Even with the Olympics almost a week gone, I’m still finding it difficult to adjust to life without them.
For 17 straight days my family had recorded and watched as much Olympic coverage as we possibly could and somehow it still feels like we should have watched more.
Nothing really beats the Olympics for me. What could be better than a front row seat to peoples’ dreams coming true? What television show or movie premiere could outdo the moment when a lifetime’s worth of hard work pays off? What song could possibly outsing a country’s national anthem declaring the honor being brought back home?
But while the quest for success and glory can be easily found in the eyes of an Olympian, and it is a commanding force in why we are drawn to watch them seek it, I try to stay focused on the true lesson every athlete teaches us, regardless of whether they walk away with a medal or not. For at the heart of every Olympian, underneath all of the smiles and frustration and muscles and bruises, is the simple and unbounded will to try.
In the minutes leading up to Opening Ceremonies, an NBC segment on the hosting country stated that throughout the 2016 Olympic Games “celebration [would] seek to prevail. Celebration of the brilliance, the magnificence, and the miracle of the human spirit.” Upon my initial listen to these words, it was easy to relate them to the physical aspects that would be on display. The athletes coming to Rio had put their bodies through more than many of us could ever imagine and I was ready to watch as they used them as vessels to make history. But as the days went on and I watched event after event, qualifier after qualifier after semifinal after final after medal ceremony, I realized there is always so much more to the brilliance of the Olympic Games than the achievements made in physical fitness.
During a qualifying race for the Women’s 5000m, American Abbey D’Agostino and New Zealander Nikki Hamblin collided and fell on the track. Once D’Agostino was back up, she noticed Hamblin was still on the ground, but instead of continuing she made efforts to help her up, telling her that no matter what, they had to finish. As the two of them started to run again however, it became clear to D’Agostino that she herself had suffered serious injuries to her leg—later to be diagnosed as a complete tear of her right ACL, a meniscus tear, and a strained MCL—and it became difficult for her to continue. Hamblin reached for her, touching D’Agostino’s shoulder with an encouraging, reciprocating kindness, but D’Agostino wavered and eventually sat back down shaking her head. Hamblin reached for her again, still waiting, still offering to help D’Agostino do exactly what she said needed to be done when she first offered Hamblin her hands. But as the severity of her injury set in, D’Agostino told Hamblin to go on without her.
As I watched Hamblin began to run again, it became clear to me that I didn’t care whether or not D’Agostino finished the race. For me, she’d already won, as she allowed us the privilege of witnessing what the Opening Ceremonies perfectly described as the miracle of the human spirit.
The way I saw it, when Abbey D’Agostino stepped onto the track that day, she was an Olympian. She’d put in the work, the time, the sacrifice, and she’d finally reached a platform worthy of all that. I’m sure she’d dreamed about that race. About how it would start, how she would feel, where she would finish. She probably pictured herself winning and losing a thousand times over. And though she met all the physical qualifications of an Olympian, had all of the magnificence and brilliance needed to get her across that finish line, it was her spirit that would make her a hero. Not only in her ability to put aside the podium and the hardware to help someone who, at the base of their Olympic existence, was just another human being who needed help, but for her ability to keep trying. For after her knee had given out and she told Hamblin to continue on without her, D’Agostino was left sitting on the track alone and barely able to walk. But in the true spirit of the Olympics, and in an epic celebration of every wonder associated with the brilliance and magnificence present at each and every Games, Abbey D’Agostino got up and finished.
It is stories like these that keep me coming back every two years to tune in and witness the magic that is the Olympic Games. For it is always a place where differences are put aside, people are seen as people and respect is the native language.
So as I let this chapter of Olympic history come to a close, I try not to look too far ahead at the next one, as I want to take a second to really appreciate what I’ve learned here and how I can let it guide me forward. That way, when I’m sitting in front of my TV two years from now, ready for more magic, more history, more wonder, I can look back and celebrate all the brilliance and magnificence that I found in my own life between Games. I can celebrate all the steps I took and sacrifices I made to make my own dreams come true. And I can know that like the Olympians I’ll see walking in to Opening Ceremonies wearing their country’s colors, I did everything I could to get where I wanted to be. That no matter what obstacles I faced or how many times I fell, I kept on trying.