of us can choose to pursue the path of excellence.

Johnny Kelly pursued the marathon (26.2 miles) well into his 70s and became a legend and inspiration to runners of all ages. He wouldn''t think of allowing age to become a deterrent.

It is this kind of courage and ability to endure against all odds that sets these individuals apart from the crowd. The same qualities push wheelchair participants up steep hills, inspiring both spectators and fellow competitors.

Many Olympic runners have logged mega-miles on treadmills in their basements. Some athletes bike to and from work, while others sleep in an altitude tent to simulate oxygen debt, rather than train on a mountaintop. They, like us, have other
commitments and must try to juggle personal life with career and athletic goals.

Sports historian Bud Greenspan, after recording Olympic events for over three decades, created a film applauding heroes such as these. He recalls the words that since the earliest days in ancient Greece have sent athletes into the arena: "Ask not alone for victory; ask for courage, for if you can endure, you bring honor to yourself. Even more, you bring honor to us all."

We have to remember that we too can achieve excellence if we so choose. As we enter into winter, we must hold on to the memory and inspiration of the Summer Olympians and focus on ways that they can motivate us to be the best we can be.

Cheryl McGinnis has a B.A. in English from Centre College, where she served as communications associate, cross-country coach and sports information director. Cheryl was Kentucky ''s NCAA Woman of the Year (1993) and National Inspirational Athlete of the year (1994). She is a member of Team USA , competing most recently in both the 2004 World Triathlon and World Duathlon. She was named All-American in triathlon and duathlon in 2003. Cheryl is also a certified personal fitness specialist and spinning instructor and owner of 2nd Wind, a coaching business with a focus on mental techniques, and co-owner of RESOLUTIONS, a motivational company. To contact Cheryl, call 693-7443 or email offrunnin@yahoo.com

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