PAREN(T)HESIS — Olympic Lessons

February 2, 2018

Network television will be honoring American athletes at the XXIII Olympic Winter Games this month. I love hearing the athletes’ backgrounds and learning how they fought through hardships to achieve the elite levels in their sport. Some stories really pull my heartstrings, like one from my childhood when speed skater Dan Jansen learned of the death of his sister while he was at the Olympics.

I was in my young teens in 1988 and remember feeling a little awestruck that someone from my area was an Olympian with a solid chance at winning a medal. Then I had a hard time believing that he fell in the 500-meter race, then fell again a few days later in the 1000-meter event. It took my young mind a while to absorb all the twists and turns of that athletic saga.

I recently revisited his story while reading a book about Wisconsinites who have competed in the Olympics called Going for Wisconsin Gold: Stories of our State Olympians, by Jessie Garcia. Reading about the story still brought tears to my eyes and the continued emotion made me hesitate to check YouTube for clips. (I did watch clips and even the Visa commercial made me misty eyed.)

The saga didn’t end in 1988. Locals will remember that Jansen competed in more Winter Olympic Games and eventually medaled in the 1994 Olympics while setting a world record in his last Olympic race.

Many of Bay View’s current parents have poignant memories of Olympic stories of triumph and defeat like those of Jansen, speed skater Bonnie Blair, and alpine skier Picabo Street. (We were a little young for Eric Heiden’s amazing 1980s performance, but many current grandparents remember.) Since the drama and emotion of the Olympics can be seared into our brains, the next few weeks seems like a good time for some “teachable moments.” When watch the games with our children, we can extend what we’re viewing into a discussion on our culture, beliefs, and values.

Sometimes even a star loses big, and in front of a big audience. It’s still important to act with dignity and maybe aim for another chance in the future.

Life isn’t a movie plot, and unfortunately the circumstances of real life are often fraught with contradiction. Tragic things can be happen alongside wonderful things, even for an Olympic athlete.

One moment of glory isn’t effortless, it’s the culmination of years of hard work and tradeoffs.

Often an effort is about much more than personal achievement. It is often about the effort and achievement of a team, country, or for a higher purpose like worldwide cultural exchange.

It can be exhilarating to watch amazing comebacks or perfect performances. I always like an underdog. Underdog events and some years even the less popular events get me fired up. All in all, sports provide lots of opportunities to discuss life lessons, at least the segments aired before bedtime!

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at jill@bayviewcompass.com.

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