Sunday, February 16, 2014

Lessons from the Olympics

Cituius, Altius, Fortius – these three words are the motto of the modern Olympic games. Does anyone know what those three words mean? Swifter, higher, stronger! It is what every Olympian strives for. For many of them, it has been their life long dream. Hasn’t everyone sometime in his or her lives dreamed of being an Olympic gold medal winner? I know I did.

I am an Olympic junkie I love the Olympics, though I admit the summer Olympics are my favorite since I am a distance runner and love track and field events the most. I love the lessons that you can learn as the athletes compete, some achieving their gold medal dream but most do not they are there for the experience. ABC’s World Wide Sports coined the phrase: “the thrill of victory…they agony of defeat” and that has really been true in this year’s Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

One such athlete is Noelle Pikus-Pace, a member of US Skeleton Team. Noelle lives in Eagle Mountain, Utah and is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She was the favorite for gold in the 1996 Torino, Italy Olympics, but was hit by a bobsled that jumped the track and broke her leg just before the games began. She came back and competed in the Vancouver, Canada Olympics in 2010, but ended up missing the Bronze Medal by a .10th of a second. She decided to retire from the sport so she could spend more time with her husband and two children. When she was pregnant with their third child she had a miscarriage and lost the child. Her husband tried to convince her to return to competition but she did not want to leave her family. A compromise was struck and they decided she would return and they would join her on her trips to compete wherever she went and they have done that. She has won several world championships, but an Olympic medal was still missing. Earlier this week in a training run she suffered a concussion, but did not tell anyone. The day of her first run she fell asleep between runs and one of the volunteers had to wake her to tell her it was her turn. She said she could not remember what was happening. She competed this past Thursday and Friday in the Skeleton event and ended up winning the sliver medal. Afterwards she said:

"Every race I write down three goals for myself and my No. 1 goal was: 'This is it. Don't get scared now,'" she said, laughing. "I just wanted to go out there and enjoy it and I did. Between runs I gave my coach Tuffy Latour a big hug and said, 'This is it, this is what we've come all this way to do, to be here in this Olympic moment.' And we did it and when I came down and I crossed that finish line, we truly did do it."
Within moments of completing her final trip down a track, she jumped over the wall, hopped into the bleachers and embraced her family. Lacee, upon learning that her mom won a medal, asked if she was getting a new necklace. Her family started figuring out how the media blitz of the next couple days would work.
"Honestly, getting hit by the bobsled, people look back and say, 'Oh, man, that's horrible,'" Pikus-Pace said. "Taking fourth in the Olympics, people say, 'Ah, too bad, that stinks.' And then I had a miscarriage at 18 weeks and many tears were shed, but if I hadn't gone through every one of those things I would not be here today, and this is right where I want to be and to have my family is beyond words. I am beyond words." (
When asked what the experience would have been like without her family she said:

I absolutely, first and foremost, love being a mom,” she said beaming, “100 percent — I love being a mom, and that will always be my priority. I want to make sure my kids can do anything, that they can be anything, and that they can have dreams that I will be right there, by their sides cheering them along the way. I want to join PTA; I want to bake cookies; I want to plant a big garden. I want to be at home doing the things I love doing. It was worth every minute of it.” (

Jeremy Abbott, the figure skater from Colorado stumbled in the short program on the first day of the team competition, but with the help of other members the US Team ended up with the Bronze Medal. In the individual competition last Thursday Jeremy fell hard at the beginning of his individual program and it looked as if he was not going to finish his routine. The crowd began to cheer and he got up and finished with a nearly flawless routine from that point on. At the conclusion the crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Jeremy has won several national championships, but the media was really negative about his performance and in response he said:

"Nobody has to stand center ice in front of a million people and put an entire career on the line for eight minutes of their life when they've been doing it for 20-some years," Abbott continued. "And if you think that that's not hard, then you're a damn idiot." …"So some people can handle it better than others, but everyone has that mental struggle and everyone goes through the same doubts and the same things," Abbott said. "Some people have their moment at the Olympics and some people have theirs at the national championships." (

Yevgeny Plushenko, a three time world champion and three time gold medalists, and figure skater from Russia helped his team win gold in the first ever team competition in figure skating had to drop out of the individual competition after the pain in his back was so intense he could not perform his routine. He is being criticized for dropping out. Fame is so fleeting; you can be a hero one minute then you are demonized another for the decisions you make.

After Bode Miller failed to get any medal in his second event he was trash talking himself and could not find anything positive and his wife said that she was proud of him and that he did his best and should not be so hard on himself. They must have had microphones on them because the camera was on them and you could hear their conversation. She was so supportive of him in front of millions of people on national TV. 

I think there are several things we can apply to our lives from these four examples of public figures.

  1. We all have our struggles in life and how we deal with them shows our true character. All of these Olympians had expectations of what they wanted to achieve in their events. None of them did what they wanted, but they all were satisfied that they did their best. Noelle Pikus-Pace was thrilled with the silver medal. Jeremy Abbott wanted to be remembered for the one that got back up and finished in spite of his fall. Yevgeny Plushenko, wanted to be remembered for all the achievements he had made and not for the one that he could not do. Even Bode Miller should be remembered for being the most decorated alpine skier in U.S. Olympics and not for this one. We will all fail, probably many times. Fortunately most of us won’t do it in front of millions of people on TV. Will we get back up and try again and again, until we success or will we give up after the first fall?
  2. How will we react when someone we know falls or fails at something? Will we be like those who criticize and mock or will we be there like the families of the Olympians that stood and cheered and loved them in spite of their failures? Will we tell them to stay down or will we cheer for them to get up and try again (or better yet will we be there to pick them up and push them back out there to compete again)?
  3. Will we have the courage to try something that is difficult or new even knowing we might fail or will we allow fear to prevent us from the growth that comes from stretching ourselves to the point where failure is probable? Every one of the Olympic Athletes have experienced failure, in fact failure in sports is more often the result for those who achieve Olympic medals but they continue to get up, to run one more race until they finally get their spot on the medal stand. Even then there are only three at the top while there are many others that will never see the medal podium, but they are thrilled to be a part of the process.
  4. How do we react when others achieve greatness, or a promotion, or a spot on the medal podium and we don’t? Do we blame others for not getting there, or the weather, or some other external factor? Will we celebrate those that made it? Only in celebrating the successes of others will we eventually enjoy that success ourselves.
So may we all adopt the Olympic Motto of cituius, altius, fortius and be swift to help those who have fallen or failed in the world’s eyes. May we lift up others to a higher level of living as we give service to them and may we be stronger in defending anyone who is in need of a kind word, a loving hand or simply a smile? May we follow the Master Teacher, Jesus Christ, when he said that we should lose ourselves in the service of others, by visiting the sick or those in prison, clothing the naked, and feeding the hungry? If we do these things we will hear that greeting from the Savior when we meet him: “Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” (Matthew 25:23)

Your comments and questions are welcome.

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