What We Can Learn About Perseverance From the Winter Olympics
"Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up. "
(Life advice given by Alfred, Bruce Wayne's assistant and confidante, in the movie Batman Begins)
The Winter Olympics will officially commence with opening ceremonies starting this Friday on February 12th In Vancouver. The world will be watching as athletes, who have been training in their particular sport for most of their life, will compete for the gold. A complete list of events can be found on the official Vancouver 2010 web site detailing each sport such as speed skating, ice hockey, snowboarding, and my personal favorite, figure skating. With so much pressure on these athletes to perform and perform well, I always wonder how they deal with setbacks, less than perfect scores, and defeat. We get to watch the end result of all their training and dedication to their sport. But we quite often don't get to see the personal stories behind the icons we are viewing on our television screen.
When we do get a glimpse into the personal lives of some of these Olympians we see a theme emerge of perseverance. When they fall or fail they get up again. Along with learning how to win, the life lesson for many of these athletes is also how to lose. They learn to recognize that loss and even failure is an essential part of the process of working towards a goal.
Two examples of this sort of perseverance are Nordic Combined (involves ski jumping and cross-country skiing in two separate events held on one day) competitor Bill Demong and speed skater Jennifer Rodriguez, who will both get to experience their fourth Olympics. Both of these Olympians know what it is like to experience challenges and setbacks in competition as well as in their personal life. At the 2009 World Championships Demong misplaced his athlete's bib, which must be worn on the front of the athlete's outer layer of clothing, causing him to be disqualified and leaving his U.S. team mates in a lurch. Then there was also his personal setback in the summer of 2002 when he fractured his skull diving into a shallow swimming pool. Demong had to take off a full year from competing and this is when he learned carpentry. The accident had caused him to suffer from short-term memory loss and he reported that carpentry helped to stimulate his brain activity. Undeterred from his goals, Demong is back to compete in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Jennifer Rodriguez is another athlete who has not let loss in competition or in her personal life, hinder her from pursuing her sports passion of speed skating. Rodriguez felt defeat at the 2006 Turin Olympics where she failed to win a medal and finished 10th and 8th in two events she had previously held medals for. This loss caused her to put her skates away for two years. In an ESPN article by Bonnie D. Ford, "Growing, learning, living as an Olympian," Rodriguez is quoted as confiding: ""I actually went into a little depression." In 2008 she decided to come back to skating. But personal tragedy was right on the heels of this decision. Within the next year Rodriguez would experience financial difficulties, a divorce, and the loss of her mother to cancer. She has explained during interviews that her skating is therapy for her. In this same ESPN article Rodriguez speaks of her mother as the inspiration for her to go on: "I thought about quitting. And then I realized she would kill me."
These stories show me that it doesn't matter who you are, everyone experiences their share of defeat and loss. We are so keen on those moments of victory that I think we forget to show the journey of how people got there. It is hardly ever a straight line to success. There will always be road blocks along the way.
I think we can all relate to experiencing setbacks or even failure in our lives. I know I can. In 45 years one accumulates many memories related to things which didn't work out as planned. I can remember the first job I left before being fired. There were the relationships that didn't work out. There was the first failing grade in college chemistry. There were jobs I applied for but never got. I have had wacky entrepreneur ideas that didn't pan out such as selling baked goods at the flea market and making all of ten dollars for days of baking. There have been failed vacations and burned dinners and attempts to knit sweaters with the classic one sleeve shorter than the other one. There was the time that I brought home a watermelon from the store and during my walk up to my third floor apartment, the melon broke loose and bounded down the stairs and broke the hall window before plummeting to the street below. Bad things happen in life whether they are little things that you laugh about later or big things that you cry about like losing a job, wrecking a car, or ending a relationship. There are times when you are going to fall down flat on your face and feel steamrolled by life. But the trick is to get up from the pavement and begin again.
Hearing the stories about these athletes makes me feel more accepting of my own trials and tribulations. We are not always going to get the "gold" so to speak. But we can learn to enjoy the process of working to pursue our dreams whatever they may be. As we watch the world class athletes compete in the next two weeks, we can be reminded that most things worth accomplishing are not going to be easy. Perhaps it is better that way. Perhaps it is better that we must persevere. The pursuit of our personal goal of excellence in whatever endeavor we choose, teaches us the art of overcoming. This is something we must all learn in life to ever be truly successful.
Now it is your turn! What setbacks have you had to overcome in your life? Were there times when you have experienced defeat? How did you rise up from those experiences to keep going? Share your stories. We love to hear from you!