The year was 1996 and I was transfixed to the TV, spurring on the kiwi hopeful Danyon Loader, in the 200m Freestyle at the Atlanta Olympics. In the space of 1 minute and 47 seconds, Danyon won the gold medal (and three days later clinched the 400m Freestyle title as well), inspiring me, along with countless other young kiwi sports enthusiasts to strive for our dreams and pursue athletic excellence.
For me, this sparked a fire that ultimately led to me representing New Zealand at several international swimming competitions. Having seen someone from my little country, win an Olympic gold, the pinnacle of sporting achievement, I became highly motivated to emulate this feat. Looking back, it doesn’t really matter than I never made it to the Olympics, although that would have been an incredible experience, I’m sure. Yet in the process of pursuing this ambitious target, I became an accomplished swimmer in my own right.
Maybe you are sitting glued to the TV as these controversial Olympics commence; perhaps you are indifferent; or fundamentally against them being held during a pandemic at the expense of enormous resources and the peril of many who may contract Covid-19 as a result. Regardless, at my Saturday morning yoga class, I was reminded of some of the values the Olympics represent.
At their core, the Olympics stand for unity, epitomised by the five Olympic rings: coming together to celebrate sporting excellence across the world. This unity which is so important during the divisive and unfair circumstances that Covid-19 has inflicted on our world. While unification in itself may not be equal, in that wealthy countries are able to devote more time and resources into training and supporting athletes to reach the games, nonetheless, the Olympics are a celebration of participation, connecting people from across the globe through partaking and watching sport.
Having been a high performing athlete myself, I recognise that much of an athlete’s lifestyle is extremely self-focused and somewhat selfish. Everything is directed towards priming for the next race or sporting event. These Olympics appear overly selfish to me: driven by financial gain and a desire to ensure hard working athletes are given an opportunity to attend the penultimate sporting event. Despite this, I was reminded by my yoga teacher this morning, the magnificent potential the Olympics have to inspire. To spark fire in youngsters bellies to dream big. To create wonder, awe and admiration of extraordinary strength, agility, deftness and speed. To marvel at the brilliance of humans at the top of their game. They have certainly made a huge impression on me.
When I think back to the day that Danyon won that gold medal, I am grateful for the journey I embarked on for the following 9 years (granted I had already been swimming for several years at that point); for the people I met, the places I visited and the lessons it taught me. I also recall the absolute belief I had in my dreams. I don’t swim much anymore (although I’ll always be a water baby) and I have now different hopes for the future, but I know that to realise them I only need to call upon that youthful passion and translate it into my adult life to make them a reality.
Perhaps you also have seemingly insurmountable dreams that could also benefit from a little childhood belief to come true?