Watching Olympic races, it’s amazing to think about all the work put in to have glory won or lost by a split second result.
I’ve had the incredible privilege over the past ten months to dive head first into the world of USA elite swimming. If you’ve watched any of the Rio Olympics, you know that this bunch of athletes has some serious talent. They’re bringing home a whopping total of 33 medals this year; 16 gold, 8 silver, and 9 bronze.
But for every success story there is an equally emotional story of disappointment. Even the world’s greatest Olympian, Michael Phelps, in the self-proclaimed last Olympic Games of his career, tasted an unexpected loss when he missed the gold in the 100-meter butterfly, his premier race. These athletes dedicate their lives to being the best, knowing that it all comes down to a fraction of a second and it’s anyone’s game.
I have a tendency to take safe bets. I evaluate situations, determine what the likelihood of success will be, and move forward if I decide it’s high and/or the consequences of failure are minimal. If I do fail, I pick up the pieces and try again.
If an Olympian fails, they have four more years of effort ahead of them before they can try again. And an Olympic effort is no small thing.
At the swimming Olympic Trials in Omaha this year the 100-meter backstroke favorite, Matt Grevers, missed the coveted top two spots and his ticket to Rio. He touched the wall at third place with a time that would have won the silver medal in London in 2012. He wasn’t injured, he didn’t even have a bad race. No one thought he wouldn’t make the team. Every Olympic athlete knows that the stakes are high and there are no guarantees. Yet they commit decades of their lives to the challenge.
After setting a world record in London in 2012 in the 100-meter butterfly and then having a baby a couple of years later, Dana Vollmer made a stunning commitment as a new mom. She came back to the sport and competed in Rio. She remarked that as she stretched toward the wall on her final stroke in this year’s 100-meter butterfly championship race, she was “praying that it was a medal.” She won bronze, but the former world record holder and three-time Olympian knew that her sacrifice didn’t guarantee that success.
It is difficult for me to fully comprehend the Olympian mindset. Starting a yoga apparel company is a safe bet compared to betting 4 years of your life that you’ll wind up on an Olympic podium with a medal around your neck, or at the Olympics at all. I don’t have a competitor next to me that could take away my storybook ending in a flash by having the best day of their life.
Watching the swimmers and other Olympic athletes made me realize I have zero excuses for safe bets. I have zero excuses for not fully committing. If there is something I want, I have to believe in myself enough to let go of timid behavior and go for it. No matter what dice I roll, I will probably never come close to the odds Olympians face. The athletes we’ve been watching over the past two weeks are nothing short of amazing, whether they stand on a podium or not. They allow themselves to not only dream, but to believe and commit to their dreams no matter how unlikely they may seem.
Any Olympic effort, whether towards an athletic achievement or another type of goal, has a storybook ending, no matter how the media or other outsiders choose to see it. If you commit, give your all, and believe in yourself, you are placing the pen firmly in your hand. Write your story. That’s what all of these Olympians have done and I couldn’t be more proud or more inspired by each and every one of them.