In Pursuit of Greatness

Like most of America, my family has been under the spell of Summer Olympic Magic. For the past two and a half weeks, we sat in front of the TV and cheered on TEAM USA. Usually, Jason and I limit the amount of TV time for our girls, but all regulations flew out the window in honor of this occasion that only happens every four years. It didn't matter the event--Mountain Biking, Rowing, Wrestling, Gymnastics (my personal fave)--we sat enthralled, awe-struck by the effort and dedication that it takes be an Olympic athlete in any sport.

Our girls not only enjoyed the unrestricted TV time that the Olympics brought to their lives, but they also embraced the Olympic Spirit in other ways. The Olympics broadened Landry's horizons to new countries, continents, languages, time zones, and the rules of various sports. (I justified all of the extra time in front of the TV with the fact that it was educational, after all).  Landry's kind, compassionate spirit showed every time the cameras sought out that "agony of defeat" shot of an athlete, and she would earnestly say, "I hate it when they show them lose." (I don't know where she gets that from). Peyton, on the other hand, unearthed an old plastic gold medal from her collection of treasures and wore it around her neck for the past two weeks, proudly proclaiming, "If I was in the Olympics, I would win all the medals." (We don't have to worry about low self-esteem with that one). Also, the Olympics intensified Pey's competitive nature. Everything was a race, and guess which team she always represented?  For example, when we went up the stairs to get ready for bed, she would say, "Mom, I will be USA, and you will be China. Ready, GO! Oh, look! Team USA WON!" (China does not like to race up the stairs).

While my girls basked in Olympic Love, I reflected on my own Olympic dreams and could not help but laugh. As a child of the 80s, I remember the glory days of Mary Lou Retton.  I dreamed of donning that iconic leotard and flipping and flying my way into the hearts of America. Seriously, I thought that could happen. But there was only one problem: my serious lack of gymnastics ability. As a high school cheerleader, I had a short run as a "tumbler" with a round-off, flip-flop the only trick in my gymnastics arsenal (I don't think that would score very high on the floor routine). My roommates called me "Mary Lou" in college (which I secretly loved), not because of my vaulting abilities, but because of my height and hair cut. Sadly, my dreams of being an Olympic gymnast never came true (but did you see the 37 year old gymnast?? I admit that gave me a glimmer of hope). But alas, I will never be a Mary Lou Retton or a Gabby Douglas. I have come to accept that. But watching the Olympics still made me want to feel that high of ultimate athletic achievement, so I secretly compared the times of the track and field phenoms to my own pathetic attempts at running a mile, and I couldn't help but think I Suck.

Until I saw that Nike commercial. If you have only watched 30 minutes of Olympics coverage throughout this whole two and a half weeks, then I bet you have seen it, too. It's the one with the boy jogging down the desolate road with the voice-over about how greatness "is not some rare DNA strand." As the boy comes into closer view, the voice proclaims that greatness is not just reserved for world-class athletes, "We are all capable of it...all of us." (And of course, there is controversy over this ad because we are America, the Land of Controversy, which I think I addressed in a previous post. I think it's an inspiring commercial. I will leave it at that).

Watching people dig deep and achieve a goal that they thought was impossible inspires me. (In fact, it is one of the main reasons I devote my life to public education. This doesn't happen only in athletics; it happens in all areas of life.) As I watched the Olympics, I got misty countless times as I saw athletes stand on the podium and cry for the love of their country and their sport. I became a sucker for those montage videos about their personal lives that highlighted the struggle, sacrifice, commitment that it took to achieve greatness. But watching these scenes time and time again also caused me to do a gut-check and ask myself, "Is there anything in my life that I would work that hard for? Is there anything in my life that I'm willing to make those kinds of sacrifices for?" It's as if Nike knew what I was thinking--that humbling realization that watching the Olympics brought to many: that most of us will never break a world record or stand on an Olympic podium to accept a gold medal. Is that truly the only definition of greatness? I like Nike's message: No, it's not. 

About three years ago, I started working out on the treadmill. As a 30-something Mom of two who just happens to be under five feet tall (like Mary Lou!), Mother Nature made it very clear that I needed to get my body moving if I wanted to continue my love affair with food and wine. So I started walking on the treadmill and setting small goals to challenge myself. Walking became walking/jogging and now I run. On the eve of turning 37, I can run 2.25 miles (without stopping) in under 26 minutes. In comparison to Usain Bolt, he could do that with two broken legs, but I need to stop that horrible Game of Comparison and be proud of my own Greatness. I think that's the point of the Nike ad--stop comparing ourselves to others and focus on our own goals; when we reach those goals, that's when we achieve Greatness. 

Three years ago, I could not run a lap--much less a mile--and I had no desire to do so. I have always had this mental block against running. I hated running, and I used to joke that the only reason for me to run was if someone was chasing me. But now I am slowly becoming a runner--a person who actually enjoys it. In fact, I will go so far as to say that my body craves it. CRAZY! It has become my ultimate stress reliever.A slow process of baby step goals have brought me to this point, and I still have goals that I want to accomplish. But the point is this: I dug deep to find my Greatness. I did something that I never thought I could do. As I stare 40 in the face, I vow to stop comparing myself to others in all areas of my life. Yes, some of my friends can run a half marathon with only a couple of months of training. That is their greatness, and I am proud of them for that. But can I do that? Probably not. And that has to be okay. I don't have to stand on a podium and receive a gold medal to feel worthy of greatness. I just have to work hard to reach my own personal goals.

As the Olympics come to an end, I reflect on what this historical event has done for me as a person and for us as a country. Watching these athletes achieve greatness has inspired me to continue my own personal pursuit of Greatness --continue running, continue writing, continue finding passion in all areas of my life. Greatness is not just about achieving workout and athletic goals--it's about finding my Greatness in life. 

As a country, for two weeks we were all cheering for the same team. But now that the Olympics are ending, we will go back to being divided by politics and college football team allegiances. Oh well. It was GREATNESS while it lasted.


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