Lessons From The Olympian I (Practically) Know

I knew a girl once, in high school, that was practically an Olympian. She was a swimmer and was so good that she swam on the boys’ swim team. Of course I am that old that this was in the pre-Title IX days, so there was no girls swim team. But she was THAT good, regardless. It was a thrill to see her train and race, with such power and grace. Rumor has it that she went on to compete in the Olympics trials, and missed the cut by less than a second. I can’t imagine that feeling.

And then there’s Matthew Centrowitz. I practically know him. My son is dating his sister, so we’re almost family. In the 2012 Olympics, Matthew, like his father before him, ran the 1500-meter race. That year he ran well, only to miss the bronze medal by .04 seconds. Again, that might just have been enough to send me off the track forever.

But not Matthew. This year he came back.  He not only qualified to run the 1500-meter race, but went on to take home the Gold Medal – the US’s first gold medal in this event since 1908. Amazing!

Watching Matthew run was an experience like no other I have had watching the Olympics. Having met his parents and sisters, I could imagine their pride and joy in seeing all his hard work pay off. I was shaking with excitement – and I’ve never even met the kid!

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The Centrowitz/Neal clan, plus friends, minus a few siblings

I felt the same way watching the Brazilians in their soccer game. No, I don’t know anyone on their team. But I was there, pulling for them, feeling all their emotions, and was ecstatic as the team’s leader/hero, Neymar, kicked in the penalty shot to win the Gold. There is nothing like it.

So what is it about the Olympics that captures me, and so many others? Besides my 1 degree of separation from greatness, there is something else that make these games so special. I believe it has everything to do with tapping deep into the human psyche, bringing to light our beliefs and values. Things like hard work pays off, that greatness is rewarded, and that perseverance and a belief in yourself is the key to success. It shows that healthy competition makes you stronger, that you can battle tirelessly against someone, and still respect them at the end. It’s about making yourself better than the others, not cutting them down. It’s about observing and noting what works and what doesn’t, and putting a plan in place to get where you want to go. That you can overcome tremendous odds with focus, drive and training. That when moving towards a common goal, it doesn’t matter what color your skin is, what religion you may practice, or whether you love a girl or a boy. And that the bond between a parent and child is like none other.

It’s the competitors who crashed and helped each other across the finish line. It’s a super-human racer who interrupted his interview to respect the anthem of another nation. And it’s a father and son, both in disbelief at the outcome of his race, shouting gleefully to each other during his victory lap, “Are you kidding me?!”

Well done, Matthew. Well done, USA. Well done, World. May the lessons of the Olympics not be lost on us.