Welcome to the golden age of speed with grace

I was incredibly impressed watching Dara Torres win a silver medal in the 50 meter freestyle a couple days ago. Seeing an athlete around my age win at anything was inspiring all by itself, but what really inspired me was her attitude.

The first headline I saw afterwards talked about Torres’ swim as a loss–focused on how she’d missed the gold by a hundreth of a second. But watching that swim–this wasn’t a swimmer who was disappointed or thought she’d failed in any way. She was ecstatic; she hugged the gold medal swimmer beside her; and if she thought this anything other than an amazing victory, it definitely didn’t show.

After she’d helped her team win a second silver in the 400 meter relay a few minutes later, she told reporters, still smiling, still clearly thrilled, “You can’t put an age on your dreams.”

Yesterday, I caught a glimpse of a story about an olympic gymnast, right as her father was explaining how she’d decided “silver wasn’t good enough.” I felt sorry for her, and a little bit angry too. What’s “not good enough” about being the second best in the world at anything? That’s incredible. This morning, I caught a mention of how another gymnast had finally won a gold after being “disappointed” by several silvers. Disappointed? Disappointed?

Okay, I do get that, if I’m honest with myself. When Torres first finished, I saw that hundreth of a second and started thinking “oh, man” and “if only,” too–until I saw her face, her joy at taking that medal. That was the part of that swim that really stayed with me.

It’s so easy to focus on the tiny bit of a thing we didn’t do–on the sliver of a second that we somehow missed–rather than on all the amazing things we’ve done. Too easy–because we lose much of joy and of life when we do that.

One doesn’t need to get as far as the life-equivalent of a silver medal for this to be true, either. A few days ago, I heard an interview on NPR with a shot-putter who was favored to win a medal, but who just sort of had the kind of off day where things fell apart and it didn’t happen. The athlete’s wife is expecting a son in a month, and an interviewer asked him–and I thought this a cruel question–“What will you tell your child about this day?”

He answered, “I’ll tell him I cared about something enough to dedicate eight years of my life to it.”

Yeah, that. Exactly that.

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