People who know me well know I love the Olympics. You might even go so far as to call me a fanatic. Every two years, my usually dormant TV buzzes to life as the opening ceremonies commence, and my family and I gather together each evening to watch.
Ordinarily, I’m not a particularly big sports fan. Watching organized sports is limited to when the Steelers are in the Super Bowl (a requirement of any Pittsburgh resident past, present or future).
The Olympics for me are not about the sports themselves, but rather about the athletes, and how their stories unfold. Some of these stories are triumphant, while others are tragic. Some evoke feelings of magic and wonderment and others, heart-wrenching disappointment. I am inspired by each athlete and admire their commitment, strength, and passion. I know that the majority of athletes are not there to win so much as to compete. The privilege and honor of being able to represent their country and give it their all makes for an amazing Olympics and lifetime experience.
I heard an announcer say that on average the medal count of the host country increases by 50% during the Games. It’s easy to understand why when watching Great Britain’s athletes compete. The roar of the crowd is deafening. That immense outpouring of support seems to sharpen the focus of the athletes and give them additional incentive to be and perform at their highest level. And even if they fall short, the love and admiration from their hometown crowd is palpable and heartfelt.
As part of my own fitness regimen, I often go to a nearby park for a heart-rate-raising walk. The park is not particularly large, but it is located on a hillside and has a series of stairways that traverse it. As part of my routine, I run down and then back up the steps.
There is one very long set of stairs that reach to the tallest point on the hill. While for the most part, the park is sparsely populated, this is a high traffic area because it serves as a passageway from the subway station to a college campus at the top of the hill. During one of my recent walks, I stood hesitantly at the top of the steps trying to decide if I should do the same run up and down. One voice in my head said yes, but another voice was more reluctant. “What if all these people think you’re weird?” the voice asked. I imagined their scorn and the voices in their own heads calling me crazy as I ran past. The potential embarrassment of it gave me pause.
I decided to wait for a minute to see if the crowd would thin until I felt comfortable going. As I stood at the top of the hillside, suddenly I realized – I was making it all up. As we are all prone to do, in the absence of real information, I made up a negative story, in this case, that they would think I was weird! I had no idea what they were thinking. And so I decided to make up a story that supported me instead. I began envisioning them watching me run up the stairs and cheering silently to themselves: “Wow, look at her go! Good for her! Keep it up!”
And so, with the sounds of their silent cheers in my head, I decided to go for it. Down I ran, and back up again, and thus accomplished what I set out to do. Hey, maybe they weren’t ACTUALLY cheering me on, but at that point, it no longer mattered. I was there to compete, not to win.