Olympic Games and Effort for Foolish Things

Am I the only one who gets into a bit of a funny mood around the time of the Olympics?  I mean, I love them wholeheartedly; to me it’s as exciting as a holiday that only comes around once every four years.  When the Games are on, just about all I do is sit in front of the television and cheer on our athletes.  I can’t help it; I am an athlete myself, I live for sports (and literally make my (meager) living because of them) and this celebration of friendly competition makes my heart swell.  I get goosebumps when I think of the unbelievable amount of work, dedication, and sacrifice these athletes have given in order to get here, and am truly inspired; I know how much it takes to get good, and to get that good seems nearly unhuman.  I’ll even freely admit that the Olympic anthem almost brings tears to my eyes.

However, I also must admit, less freely, that there is another part of me.  A tiny, nagging feeling that seems to grow every year, with every major sporting event (at least, every one that I care about – luckily I’m not into popular ball sports or I’d be in trouble).  Try as I might, I can’t seem to curb that feeling.  It’s quiet, but incredibly persistent.  That feeling wears on me, reminds me of my ever-increasing age[1], of my past failures, of sports that I have quit or times I could have tried harder but didn’t.  That feeling also creeps into my current sports, and tells me that I’m not very good at them, that I am making a fool of myself by working so hard when I’m really not going anywhere.  It tells me I will never succeed, not really, not to a good enough degree – so I shouldn’t be trying.  It leaves me questioning why I do these things at all.

I attempt to find that feeling and stop it, but it is very sly, very sneaky, and though it can be weakened (with a lot of effort) I imagine it is impossible to actually kill.  That feeling has popped up throughout my entire life, and I have a bad suspicion that it will continue to do so.  I think the feeling is called doubt.  I know I’m not the only one who feels it.

In fact, I think most of society feels it, and repeats a similar message over and over and over: things aren’t worth doing if a) you’re not the absolute best (or close to it) already, or b) they’re not moving you forward in life.  We tend to believe that things seen as ‘leisure activities’ like sports are a waste of time if taken too seriously, or done more than recreationally; especially once you are an adult.

So, that has led me (the long way) to my main point: why do sports at all?  What do they really get us?  We are spending such a large portion of our lives on something that does not move us forward, in the eyes of society: for most of us it does not make us money, or further our careers, or help us raise families.  Why do something that we do not feel we necessarily should be doing?[2]

Well, I’m still trying to figure out that answer for myself.  I am still trying to justify dedicating so much time, energy and money to things that most people deem ‘useless.’  I still have not found a satisfying answer.  Maybe there is no answer, no justification, and sports really are a waste of time.  I refuse to actually believe that, however.

Instead, I believe this:  Life is more than mere survival, more than filling the basic needs of food and shelter.  People have more needs than that.  I feel that some of these needs consist of competition, of setting goals, and of bettering ourselves.  And most importantly, having a physical outlet.  We need sports for the same reason we need art, and music, and dancing, and games: without these things, life would be bland and dull and boring, and in my honest opinion rather sad.

However, I dare say that most of these needs could be fulfilled by recreational sports.  So what about those of us who have more of a passion than that?  Who decide to throw our entire lives, heart and soul, into our sports?  Who take competition seriously, even at the lower levels?  Is it not pointless to train hard when we will probably never be the best, and something like the Olympics doesn’t seem possible?

I could make the point that even Olympic athletes were not born Olympic athletes, knowing the possibilities, or where they would end up.  That they were just like you and me, and questioned themselves, yet did their sports because they loved them, the greatness came later.  We only see the end result, we do not see the hours they have put in, over days, over years, that led to that result.

However, I don’t think you have to be an Olympic athlete to be worthwhile as an athlete.  I don’t think you need to be great in order to justify how much your sport (or whatever you do) means to you.  In fact, I don’t think hard work needs any justification at all.

The lesson I choose to take from the Olympic Games is this: these athletes are not only to be respected because they are the best, as they have not always been the best.  They are to be respected for the work they did when they were not the best.  For the times that they felt stupid for their dreams but kept dreaming anyway.  For the times that they were beaten but tried again.  Mostly, for finding the quiet and persistent strength to ignore that nagging voice of doubt.

 

[1] Though 41-year-old Olympic gymnast Oksana Chusovitina proves that age doesn’t matter as much as we tend to think!

[2] As my friend said in How to Fail at Life: An Introduction: “don’t should all over yourself.”

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