You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.
– Maya Angelou, American poet, memoirist, actress, and Civil Rights Movement activist
It’s the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, and I’m right there watching the events in prime time. I have a special place in my heart for the Olympics, even as I have lost my childhood awe of looking at these athletes as flawless super humans and seeing them as truly human with a driving force that to me is still unimaginable. I admit that I don’t have the courage to commit four years of training for what comes down to a single defining moment for many of these athletes. One one-hundredths of a second could mean the difference between gold, silver, bronze, or nothing. One push, one misstep, one blink of an eye, one nanosecond of lost concentration, one fall could be the end of it all. Or is it?
I have many Olympic memories, but one of the most poignant to me covers two Olympic Games. Dan Jansen, the American speed skater was favored to win gold in the 500 and 1,000 meter races at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, but fell in both races after his older sister, Jane, whom he looked up to, died of leukemia. I can still recall the stunned look on his face, the weight of his grief. My heart ached for him not because he didn’t win, but because he wanted to win for his sister and yet the burden did not buoy him in the way panic or fear can make people push beyond their limits. His grief overwhelmed him. In his final race, at the twilight of his career, at the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway, not only did Jansen win his first and only gold, he did so in world record style. And he celebrated by skating around the rink with his one-year-old daughter, named in honor of his sister. Not all athletes who fall or “lose” the race get redemption, or even another chance for redemption. Jansen persevered, but for all the others who got up and kept going, no matter the outcome, they also carried on the Olympic spirit.
Through the years, I have enjoyed the human interest aspect of the Olympian athletes, learning about them in the “Up Close and Personal” profiles. For someone who doesn’t watch commercials – considered bathroom break times – I do pay attention to the creative endeavors and admittedly the memorable commercials that pull at the heartstrings. This Olympics, it is the “Thank You, Mom” commercial. It doesn’t matter who the sponsor is because it’s not important as the message itself.
No snub to the dads intended, this commercial pays tribute to the chauffeurs, the nurses, the nurturers, and all the other roles that moms play for their kids who play sports, whether it be recreational or competitive:
“Behind every great athlete is a mom hiding by the sidelines smiling and cheering. She was the one to make hot soup after practice. She was the one to mend their wounds after they fell. She was the one who inspired them to keep pushing.
“For teaching us that falling only makes us stronger. Thank you, Mom.”
I don’t know if the sponsor of this commercial copied the human-interest story that aired during the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in early January, but the message is of a similar vein. The story was about a skating rink that was built in Brooklyn, serving inner-city kids, most of whom had never figure skated before. I wasn’t quick enough to write the quote verbatim. But one African-American girl, who fell in love with figure skating, shared something really wonderful and beautiful. Whether she goes far with the sport or not, one thing is certain: She will go far in life. She said, with such confidence and exuberance: “When I fall on the ice and get up, my teachers clap. That’s because I know whenever you’ve tried and you fail, failure is the staircase to success.”