“And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” Hebrews 12:1 b
Feb 4 – Feb 15, 1976, Innsbruck, Austria. My first memory of falling in love. Later that summer, July 17- August 1, 1976 Montreal, Quebec, Canada I fell deeper. I was just 6 years old. That most impactful year was my first introduction to the world of Olympic sport and I was captivated – my heart, my soul, my everything. Since that time I’ve never wavered for my love for all things Olympic. I watch the opening ceremony, I watch most of the competitions, I fall asleep to it and the next morning I turn on the morning news shows to watch the interviews.
I think most little girls fell in love with Dorothy Hamill- 1976 Gold medalist in women’s ice skating. We were enamored with her beauty, her elegance, her haircut. If you look back to pictures from the mid to late 70’s you will see a similar theme in hair styles called – the “wedge”. We all wanted to look just like her. I have a very clear memory of sitting in the beauty shop chair saying “I want a Dorothy Hamill hair cut.” Isn’t it funny the things that hold place cards in our filing cabinet of memories?
And Nadia, sweet Nadia, Gold Medal gymnast from Romania. She was just 14 years old and the first person to score a perfect 10 at the Olympics. Her bow tied pig tails, her shy smile, her absolute dominance in all gymnastic disciplines are memories cemented in my heart. In the winter I had been inspired to skate as much as I could on our frozen lake conveniently located at the end of our block and when I returned to school in the fall of ’76 I begged my mom to enroll me in the after school gymnastic classes held in our school gym.
Dorothy and Nadia… their influence changed my little self… for so much good.
They made me want to be better. They inspired me to want to learn new things. My heart soared when I watched them. When Dorothy skated I danced around my basement pretending I had skates on. When I did get on the ice I taught myself how to skate backwards and go into a spin – pulling my arms in tight towards my body and moving in what felt like very fast circles. When Nadia moved effortlessly over the uneven bars I ran to my backyard to hang from the bar on my swing set – attempting to fling myself to the ground without using my hands. I lived in my imagination of bigger things and fantastic dreams and……
I felt alive.
As I think back on the impact those women had on my little 6 year old self I understand why I still deeply love the Olympics. Over the last two weeks of investing hours watching or at least listening while working or cleaning or cooking, my love grew. I collected stories from both those that achieved great success and many that fell short of their goals. The olympics remind me that life does not always feel fair – this time more than ever. They remind me that humanity does not always rise up. They remind me that there are tomorrows after both victory and failure. Here are a few of the athletes stories that I will take with me when the events end and the Olympic flame is extinguished.
“I don’t wait to do tomorrow what I’m capable of doing today.” Winter Vinecki – US Olympic aerial skier from Michigan commenting on what she learned from the adversity she has faced in her young life – including loosing her dad to cancer when she was 9 years old.
“Stay out of their business – they have coaches.” Advice for parents of child athletes from Sheldon Peterson father of Tabatha and Tara Peterson – US Olympic curling team and sisters.
“Listen to your parents.” Nathan Chen, US Olympic Gold Medalist in mens figure skating when asked – What makes you so good?
“When you’re going through Hell – keep going”. Taylor Shiffrin – brother to US Olympic Women’s downhill skier – Mikaela Shiffrin when she wanted to quit skiing after her dad unexpectedly passed away.
“Do your best every day. Never give up on yourself and dreams. Surround yourself with support!” US Olympic Silver Medalist in the Super G Ryan Cochran-Siegle – Mens downhill skiing event. He returned to skiing after experiencing a broken neck.
“Three keys to success – Perseverance. Patience and Passion.” Zoi Synnott New Zeeland snow boarding Olympian. Her coach credits her with “Keeping things simple in complex situations, always trying to be better than the day before.”
“My biggest strength is that I ask for help.. now.” Jessie Diggins US cross country skiing Olympian – who over came an eating disorder so she could continue skiing.
“Let the turkeys get you down. There will always be turkeys. Or get up. Again. Again. Again. Again. Again. Again. Get up because you can. Because you like what you do when it’s not infested with the people who have so much apparent hate for you. Just get up. It’s not always easy, but it’s also not the end of the world to fail. Fail twice. Fail 5 times. At the Olympics. ( Enter me…). Why do I keep coming back? Gosh I knows it hurts more than it feels good lately. I come back because those first 9 turns today were spectacular, really heaven. That’s where I’m meant to be and I’m stubborn as S**T. So lets go for some team event training tomorrow and then the final alpine race of this olympics on Saturday.” Mikaela Shiffrin responding to critics after she failed to finish ( DNF) 3 of her events in the Olympics.
Finally – I learned that 2 X Gold medalist in freestyle skiing David Wise credits his power and strength to a strong faith in Jesus Christ. “I want people to say – Dave did it different than anyone else and he was still alarmingly successful.”
Over the last two weeks I have asked many if they are fans of the Olympics. I am simply shocked when some friends share they might watch and others that weren’t even aware that they were happening. I have taken it as personal challenge to help others fall as deeply in love with them as I have. I want everyone to share in the joy, the disappointments, the victories, the failures and the life lessons in each Olympic story that unfolds. And I ask myself, “Why?”
I think it’s because I want others to marvel at the athletes commitment to their life calling and be inspired to give that same kind of attention to their own. The determination, focus, belief, tenacity that I see modeled in Olympians are really at the same level I feel like I need in my own life, in my own little space in the world, in my calling. I’m not competing to win a gold medal but I certainly want to maximize the life I’ve been given. I’ll most likely never be asked to represent a sports drink or an athletic shoe but I have been asked to, in the verbiage of the writer of Hebrews, “to run with endurance the race God has set before me.” He proceeds this statement with this statement – “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.” Hebrews 12:1. Like the athlete that shows up to the gym, or the track or the slopes. Like the olympian that surrounds themself with coaches and trainers and experts – I want to show up. I want to listen. I want to learn. I want to get up when I fall. I want to learn from my mistakes. I want to celebrate the victories. I want to appreciate the unique ways God has created me and all those around me. I want to embrace every opportunity He has orchestrated for my good and His glory. I want to receive the promised grace and mercy on my bad days and I want to freely give it on my good.
I guess it’s ok if you’re not as much a super fan of the Olympics as I am….
I guess it’s ok if you’ve watched Netflix, or apple tv or hallmark channel or absolutely nothing the last 2 weeks…
I guess it’s ok if you don’t know who won the gold in the super G, or the mono bob, or what the Kiss and Cry station is for ice skaters or that there almost wasn’t a medal ceremony for the women’s ice skating champions…
BUT….. I desperately want you to know that you are called to bring your best, to receive the most, to embrace the worst, to get up again, to learn, to grow, to love, to live full out…..
the race you’re running.
I want you to believe that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. That all your days were recorded in His book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. Psalm 139.
I want you to understand that with God’s strength you will be able to stand firmly and tread safely on paths of testing and trouble. Psalm 18:33 AMP
I want you to remember that your Savior will renew your strength, guide you along right paths, protect and comfort in dark valleys. Psalm 23. NLT
I need to know we’re in this together. I need to know you are with me on this journey embracing the freedom of knowing our ultimate victory celebration is secure. Our eternal medal ceremony is waiting not because of what we have done or will do but because of what Jesus did on our behalf.
He is our ultimate coach.
He is our faithful guide.
He is the Champion of our souls.
The author and perfecter of our faith – the Ultimate victory.
My eyes are on Him – let the games begin.