August 5, 2016
Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.
“It is only by risking ourselves from one hour to the next that we live at all.” – William James
What is an elite athlete? According to Merriam-Webster, “elite” is a powerful or successful member of a group. The group being defined as athletics, then, leads us to understand that the elite athlete should be powerful and strong in their sport, in one or more physical abilities. This understanding of the term elite, however, discounts the mental turbulence and anguish (and pride and honor) in the years leading up to an Olympic bid. In other words, it does not quite capture the path of becoming elite.
Much like art, there is an incredible amount of pleasure in sport. Unlike art, the pleasure found in sport cannot be transferred. The athlete draws a sense of themselves through the lines of competition. Each test of skill measures their courage, audacity, and will. I find sport an extremely instructive medium simply because the mind is tested in equal terms as the body. William James claimed, “Most people never run far enough on their first wind to see if they’ve got a second.” Those people that do continue to run, those that persevere despite difficulties, are tested in a sense that someone outside this experience can never truly understand.
Blaise Pascal writes quite a bit about what he calls “diversions”. In Pensée #172, he writes, “Let each one examine his thoughts, and he will find them all occupied with the past and the future. We scarcely ever think of the present; and if we think of it, it is only to take light from it to arrange the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means; the future alone is our end. So we never live, but we hope to live; and, as we are always preparing to be happy, it is inevitable we should never be so.” While the athlete measures their goals according to the idea of future and past, they know very intimately that the future is attained only through an absolute attention to a singular moment or movement. They perfect this movement over time spent painstakingly and painfully addressing a perceived fault.
In addition to understanding fatigue, overcoming pain, training each muscle, and patience within the self, there is the necessary aspect of strategy. Each game involves strategy. The winner, the one who overcomes all of these odds to define the sport for a day or a moment, should balance pride with humility. The grace of defeat is as important as the grace of winning. The pride of success is as vital as the humility. Though many of those athletes will not achieve the goals that they desire, they will have learned something of themselves, of the world, of strategy, grace and humility. These are lessons of virtue played out on a world stage which only makes the lesson that much more emotional and memorable.
No matter your favorite sport, we hope you enjoy the 2016 summer Olympics Games. The quotations below will get you into the sporting spirit!
“We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self discipline, and effort.” — Jesse Owens, American track and field athlete and four-time gold medalist in 1936
“I hope that this medal inspires the kids at home to put down guns and knives and pick up a pair of trainers instead.” — Erick Barrondo, Guatemalan racewalker and 2012 silver medalist (He was the first to receive an Olympic medal in Guatemala’s history)
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career … I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” — Michael Jordan, American basketball player and 1984 and 1992 gold medalist
“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” — Muhammad Ali, American boxer and 1960 gold medalist
“As simple as it sounds, we all must try to be the best person we can: by making the best choices, by making the most of the talents we’ve been given.” — Mary Lou Retton, American gymnast and 1984 gold medalist
“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.” — Wilma Rudolph, American runner and three-time gold medalist
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