Friday, August 15, 2008

Your Whole Life In a Moment

Whereas Plantboy is out of town this week, I had to have a paper sub this morning. Rather than being really smart and actually catching up on my sleep, I have been staying up to watch the Olympics. Insane, really, because by the time they show the "prime-time" events here, I can get all of the results on-line.

I truly meant to tape (we are too primitive for DVR at this house) the gymnastics last night and catch snippets of it during the day today, but after watching this girl for one round, I couldn't take my eyes away.

I like the little power packed girls like Shawn Johnson, simply because they are so strong, but Nastia Lukein turns gymnastics from a sport into an art. Remember Svetlana? She changed gymnastics by virtue of her unique body shape and innovative moves. She pioneered a new era in the sport with her graceful lines and poetry-performances, but she was just too angular and diva-ish, and well, unattractive, for me to take seriously. But Nastia's performances were truly a thing of beauty.

There was a bit of weird scoring last night and if the Chinese girl had overtaken Nastia at the end, I would have definitely said she'd been home-cooked. The two Americans were consistently great on each rotation and definitely deserved to go one-two.

But what I've been thinking more about was this girl, and the team final from a few days ago.

These young women prep their whole lives for for few minutes' worth of competition in the Olympics. Yes, there are American awards and World Championships which are wonderful to win, but the rare Olympics, the holy grail of sporting events, is a once in a lifetime (usually) experience for a select number of elite athletes. There are plenty of young athletes who dream of becoming a household name such as Nadia Comeneci or Mary Lou Retton or Michael Phelps or Tara Lipinsky. But there are only a few, genetically gifted and intensely driven young people who will make the choice to put in the thousands of hours it takes to stand on the podium and hear their anthem played. In the US, this means tens of thousands of dollars invested in lessons, coaches and traveling to meets.

Some friends and I got to talking the other day about our kids and their gifts. The conversation went to, "If you had a child who was truly gifted, would you encourage them to pay the price to make it work?" We also talked about the concept of sending your kids away for the kind of intense training that is done in China, or even to boarding school (something I perceived as extremely romantic when I was a teenager). I think we all said that we couldn't do it. Of course, none of us in the conversation had a child that we believed to be gifted in any extraordinary way.

Poor Alicia Sacramone. For her thousands of hours of training, the picture inserted above is the easiest one to find doing a Google search under her name. Wikipedia tells about her many and varied accomplishments: she is on a short list of just 4 gymnasts who hold as many world championships medals as she does. Despite awesome performances in the early part of this decade, a disastrous tournament to qualify for Greece kept her home in 2004. She stuck with it, being one of a handful of female gymnasts who has attempted to juggle university studies with the level of training necessary to win competitions against younger gymnasts. Despite a fantastic career, and the mathematical impossibility of the US beating the Chinese even without Sacramone's falls, she will be remembered in the minds of many as the girl who lost the gold for the Americans in 2008.

Though I can pinpoint some moments where seemingly small decisions sent my life in a different direction, I cannot say that I've ever had a moment that I believed was a make or break point for everything I'd ever wanted or worked for. I hope that in the end, these amazingly talented and dedicated young women see how much more there is to look forward to in life than what they have sacrificed their childhood for. I hope that Alicia Sacramone can get to a place where she says, "I did my best. I'm grateful for the lessons learned. Even my failures can translate to a different kind of personal success, despite what others think."

To close today, I think a little bit of Dr. Suess is appropriate. "You'll be the winningest winner of all. Fame! You'll be famous as famous can be, with the whole wide world watching you win on TV. Except when they don't. Because, sometimes, they won't. I'm afraid that sometimes you'll play lonely games too. Games you can't win, cause you'll play against you." I guess for each of us, with whatever mediocre talents we posess, have to realize that if we don't feel adequate enough without the world's adulation, we will probably never be complete even when we do recieve it. Good luck with the rest of your lives, Nastia and Alicia.


denedu said...

I have to say that that is one reason I'm glad I don't live in the "spot light." To have so many great accomplishments as Alicia and then make a few tiny mistakes for the whole world to see and relish on would be a hard thing to deal with. I, too, hope she can get through this knowing how amazing she is. I horrible is it that when things like this happen you know she's going to have interviews where she'll be much more eloquent words than these, but this is what they are basically saying..."how did it feel when you screwed up?" I truly admire those that can stick it through and become stronger individuals despite what the "world" might say. Great job girls...go team USA!!!! :)

Janssen said...

Great post - makes me so so glad I'm not in a major spotlight like that.

By the way, Angel Girl is definitely for a slightly older audience - I'd say at least third grade, maybe even older. It's not graphic, but the content certainly is a bit grim.

Desmama said...

I've loved watching Nastia as well; she's just beautiful. That vault performance last night? It was pure art. It makes me feel all the more awkward and lumbering with my growing pregnancy belly. Oh well.

Christie said...

Watching the other US women's gymnists, athletic was the word that came to mind. But Naustia overwhelms one with grace and beauty. She truly is amazing!

I too have been watching the Olympics and pondering the dedication and possibly lop-sided lives that these dedicated athletes live. Would I encourage a child to pursue that path?

I'm not sure. Watching Bug and his dedication to golf, I'm realizing that if he wanted to, chances are good that he really could go on to become a pro golfer. (I'm planning to visit the library today and check out some golf biographies to see just how one becomes a pro golfer.) As his mother, I'm going to encourage him, support him, and do what's possible (and sane) to advance his golf ambitions.

But when he reaches critical junctures, I'll encourage him to seek a higher source for support. What does the Lord want Bug to do with his life? Would golf be a good tool to share the gospel? These are questions that I hope Bug will consider in his quest for life ambitions. (Note: I may write a blog topic on this. Thanks for the idea.)

Suburban Hippie said...

Something about early competition to this degree makes me sad... I know they gain in something that most children never do but it seems they lose out on something that most children get.


This reminds me of an especially thought provoking episode of Beverly Hills 90210 where Brandon's dad tells him that some hockey recruiters saw him (Brandon) playing and wanted to sign him and train him but instead he and his mom decided that they'd rather have a son rather than a hockey superstar who ends up being raised by coaches.

And now you know that I can't quote Tennyson or Austen but I sure the heck know my Beverly Hills 90210 dialogue.

The Grahams said...

I really loved Shawn but Nastia was kind of the hometown hero. I also feel bad for Alisha, to train your whole life for one moment that doesnt' work out. Last night she should have medaled as well, that China girl was definately home cooked as you put it. I really should have planned my pregnancy better around these games. I don't have the discipline to go to record it, go to bed and watch it the next day, I'm to captivated by the moment. I also don't have the stamina to last another week of being 9 months along and getting zero sleep. At least some of my favorite events are concluding.

Ashlee said...

You know, gymnastics is brutal. Crooked judges, insane pressure. Then what do you do with the rest of your life after it's over? If I were Alicia's teammates and coach, I would tell her, "We win as a team, and we lose as a team." It irks me to no end how dirty the Chinese are (not the girls--they're victims too). Along with sending toddlers to compete, I'm sure they've paid off some judges. I don't think their parents had much of a choice when it came to sending them away to train at two years-old. I guess it's nothing new: the East Germans would send men to compete, I swear.

Shaylee'n'Eric said...

Great post recently sis, I haven't been able to read your blog for ever secondary to work week violations in the last month. Very heated arguements, thought out, sincere, patriotic, good times. I have to comment on the olympic post however re: the comments about competition at too young of age. Sis, you know my thoughts on this and I always enjoy our discussions about it. Life is competition. Whether you direct it against co-workers, opponents, satan, life, spouse; it is competition. Early preparation isn't meant to divide the weak from the strong, its to find the strong. Remeber, Tiger isn't better than Phil because he works harder; he is better than Phil because he is mentally tougher than Phil and because of that he works hard enough that when he fails he cannot blame it on his lack of preparation. By not working your hardest you can always say when you fail that oh next time I could have worked harder. It takes a special person to fail, after doing everything they could, and to try again, knowing that it wasn't their prepartion but their execution. Shawn and Nastia worked harder than Alicia not because they are better, but because they are tougher. That is what China does with their gymnast, they pull them away from their families in an effort to make them tougher, not better, the latter comes because of the former. I have the utmost faith that you will publish a book someday, not because you are a better writer than the competition, but because your tougher.