I’m a little hooked on the Olympics.
But can you blame me? All of those strong athletes from around the world chasing down their dreams. Some from powerhouse countries, some from countries I’ve never heard of at all – Togo? – but all speaking the same universal language of victory.
So many sports, so little viewing time. In the past few days I’ve watched white water kayaking, water polo sand volleyball, fencing, basketball, gymnastics and of course – swimming. My favorites are still yet to come – diving, track and field, and all right, I’ll admit it – triathlon.
No matter which sport you are watching, though, you see can see it out there. It is what it takes. It is the life of an athlete. The passion, the drive. The need to wake up early to train, to make sacrifices socially, to closely monitor food intake, to stretch, to improve, to hope, to sometimes just maintain.
Regardless of the sport watching you feel this connection, like you can relate. I am an athlete, they are an athlete too. It’s like watching thousands of your closest friends. You get it. You watch the man in the kayak and you know he has a license plate holder that says “Paddler” or “Up a Creek & Lovin’ It”. That paddle he’s using to muscle through the water – you know he spent more money on it than his car. You know he’s gone on paddling vacations, that he reads paddling magazines and that he has a paddling coach. You know that simply put – paddling is his thing.
I met with a friend the other day. She’s gotten really into bow hunting. Walking into the coffee shop, she was holding a book all about the basics of bow hunting. I told her that something crosses the line from passing fancy to budding obsession when you buy a book. I know because my basement is full of triathlon books. I was so excited to hear her talk about her “new thing”. Her sister got her into archery and soon enough she had her own custom bow. Custom arrows. A fancy protective case. After coffee she was even meeting her sister at the archery range.
I was telling her how interesting it is that in our world there are so many things. So many little niches we can fill. And when you are in a niche – how some place so small – let’s say the sport of triathlon with only 100,000 members in the governing organization – can feel so big. How the little corner that your sport occupies can feel like an entire world. Whether your niche is archery, triathlon, kayaking or even knitting – you can find a place where people are as passionate about it as you are. Some maybe even more.
Even her husband has a thing. He has gotten really into karaoke. Now before you start laughing – trust me, we laughed about it a lot – the fact is that karaoke is just his thing! Four nights a week he goes out to do karaoke. He doesn’t drink. It doesn’t cost money. And the only equipment he needed was a karaoke machine. He goes to a bar or a restaurant where they have karaoke and finds other people there that also like to sing. It's so popular that there are even “regulars” that show up at the same places throughout the week. There are people with reputations for only singing show tunes and others with reputations for singing -well, just really plain bad. But not matter what they all have the same thing in common – they love to sing! It's their thing!
Sometimes the world seems so big or we feel so lost in it that I believe we make our way to these niches so we can find some place small and manageable enough that we belong. At other times I think it is our medicine to cover up a condition that otherwise would rule our life probably not as productively. The other night I was watching a program about female bodybuilders. They had interviewed a doctor who speculated that any obsessive endeavor into sport could be our body’s way of covering up a depressive condition. The behavior then becomes our body’s way of administering its own medicine. If that’s the case then there are a lot of us out there getting good medicine from our things!
And maybe that is why we all have our thing. It just feels good! Really then the Olympics is just a celebration of people that really found the right thing. They were talking on the radio this morning about Michael Phelps – about how he is absolutely built for swimming. Look at his lats! His wingspan is over 72 inches! Some of those guys have size 15 feet! You bet they can power and move through the water – or down a lane in 10 strokes or less. Watch enough of the different Olympic sports and you realize that everyone has a thing. There is something for everyone in life. And even if you’re not built for something as long as you work hard at it and enjoy that process, you’re probably pursuing a very good thing.
I like watching the Olympics because I like thinking about each athlete and their thing. I wonder what life for them is like. What do they eat every day and how do they live. Sometimes I read Simon Whitfield’s blog when I need a good reminder of what it takes. He talks about his diet – which is so colorful and clean it makes my diet look like floor dirt – he talks about his daily training regimens, how every detail of his training is centered on his success at his next race – the Olympics! People often ask what it takes to achieve peak performance, to get faster or better. That is what it takes! You don’t have to be Simon Whitfield but you do need to pay attention to the details. Those are the little things that are so easy to control once you decide to do it – and the little things that add up to big things.
And when I watch the Olympics, I can relate to all of those little things. We’ve all made sacrifices too. Maybe it’s not deciding to eat gluten-free bread but we’ve made sacrifices with our families, work, other things to be able to fully pursue our thing. And to do that is not selfish or unworthy – it’s what you feel is the right thing. For whatever reason, the thing you have chosen to do fills you up in a way that nothing else can. It makes you feel alive, real and purposeful. So you agree to the sacrifices, you do the best you can to balance your life while pursuing your thing.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
So when I watch the Olympics, I understand what they are all about and what they are hoping for. Victory, success. Fulfillment of their dreams. Actualization of their goals. I have dreams, too. I move in their direction every single day. I make sacrifices and I coach athletes that do all of these things too. And sure the Olympics is on a completely different level but with victory – we can relate. We all know what it’s like to win – whatever winning is to you. Success, pride, accomplishment – these are universal concepts that we all understand.
Universal? Or maybe just part of our natural development. A recent study showed that even our expression of these concepts – the expression of pride or victory – is innate. Something we all know how to do at birth. At a Paralympics judo competition, even those athletes born without sight celebrated their victory by puffing their chests and raising their arms above their head. They engaged in a victory display – even though they’ve never seen one before. If you watched the men’s swim relay the other night, Phelps gave a perfect example of that type of display. We all knew what it meant. It meant – victory.
Victory at your thing – whatever your thing may be. Find it, chase after it, fulfill yourself. And when you reach your victory – you know what to do. Actually your body can’t help it. Throw your hands up and celebrate. It’s your thing – you found it, you worked hard at it, you made it. At the local sprint tri or the Olympics - we're all athletes here. We get it. Now go do your thing!