Friday, August 26, 2016

Olympic glory and Olympic lessons

Like so many over the past two weeks, our family followed the Olympics, and enjoyed the quadrennial competition, filled with pageantry and drama.

There are easy comparisons between the RamerNation and Olympic athletes. Most obvious is the spectacle seen when you combine extraordinary genetics and tenacity.  Unfortunately, my children's unusual genetic makeup causes them to be champion cancer patients, rather than athletes. However, I would never bet against them in the tenacity department.

We watched as a family as Michael Phelps made history, earning a record number of medals in his fifth Olympic games.  His teammate manufactured some drama, and I just shake my head.  There is enough turmoil in the world without inventing some more.  Unfortunately, this scandal of the Rio Olympics is all that lingers in the headlines after the closing ceremony.  I would much prefer to remember some inspiring moments and focus on the more positive lessons found in the games. 

Expected to win her fourth straight gold medal in sand volleyball, Kerri Walsh found that she and partner April Ross had lost the semi final match. She acknowledged having something of a private temper tantrum as she talked through a sleepless night with her husband, following her first and only Olympic loss. 

She indicated that her funk resolved when she reminded herself that it is a privilege to make an appearance at the games. She examined the match and owned her mistakes. She got back into the tournament refocused. The next day, the American pair demonstrated teamwork, talent and tenacity in what Kerri described as the 'gnarliest' match of her entire life. The two won the Bronze medal, when measured athletically. However, I think that Kerri Walsh earned a Gold in ways that matter far more. She gave a wonderful interview afterwards:

The Ramers are privileged to make an appearance in our 6th Pediatric Cancer Olympics.  I know that this sounds crazy, but it implies that we have qualified, and succeeded in the previous five. I have had moments of anger, moments of despair.  My husband encourages all of us, and my children fight back with equal measure of grit and grace.  I carry gratitude, by the bucket load. 

Thank you, Kerri Walsh.

Perhaps the truest Olympic moment was during the women's 5000 run. Nearing the end of the race, the runner from New Zeeland, Nikki Hamblin and the US runner Abby D'Agostino tripped up in a pack, both landing on the ground. The American was first up, but came back for the woman who was her rival only an instant before. She offered her hand saying, "Get up, get up!  We have to finish this!" 

Moments later, Abby D'Agostino fell again, overwhelmed by her injury.  This time the New Zeelander, Nikki Hamblin stopped and offered encouragement.  Together, the pair finished the race, but long after the rest of the runners in that heat.

Hamblin said in an interview later, "When I look back on Rio 2016, I am not going to remember where I finished, I am not going to remember my time...but I'll always remember that moment."

So will I.

"If I hadn't waited for her or tried to help her I would have been 10 or fifteen seconds quicker and what does that matter?"

It doesn't.

This is the best part of the Olympics, not the medals, but the moments of personal encouragement and connection. Shortly after this event, I received a note in the mail from dear, but geographically distant friends who enclosed their church bulletin, which listed our family on the prayer list. Our friends, our tribe, they encourage us.  They pray for us.  

Together, we rise up.  We hobble our way to glory.

At the close of the games, some may question if our luck is made or found. Clearly a bit of both come into play when you count up the medals for the athletic event.  The same could be said of the Cancer Olympics. 

However, I believe that the truest measure of our worth is not in the finish, but in our conduct during the race. There is enormous power found in kindness offered to those who are discouraged.  I believe in the power of prayer, of the collective goodwill. I believe that the best in us will always outshine the worst. I believe that it is always worth going for Gold.

I know this, because I see it every day, not just every four years.