Battle Buddy Series – A Prayer for the Future Olympian?

By Darian McIntosh

I am not a sports fan. My husband is. When we sit down to watch TV together, I am afraid I have selfishly influenced the channels we settle on and do more than my fair share of remote-controlling. Much to my husband’s chagrin, the channel surfing never lands on ESPN or TSN (the Canadian equivalent) when we tune in as a couple. As the Olympic Games are currently underway, to my pleasant surprise (probably my husband’s too), I find that I am enjoying being a spectator with him by my side. 

As I have mentioned in the past, despite not engaging in many competitions (at least not professionally), I tend to be competitive in the sport of life. I will be honest in telling you that my reasons for “allowing” my husband to control the remote this past week have perhaps not been altruistic. You see, as I am American and he is Canadian, we LOVE to tease each other about these two facts. He has the upper hand because we live in Canada. Despite this, whenever there is an opportunity to show off my American pride, I gladly participate in this event. 

The Olympic Games are the perfect opportunity for us to indulge in this competition of ours. We have access to Olympics coverage through both a Canadian channel and an American channel. We have been flipping back and forth between the two and watching from the perspective of either country. When a Canadian gets up on the podium, my husband can gloat mercilessly and vice-versa for me when an American medals. A highlight for me was watching a well-known Canadian actor do a commercial that played on the American network, supporting Team USA (my husband will never forgive Ryan Reynolds for this treason.)

If you could not tell from what I have written thus far, we never take ourselves seriously with this competition we have going on. Neither one of us believes that either country is superior to the other; it has just become a sport of Olympic proportions to engage in lighthearted teasing of each other. 

The Ultimate Marathon

My husband and I have been surprised by just how many sports are included in the Olympics now. Previously, sports such as Tae Kwon Do, Trampoline Gymnastics, and Skateboarding were unseen in the decades of our youth. I believe this trend will continue to be as inclusive as possible of all skillful sports for every Olympics that passes. Athletes worldwide consider qualifying for the Olympics the penultimate event of their athletic careers. To win gold, or even to medal at all, is the ultimate confirmation that they have “made it.” They have proven to the world that they have become masters of their domain.

In contrast, Marathon Running is not a recent event to the Olympics. In 1896, the very first Olympics in modern history was introduced. Men’s Marathon Running began in, where else, Marathon, Greece. Astonishingly, Women’s Marathon Running was not a part of the Summer Olympics until 1984. 

For those of us that have never run a marathon with the hopes of Olympic Gold on the brain, but only to say we have completed one, these athletes look impeccable and have a mastery considered unattainable. Without saying it, these athlete’s skills may have even taken on a level of mythological prowess; like they are almost too good to be true. To us mere humans, the sideliners, the onlookers; well these athletes are like the unicorns of legend. We have heard of them but have never actually seen one. I know I have never met one, have you? I didn’t think so.

Imagine my surprise then to learn that the top qualifiers who made it to Team USA and Team Canada are rife with overcomers just like us regular humans. I say that tongue-in-cheek, but I believe we often forget just how much we are all capable of achieving.

In my research of the current athletes set to run the marathon in Tokyo, I saw multiple stories of adversity overcomers. I read of the oldest ever runner to qualify for Team USA at the ripe age of 44. There were stories of sidelining surgeries that seemingly would trample Olympic dreams but only further served as fuel to overcome the odds. I even read a story that I could personally relate to: the story of a young woman who found out she was pregnant shortly after running a marathon. In my second outing at running the Honolulu Marathon, I discovered I was newly pregnant with my oldest while running the marathon. Of course, the Olympic runner finished second in her respective marathon. I finished somewhere in the 4,000’s but still….it’s like we are the same!

I bet you every single one of the athletes competing at the Olympics had to overcome some unimaginable circumstances but were able to do it because they had multiple battle buddies to support them along the way. It may or may not be your dream to be an Olympic athlete (hence the question mark in the title). It may not even be your dream to finish in the top 10. Inevitably, there will be obstacles in your way where your hopes are concerned. Becoming a master at jumping figurative hurdles takes just as much time and sweat as achieving the dream itself.

Sportsmanship at its Finest

In watching the Games this week, one of my favorite things to see is the camaraderie between the athletes. I have seen some excellent examples of good sportsmanship. The athletes seem truly happy for the other athletes that attained their dreams of Olympic gold. And I am not just talking about athletes from the same country celebrating with their teammates. I see people from all over the world celebrating with their opponents. It is purity that I am seeing radiating across their faces as they hug their adversaries. 

As opposed to the fake smiles you see at Entertainment Awards shows, where the camera pans on the faces of those that have lost to a fellow actor or singer when the winner’s name gets announced. Those smiles sometimes seem the opposite of genuine. 

No, these athletes have often competed together at various worldwide competitions for years. It is only in that growth through familiarity that they achieve unadulterated joy for their opponent. Suddenly they are more than that; they are fellow humans that have faced the same kinds of trials and tribulations. Maybe, while putting their bodies through repetitive strings of torturous training to make it to the world stage, they learned to appreciate the little things more than others. I am not exactly sure what it is that I see on their mile-wide smiles. What I do know is that their gratitude is not feigned. Perhaps we have a thing or two we can learn from an Olympian.

To this married couple, sometimes my husband and I could use a little reminding of that. As we watched the diving competition this morning, a round of dueling national anthems ensued. Our daughter watched on in horror while being subjected to two pitchy, middle-aged people singing “O Canada” and The Star-Spangled Banner in vain, only to be followed by chants of U-S-A and Can-A-Da, respectively. The latter happened as a means to see who could influence our 4-year-old who has dual citizenship and no inclination toward one country or the other.

No doubt, when two people, who love and respect each other as we do, engage in such juvenile antics, it can be entertaining to say the least, but it’s a fine line. We would be remiss to forget that our rivalry should have the same camaraderie displayed by Olympic athletes. Luckily, the Olympics are only every four years. Here is where my lack of care for sports otherwise is actually in favor of preserving our marriage. I assure you that our friendly antagonism rarely rises to such heights outside of the Olympics. 

My husband just reminded me that our rivalry also extends to the Rugby World Cup. I reminded him that I simply don’t care (sorry, fellow rugby enthusiasts!)

Growing up in different geographic locations and having separate life circumstances does not automatically put us in opposition to one another. We are all the same in our desires; to be loved, understood, and supported. When we support those that are the most different from us, it is often those times that are the loudest in volume while speaking to the heart. Like the competitors from varying parts of the world competing in the same sport, they have found something in common.

If you couldn’t already tell, I love a good story of prevailing against all odds. I can’t wait for the Paralympics!

Battle Buddy Step #9: Find the common denominator

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