A physical therapist I worked with said to me once, “Do you want to know the secret to being an Olympic athlete? Pick your parents wisely.” His comment may have been intended as a little tongue-in-cheek, but he had a point.
Genetics do not determine an Olympian’s abilities. There are other important choices that must be weighed and measured. Sports psychology, nutrition, cross training, stress management, lifestyle habits, recovery strategies, and raw talent are just a few of the components that go into making an Olympic athlete. Throw in discipline, courage, perseverance, and a whole lot of guts and you’ve got a recipe for greatness.
It’s easy to compare our own athletic abilities, or lack thereof, to Olympic athletes and think, “I could never measure up to even one tenth of their greatness!” But isn’t that the point? We watch these incredible athletes in event after event and every time we are in awe of their skill and technique. We think, “How amazing are human beings that they can accomplish this?”
You and I may never know the kind of worldly glory an Olympic gold medalist achieves, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have our own glory to chase and medals to win. We are all given unique talents, coaches, and the right DNA to run our race. It’s what we do with all those gifts that determines the outcome.
We don’t see all the hard work that goes into an Olympian’s training, from day one to the games. What we see is the grand finale that culminates in their moment of “no guts, no glory.” I can imagine every Olympian’s goal in that moment is to give it his or her all. In my own experience as a competitive Irish dancer, I remember the biggest reason for disappointment and regret in my performance was knowing I walked away without pouring everything out.
The Olympics isn’t about feeling incompetent in our own skin. It’s about aspiring to something fantastic. It’s about pooling resources, gaining support from an entire team, and believing in something so unbelievable that it doesn’t seem real when you accomplish it.
The best Olympic athletes undoubtedly utilize all the tools they have to accomplish their dreams. We can take a cue from them and do the same.
I see the Olympics as a parallel of the spiritual life.
Our raw talent is our unique gifts and personalities, given to us by God at birth.
We may not have sports psychologists, nutritionists, or performance coaches, but we have the saints guiding us. If you don’t already have a connection to the saints, how about starting with your Confirmation saint? Do some research about his or her life and imagine how this saint might coach you in the faith.
Our version of sports psychology is God’s Word encouraging us. Why not look up the Mass readings for the upcoming weekend and spend some time reflecting on how they apply to your daily life?
Our cross training comes from friends and family who challenge us to grow. How can you pray for a friend or family member? Can you ask them to pray for you in some way?
Our rest and recovery can be a quiet moment of prayer. If you’re not in the habit of regular prayer, can you try to pray for a few minutes every day this week?
Our Olympic games aren’t just one event - they are our whole lives.
God doesn’t ask us to all give the same. He’s not calling all of us to the Tokyo games. However, He does ask that we give our all. When we finish our race, I hope we can honestly say that we utilized our talents, took every opportunity to grow, and welcomed challenges that pushed us to be courageous. Whatever our calling is, let’s not hold back.