I want to be an Olympian. Not really. I mean, yes really, but I’m probably a little old and don’t really posses the talent necessary to be national, let alone world class, in any sport. Unless it turns out I’m freakishly good at shooting or something… it’s unlikely.
Really though, I think I’ve watched every hour of broadcast (prime time) of the Olympics. And although I’m not quite as in love with the winter games as I am with the summer I’m still so in awe of what these men and women have accomplished. For most athletes the Olympics is the pinnacle of their athletic career. They’ve often sacrificed everything just to get to the starting line and for most it will not lead to fame, fortune or even stability.
I think it’s easy to look at someone like my boyfriend Apolo Ohno and think that training and performing at his peak comes easily because he just makes it look so easy. But the more I dig into what these athletes do to prepare, the more I realize that it’s not. They work far harder to succeed than you or I ever will. I mean, Apolo basically ate veggies and fish for an entire year in order to get down to an amazing 2.5% body fat. He went to bed early, conditioned, cross trained, did drills and buckled down to put in the work. No excuses, no short cuts– just amazing talent refined by hours of hard work.
I was also really inspired by our Nordic Combined team. These men brought home an amazing 6 medals– the first in this event for the U.S. Considering I’d never even heard of Nordic Combined before this Olympics and still don’t really understand it, this is amazing. I’m sure these guys have given more of their youth, time, money and strength than we will ever know for 2 minutes of glory on a medal stand and a 10 minute interview on NBC.We see the glory in the gold, silver or bronze, but we don’t see the hours in the gym getting the work done.
So what does that have to do with my running? Let’s be honest, I’m never going to be an athlete at that level. In fact, I’ll probably never outright win a race. And as I sit here watching the Closing Ceremonies with my IT band aching and a bag of ice down my jammies it reminds me why we do all this– the joy of competition. One of the beautiful things about the Olympic Games is the way it brings the world together and how it allows us to feel a kinship with those competing.
I’m not saying that my racing efforts are Olympian– they’re just not. But I do feel a sense of kinship with the athletes. The pre-race nervousness, the desire to leave everything on the road, track or ice with no regrets, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Before I was a runner I liked the Olympics but now that I’m out there toeing the line, I love the Olympics. I get it, I just do. I know what it is to put my shoes on and go for a cold 16 mile run in the rain (Saturday) or to wake up at 4:15 to run intervals (Thursday) or to have a perfect, easy run in crisp, sunny weather that feels like running on clouds (Sunday). I don’t know the pride of representing my country in front of millions or the satisfaction of a lifetime of work paying off, but I think I understand more than most.
I hope that from now on when I train and compete I take a little bit of the Olympic fire with me. Some of the citius, altius, fortius (stronger, higher, faster) and the goodwill toward one another the games represent. I want to remember Apolo’s heroics and passion on the ice, the Nordic combined skiers’ determination and heart, the alpine skiers’ bravery and commitment, Joannie Rochette’s ability to skate beautifully through grief and sadness and our hockey team’s ability to muscle their way past our expectations and despite losing the gold, their right to hold their head high from a job well done.
I doubt Olympic athletes wimp out in workouts, take the easy way, make excuses or give less than their best each day. So thanks Olympians. Thanks for reminding me what one of the greatest runners in U.S. history, Steve Prefontaine, said, “to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”