Monday, February 22, 2010

Discovering your inner Olympic athlete

I have been watching the Olympics over the past week and have been completely amazed by the talents of extraordinary athletes. Many of us have seen Shaun White’s daring McTwist 1260 on the snowboard half pipe winning him the gold medal after his coach told him ‘to go and have some fun’. Or Apolo Ohno’s graceful focus as he speed skates his way to win medal after medal after medal.

But even more than their athletic ability, I am truly amazed at how these young men and women have set their eyes on a goal and have done whatever it takes, practicing for hours, days, and years, to achieve their dreams even when adversity arises.

Speed skater J.R. Celski cut his leg with his own skate, missing his femoral artery by an inch and nearly bleeding to death, during a race in September 2009, and yet he faced the challenge, continued toward his dream and won a bronze medal a week ago in the men’s 1,500 Meter relay. Or Kris Freeman, pronounced America’s best cross-country skier, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 19, and yet continues to ski during the Olympics on behalf of the U.S. team while closely monitoring his blood sugars and diet so that he can still make his dreams come true.

I never thought it was possible for me to be an athlete, let alone athletic. Besides the fact that I have never been the most coordinated or flexible person, I dismissed athleticism from my repertoire at an early age because of the diabetes.

As I’ve been watching the Olympics, I have begun to remember days when I was a kid and would play tennis and soccer, go sailing or for a hike, and ride my bicycle for hours. I loved being outdoors and active. I didn’t necessarily have what it takes to become an all-star, but I honestly didn’t care. I would just go out and have fun.

I switched schools when I reached the ninth grade, and I decided that I wanted to join the track team. I had never jogged a day in my life. I went to the track on the first day, probably wearing the wrong kind of sneakers, and tried to jog around the track a few times. My shins were killing me. I couldn’t keep up with the others. And I decided after only one try that I wasn’t an athlete. I quit the next day. I blamed the pain and I remember saying to myself, “Well, it’s probably for the best since I have diabetes”.

I limited myself, like many of us do in various aspects of life, inventing reasons not to do something rather than just trying and sticking to it. Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t have tried running track without ever going for a jog, but that’s beside the point.

I didn’t know that a goal or a dream takes time and lots of practice to achieve. I did not know about the right kinds of foods to eat or how to monitor my sugars properly for endurance training. I was trying to be the best on the first try and forgot to have fun.

I decided that I was more of the intellectual, creative arts, social activism type. And for years, I continued to start projects but without ever sticking to them, seeing them through adversity, and reaching the goal. I wasn’t having fun, living in the moment, and finding my zone like an athlete does. I was focused more on the prize or let adversity get the better of me.

So here I am watching the Olympics again, and I can’t help but feel a pang of jealousy telling me, “Why can’t I be an athlete? Why can’t I achieve my potential? See the dream and just go for it!” Okay, fine, I still lack the hand-to-eye coordination, but I bet I can take those characteristics of an Olympic athlete and apply them to other parts of my life as well. We all can.

There’s an adage that says, “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.” But perhaps what we can learn from these Olympic athletes is to have the dream and also the strength, endurance, and dedication to doing whatever it takes to getting there even when adversity arises. Being an athlete means discarding self-limiting beliefs, remaining focused and remembering to have some fun. You are living your dream, after all.

So I have decided that I do have a dream, actually I have a few dreams, and I am going to achieve them like an Olympic athlete.

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