Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Kerri Strug and Bringing Home the Gold

My Dear Reader,

When I was somewhere around five years old, my Madre enrolled me in a tumbling class. I don't remember much, just that it was a lot of fun, and it didn't last very long. While I was very physically active throughout my childhood, I was never especially coordinated, so I doubt that there was much of a future for me in the gymnastics world.

Oh, well.

Still, once every four years, I imagine an alternate universe in which my life took a very different path. I picture a world in which I wasn't a klutz, I had talent, and I had the support and resources available in order to bring my kindergarten tumbling to an Olympic level. Really, this is only one of the many alternate universes that my imagination visits from time to time, but perhaps this one is a place that seems familiar to you. Maybe we all dream of Olympic gold, through one path or another.

And while I never cared to do more than occasionally dream about being a world-class gymnast, I haven't stopped admiring those who had the talent, put in the work, and realized their dream. I find it so absolutely inspiring. I think that a lot of us have grown up with that inspiration. Who, for example, could forget Atlanta in 1996, when Kerri Strug landed that magnificent vault on only one leg?

I was still in grade school when I first saw that happen, but man, that still gives me chills. Kerri Strug had trained all of her life for something that would be over in a matter of seconds. Gymnasts, as you know, have only a small window of time when they will be physically capable of doing the super-human tasks they perform, and Kerri had to be at the very end of her career. Just one last vault, and that would be the end of everything she worked for.

And she nailed it.

But, as you can see, it didn't come without a cost. She began her last vault already injured, and she had to know that the impact of running, vaulting, and landing would give her excruciating pain. But she went for it. And while she did end up collapsing in agony, she managed to stick it out long enough to fulfill her dreams. How can you not admire that?

And I think about that, and I look at my life and the challenges I face. While my life seems daunting, it seems bland and uneventful next to an Olympic career. Sure, things are really hard. Sure, some days I'm not sure how I'm going to make it to the next. But I don't have the whole world watching. And I don't have that kind of pressure on me. I don't have to spend my whole life preparing for one short moment that might never happen.

Or do I?

Because while nothing I've ever done would merit the attention of the world, a lot of the pivotal moments in my life have happened in the same time it took Kerri to complete that vault. Sometimes, that's all the time it took for me to say the wrong thing, or give up, or to stand up for something I believe in, or to actually commit. Sometimes it took me the space of that vault to realize something so crucial that it caused a paradigm shift deep within me. And these moments, some of failure and some of triumph, ended up the way they did because of a thousand little actions I'd made over the course of my life. Sometimes these pivotal moments have come at me so fast that the difference between winning and losing is the character that I've developed over the years. It's who I really am and what I really believe and what I'm actually willing to do when it counts. It's the courage and faith that I have mounted against my fears and insecurities, and it's not until one short moment that I find out which part of me in going to win out.

And I'd like to say that when I find myself in one of those crucial moments, I act the way Kerri Strug did, giving it everything I have, committing every ounce of energy and every drop of experience in the hope that it will be enough. I'd like to be the person who can run at life's challenges head on and give it everything I've got until victory has been achieved. And I'd like to be the person who does it knowing that when it's all over, I might end up on my knees. Giving all I've got might mean that I have nothing left, but even if I have to crawl off of the mat, I go as a victor. That's the kind of person I'd like to be.

And that's something I can have in common with the Cecily who lives in that alternate universe, who is already retired and has a gold medal (okay, several gold medals) hanging on the wall. Maybe if I have that same kind of determination, if I spend a lifetime preparing to become a certain kind of person who has a specific set of qualities, and if I can pull out a victory in those crucial moments, I can have that same kind of glory that Olympic Gymnast Cecily has. The medal might be out of reach, but that Olympic character isn't.

I can defeat that fear. I can achieve that victory.

I can land that vault.

But what I can't do is waste my time. I can't stop bettering myself. I can't stop preparing myself to be the kind of person that can achieve victory. I just can't do that.

Because otherwise, how can I bring home the gold?

Regards, best wishes, and victory,

-Cecily Jane