That said, there's a lot to be learned from the Olympics. In particular, the symbolic importance of athletes as "role models." Granted, Charles Barkley famously said, "I'm NOT your Role Model" but let's ignore his words for the moment since we're not talking about today's well-compensated athletes. We're discussing the athletes that represent the "spirit" of the Olympic Games. Those athletes that have put in years of grueling training sessions for that brief moment to shine. And while a "select few" will win a medal, for many of these athletes it's just being there in the first place to compete for their country.
Now for certain, one could always point to just about any athlete that was able to qualify for the Olympics in the first place and root for them. One can only imagine that the qualifying sessions may have been even more intense than the actual Olympic event itself, irrespective of the sporting category. It's in this vein that we celebrate the athletes that differ from the norm. These athletes have captured our imagination by their very presence in the games, whether or not they win anything at all.
For starters, there's Gabby Douglas, the first African American to win gold as a gymnast.
She was "under-the-radar" but her talent and charisma has now propelled her to stardom. Watching Gabby do her high-flying routines left me holding my breath while simultaneously cheering her on. She's just getting started. Let's pray that she can handle the fame.
Then there's Oscar Pistorious (the "Blade Runner") who dared to challenge the norm that para-athletes couldn't compete in the same race as able-bodied athletes. While the jury is still out on whether or not these norms may change, his accomplishments have left people reexamining old beliefs. (As of 2/14/13, Pistorious's meteoric rise has taken a nosedive in light of his upcoming murder trial in South Africa.)
Let's not forget the numerous female athletes representing the Middle East. Whether they were from Afghanistan, Qatar or Saudi Arabia, these women took one "giant leap" forward for gender equality in sports. Tahmina Kohistani, a track & field runner from Afghanistan summed it up best: "I want to open a new door of opportunity for the next generation in my country." Here's hoping that the presence of these brave women help ease the rigid restrictions often placed upon women's participation in sports. Every little step helps.
Then, there are those athletes that have had to overcome the demons of childhood sexual abuse. Boxers Queen Underwood, Claressa Shields and Kellie Wells (track & field) prove that the mind is a powerful thing when it comes to moving on past unspeakable crimes. They hope to serve as an inspiration so people can know that their past does not "define them as victims."
Let's also give a hand to Hiroshi Hoketsu, the oldest Olympian at 71 in the equestrian matches and Adzo Kpossi, the youngest Olympian at 13 in the 50m freestyle. Their presence shows that age is truly "just a number."
Last, there's also Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi, the visibly 8-month pregnant athlete in the 10 meter women's air rifle. Frankly, I don't know how she does it. Back in 1996, I was 8-months pregnant when my husband and I were in Atlanta for the Olympic Games. We were fortunate enough to obtain tickets through the lottery the year before. Of course, I didn't know that a year later that I would become pregnant. I bet the same thing could be said for Taibi but we were both probably thinking the same thing: no way am I going to miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend the Olympics. Me as a spectator. Taibi as a participant. Kudos to her for daring to try.
There are more stories to be told for sure. Some won't make the news but deep down we know they're there. We only hope that the stories already told serve to inspire us to do our best -- in whatever field that may be.
Now granted, we as Americans tend to put our athletes on a pedestal while forgetting individuals who have also thrilled us in other career endeavors. But for these two weeks, the Olympics represent that moment when we could -- and should -- celebrate "Athletes as Role Models."
Now, if I could just put down that pint of Haagen-Dazs and work on my abs instead...