Olympic Stories.

Jim Hinshaw
Contributing Writer
Improvement Professional, President & Sales

A couple of stories that captured my attention and heart so far this month in Rio: first, the story of the fastest man in Rugby,  American Carlin Isles.   He starts off the interview with a reporter “I should not be here”.  He remembers his mom getting hauled away for repeated drug busts.  He was placed in a temporary foster home when he was 8, could not read or write or do basic math.  Started playing football at age 8, had a talent for both football and track.  Moved to Aspen, Co. when he was 21 to play Rugby, put all his eggs in one basket; no money, no parents, he put it all on the line.

Remember a preacher told him, what God puts in your heart, he will equip you to do.  It clicked when he saw Rugby.   He runs the 40 yard dash in 4.22 seconds, billed as the fastest man in Rugby.  To prepare for the Olympics you need some financial help, as well as constant training.  A gym owner in Canton Ohio heard of him, sponsored his private training, even bought him a car.  That gym owner, Chris Maggiore says he believed in him, and feels like he is a good judge of character.  So Isles is on the Rugby Sevens Olympic team for the US, comprised of 7 men playing 7 minute halves, where his speed will make a huge difference.

Another story is one from the past as well as present; Gabby Douglas, Olympic Gymnast.  She won gold in 2012, is back again in 2016.  Her early life was tough, her family was homeless, living out of a van for almost a year after she was born.  They soon moved in with relatives, but her father left the family soon after.  She and her three siblings were raised by her mom, it was a rough time in her life.

When she was 14, she moved away from friends and family in Virginia Beach, VA. to learn gymnastics in Iowa under the direction of Liang Chow.  He is very demanding, but fair, and has this to say about Gabby.   “Every athlete has strengths and weaknesses, but the purpose must be there.  I can see the ones who have mental toughness and determination and they stand out.”   Facing tough times may have helped her performance on the gym floor he says.  It can be harder for someone to stay at the top of their game when winning is always effortless, never experiencing disappointment in athletics or life.

Just two weeks before the 2012 Olympics she told her mom she wanted to quit gymnastics.  She had moved to Iowa for over two years, was homesick, ready to move back.  Told her mom she could work at Chick-fil-A and run track on a city team. She was really emotional.  Took several mom to daughter talks and coaching, but she got back on her program.   Glad she did, she and her team just took another Gold in Rio.

Another person who must be mentioned is Adelinde Cornelissen, who rides a horse named Parzival.  She has ridden her to several Olympic medals, was scheduled to ride again in Rio.  Parzival was apparently bitten by a spider or insect of some kind, had an allergic reaction, face swelled up, had a fever.  Adelinde worked with him for the next day and night, finally got the fever down to where the officials cleared him to compete.  She walked him into the ring, just didn’t feel good about it, saluted the crowd, walked him back out.  Think about it, training for years, traveling a great distance with a large animal, and then not to compete, amazing.  She put the health of her horse above all else, it was amazing.  My daughter Shalaine says that is what horse people do, they value those animals more than an award.  She would know, she is one, and an award winning horse person.

Now I want to finish up with Missy Franklin, who won 4 Golds out of 5 total medals in 2012.  She just finished 13 out of 16 in the 200 meter semifinal.  Out of the running for the finals in the event she won 4 years ago.  She met a reporter after the race, was asked how she felt.  She replied that she was disappointed, but she shared this wisdom.  She is a young woman who swims, but swimming does not define her.  It is something she does.  What a great message for young women across the nation.  She is well-liked in Colorado, where she lives near her parents and longtime swim coach Todd Schmitz.

She said she had to stay focused for the next race in two days.  Her words: “it’s incredibly frustrating, I need to keep my head up and I need to keep fighting, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

What messages can we get from these stories?  Plenty.  First, it doesn’t matter how bad the first part of your life goes, your past, you can triumph over what seems to be impossible odds.   No matter what you are facing today, you can get past it.  Second, it takes determination and guts to do what needs to be done, life itself is not easy.  It takes a strong commitment to succeed no matter what you are doing.

Sometimes we have to go all in, as the say in poker.  Put it all on the line.  And it may not work.  The odds are that it won’t if you hold back, stay tentative.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Michael Phelps, the most decorated swimmer in history.  He lost to Chad Le Clos in 2012, Chad taunted him the next 4 years.  This year, as they were in the ready room, Chad is shadow boxing right in front of Phelps, who ignores him completely.  Actually, he didn’t ignore him completely.  When they hit the water, Phelps came back and took the race, bagging another gold medal.  One photo shows Chad next to him, looking at him as Phelps cruises ahead to win the gold.  Michael Phelps put it all on the line, went all in, not sure what other phases I can use.  He made it happen.

Finally, no one said it would be easy.  Life, that is.  We may have to make sacrifices, sometimes the cost can be great.  And you may not get the Gold, like Missy Franklin.  Remember her words, I am a swimmer, swimming does not define me.  So whatever you do, keep your perspective.  Set some goals, work like it is all up to you, pray like it is up to God.   Thanks for listening, we’ll talk later.

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