Where Dreams go to Die

9 Aug

I love the olympics. I am in awe of the grace, speed, endurance, flexibility, reflexes, daring, cunning, and skill displayed. I love the stories. I love the smiles and the tears. I love the sportsmanship. I love watching competitors from different countries congratulating each other. But there’s an ugly side to the Olympics and it’s starting to be a real buzz kill.

Basketball cheap-shots (read, punching each other), barely-a-sport-badminton players throwing matches, and American women 100m hurtlers trashing Lolo Jones on television after they just edged her out of a medal. You all just showed off some of the more disgusting traits of humanity. I’m losing my Olympic spirit fast.

Just Bitter?

One gold medal. One athlete. The rest take home their memories. I’ll bet you most of the memories are tortured. I had a little of that in my head as I watched the men’s 5000 meters (also known as a good old 5k). My best time in high school as our team’s #1 runner was 18 minutes, 2 seconds. The preliminary heat winning time was 13 minutes 15 seconds! That is just craziness. My Olympic dream just died on the YMCA treadmill. Distance didn’t ease the pain. I can’t imagine what the guy who finished 4th must be feeling. The Olympics are the place that dreams go to die.

I’ve heard athletes talk about waking up remembering a loss everyday for the four years between Olympics. Then I watch them lose again and I hope they’ll get over it, but I feel rather that they won’t.

Regrets

They aren’t the only ones. How about you? I know I’ve got a full on hay-wagon of regrets I pull some days. In high school I was a very good athlete. I was named athlete of the week by our local paper three times: for tennis, cross country, and track. I overheard one of my coaches telling another coach that I was the best natural athlete he’s ever seen.

I think I settled for such compliments. I wasn’t driven. I almost failed out of high school because I slacked on school work. Even though I was widely recognized for my writing and musical talents, I drove a lot of my teachers nuts because I always did just enough… and often only after much prodding, threats, and detentions. I was told to excel in cross country and track I’d have to train in the off-season. I didn’t. I had to start over each season.

I wish I could talk to that punk high-school kid that shares my name, shake him up a bit, but he’s gone. I’m all that’s left. It pains me to not know how far I could have gone if I had given my all to, well, anything. Every Olympics it pains me. Now I hear the announcers talk about people in their 30s competing in their last Olympics. At 31 I guess I missed my shot at glory.

There’s more to life…

…than winning and losing. That sounds like loser talk to me. The people on this planet spend billions of dollars on their favorite sports team. They spend hours watching cars go around a loop. People blast each other on the internet over sports opinions. Summer is the worst time of year to run on a treadmill because all they do on ESPN is analyze football. I can handle watching football and even talk about football during the season, but all year??? No, winning is clearly important to us humans.

Should it be? No. Is it? Yes. Why? I don’t know.

Shrinking, Shifting Dreams

We have to be the best. In our jobs, our school, our leagues, our team, or our family. Many of us keep searching till we find that place where our talent gains credibility. We hop in our cars and look for a pond in which we can be the big fish. Quirky new lawn games might even hold the key to our significance. Oh to stand out in some way, some how. If you can’t find a sport to dominate, just invent one. I plan to create a new sport hours before my death so that I can be the best player of my era. I’m sure it will ease the passing for just another glory-driven American.

Letting Go

I’m done with it all. There isn’t more to life than winning. Life is something else entirely. I still believe sports and games have their place. I think they teach kids to set goals and to work hard toward them. Above all they are a lot of fun. It feels good to run and kick and jump and throw. Play is an important part of who we are as people.

Some coaches should be ashamed of what they do to high school (or even younger) athletics. Winning a title is not and should not be the first priority of children in athletics. Sportsmanship, fun, and respect for authority take that prize. Some coaches don’t bench their stars when they talk back to them. The best coaches I had would make us run lines till we puked it we even whispered while he addressed us. Even as a punk kid I respected those coaches a lot more. They were the ones that knew when it was time to work hard and when it was time to play and do our best. They never yelled at us when we gave the best we had. They were the best of sport embodied and I’ll never forget those experiences.

Running Away

I think part of what attracts me to ultra running is that I have no track record with it. There are no PRs. I don’t care what my time is. Finishing is all that matters to most ultra runners, including myself. All that matters to me is that I am faithful to my training and that I give it everything I have come race day.

It’s the perfect place for me to practice my new outlook on life and sport. I feel free to be me out there on the roads and trails. There will always be runners who are faster than me. I hope they’re happy. That’s a lot of race to run unhappy.

If a sport is not improving your quality of life. If you routinely find yourself frustrated after leagues or a pick-up game, then maybe you need to step away from it for a while and re-evaluate your priorities… or better yet, run away.

Ask yourself, is the best you can be enough, or do you need to be the best? Watch the Olympics for a while and tell me if the latter is going to happen. It’s okay to mourn the death of childhood dreams. Nobody talks about it. They die in silence, in our pained male hearts. That point is not the end for us, but the beginning.

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