Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"CITIUS, ALTIUS, FORTIUS"

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."
~ The Olympic Creed, written by Bishop Ethelbert Talbot at a service for Olympic champions during the 1908 Olympic Games ~
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Ever since I made the decision to come to Whistler to volunteer for these Olympics, I have struggled to articulate, even for myself, how I feel about them.

There’s been lots of criticism of these Games – mostly about the exorbitant amounts of money being spent to stage them (and the fear that we-the-taxpayers will be footing the bill for them long after they’re over), but also about the military-style security, the inconveniences to the folks who live here year-round, the impact on the environment, the long-term effects on local and regional businesses. The negativity, from those who don’t support these games, is loud and clear -- and it overshadowed so much of my experience, originally, that during my first week here, I felt like going home. I didn’t blog about this, but I had come here as a proud Canadian and a happy and enthusiastic volunteer -- and ended up almost ashamed to admit that I was one of the volunteers driving those official IOC gas-guzzling pollution-emitting SUVs around town. In lanes created especially for Olympic vehicles that locals are not allowed to drive in. And parking it in places where locals can no longer park. And with only myself in it.

In the face of all the opposing arguments, my mumbled and vague “I’m doing it for the athletes’ was beginning to sound pretty lame, and it was definitely a reflection of my own deep ambivalence about the whole event.

Then a few things happened …

1. I attended the torch relay ceremony here in Whistler, and along with 10,000 others, witnessed the lighting of the torch.

10,000.People from the community, the region, the province, the nation, and from countries all over the world, who came to watch the torch (symbol of all things Olympic-spirited) being passed from a current Olympian (Julia Murray) to a former Olympian (Steve Podborski) to a future Olympian (Tyler Allison).

And that was just here in Whistler. That torch relay showcased hundreds of stories, all of them inspirational, right across this great nation of ours.

2. I watched the Georgian athletes march into the stadium during the Opening Ceremony only hours after their team-mate had died in a training accident – carrying their flag, proud of their country and prepared to compete in spite of their profound grief.

3. I had a short, and surprising, conversation with a Whistler-Blackcomb Mountain employee during which he reminded me that the country has been in a deep recession for the past year and a half … and that, because of these Olympics, thousands of BC people have been able to stay employed throughout it.

4. I’ve been watching the little feature stories about various athletes on all the major TV networks. Like the one about the skier who broke his neck two years ago, and he’s back competing in these games. The one about the competitor whose older brother with Cerebral Palsy is his hero. The one about the local mom who has two offspring in these Games and who has dedicated her life to supporting them. The one about the hockey players getting up at 2 a.m. to get ‘ice time’ to practice.

And that’s just the few stories I’ve caught. There’s dozens more.

5. I was present at the Ice Dance performance where a 22-year-old and a 20-year-old had the skate of their lives.

6. I had a senior IOC member from Switzerland in my car the other day who, on the way up to the beautiful Callahan Valley Olympic Park venue (where the cross-country and ski-jumping events are being held) described her love of the Olympics and told me about her experience of being in the audience when our Canadian moguls champion got his gold medal. She cried, she said, because the IOC also has such a bad rep due to scandals and politicking and over-spending, and on and on – but she cried because when she saw the medal being placed around Alex’s neck, she “remembered why I spend all this time away from my home. I do this for Alex, and for all the Alex’s in the world.” She went on to say that one of the most amazing parts of her job (having been to three Games now, and already helping Russia with the next one) is the realization, every time, that the Games is the ONLY platform in the world with so many participating countries not only not at war, but CELEBRATING THE SAME THING.

6. I watched Joannie Rochette, one of over 2600 athletes participating in these Games, skate her ‘personal best’ in the women’s figure skating short program last night – three days after her 55-year-old mother died suddenly of a heart attack while arriving in Vancouver to watch her daughter’s performance.

Personal best. Personal best.

This morning, when I woke up, it hit me.

In a world where most of us – the masses, me included – never reach our personal best, never even TRY to reach our personal best (hell, if I break a shoelace before 9 a.m., I’ll have a bad day for sure), I’m witnessing over 2600 human beings who not only have dedicated their entire lives to becoming the best they can possibly be, many of them have done it (and continue to reach for it every day, no matter what), in spite of obstacles and burdens the likes of which have put thousands of others in jails and other institutions all around the world.

Where were you at 19, 22, 25 years of age? What were you doing with your life? I know where I was, and what I was doing …. and it’s kind of pathetic to even think about now, in the face of all these incredible human beings I’m watching and hearing about this month, and the equally incredible families, friends, organizations and governments that support them. People who dare to strive for personal excellence in their lives, and help and support others with those same goals.

Why wouldn’t I want to celebrate that ambition, that persistence, that positive attitude, that determination, at the individual level? Why wouldn’t we ALL? And why doesn’t every nation INTEND to regularly come together to celebrate these kinds of role models and heroes all the time, and to continue creating community in the ways I’ve seen here repeatedly for the past two weeks?? What an amazing, amazing planet we would all inhabit if the ‘Olympic spirit’ that I see at work here, was global, and all of the time.

Couldn’t every one of us stand to go a little ‘"Faster, Higher, Stronger?", as individuals, as nations, as one planet?

You bet I support the Olympics – now more than ever!

4 comments:

Monica said...

I found myself feeling extremely proud of being a Canadian during the Opening Ceremonies. I am and always will be a Patriot and here was a opportunity to show the world why we love our country and what it's all about. While I was watching it, I was hoping that ... See moremy cousin, Colin, all the way in Australia was watching as well as all my other cousins around the world. I'm not a sports fan but find myself interested in the Olympics as here are the best of the best, realizing a dream that they have worked so very hard to attain. I love the traditions surrounding it. It's inspiring. I love the idea of "going for the gold" whether it be in sports, art, family life, politics or loving our children. Here's an opportunity to inspire the world. And while we're at it, let's show off our beautiful province.

wendy said...

wow! skipper, you gave that your all...now i am going to rain on your parade just a tiny bit. i admire your ability to itemize 1. so if lots and lots of people agree and are enthusiastic about a thing it makes it right? 3. thousands of who? what are they paid? could they raise a family and retire ? or are we talking about more cheap youth jobs here? 4.yup, lovely personal stories, they are encouraging, but how does that negate a whole social system? 4a. where there are people there are stories and because we are a social animal those stories are heartwarming. on the downside check out the KGB in the time of the USSR, the Stazi in East Germany, the TonTon Marcoute in Haiti, McCarthy in the US , in fact any zealots/secret service agency in any country in distress--patriots all---and believing for the betterment of their people .6. very lovely sentiments--but why is this so? why cannot the UN dig up the land mines, end child poverty and exploitation around the world? for the very same reason that BC has the highest incidence of child poverty and homelessness in Canada...and why is that? no big gain for the big guys, no optics for the telly i would say....

and none of what i have said is to detract from the incredible ability and determination of the atheletes etc etc etc

and for you girl....you have overcome odds, beat clocks, risen above the crowd, brought true hope to ordinary people against greater barriers then the wonderful kids out there wearing the canadain colours and blasting personal bests in their chosen fields....

i am so happy that the weeks you are donating to this effort is filling you with love and enthusiasm...but don'''t go soft in the brain, keep the perspective---that is our ability as human beings to hold such desparate thoughts in our minds and stay sane! with deep respect

meezermeowmy said...

I continue to enjoy your posts from your view of the Olympics. Each time I see an athlete compete, I wonder if you drove them that day.

The Cheap Momma said...

I stumbled across your blog while looking for Victoria Webcams, and truly enjoyed the Victoria perspective on the Olympics! You have a way with words and this post is moving.