Even though I was young, you see, I understood something very important about the Olympic Games: just to go was an incredible accomplishment. To win: the GREATEST.
But there was an element of charity in my thought process, for I wasn't going to do this for myself, but for my cousin. I recall hearing that she was training for the Olympics, and every so often we'd get updates. The time for the Olympic trials was coming: would she make the cut? As I recall, she was one everyone EXPECTED to make the team. Then, the day before Trials, she was practicing some of her dives on the trampoline...and fell. Her broken arm resulted in broken Olympic dreams and she decided to move on with her life instead of training for another four years.
I of course didn't understand why she didn't continue to train, but did, in a way, grasp her disappointment. I couldn't do anything to help, so I decided right then that I would, someday, go to the Olympics in her honor. I never told her this, thinking to save it for the right moment. (To this day she doesn't know about this!)
That summer as we watched the Games, the first I really remember, my family asked me which sport I wanted. I liked the horses (of course!) but otherwise wasn't too sure. Then, the following winter I happened to be flipping channels and discovered SKIING! After watching, entranced, I decided that THAT was my sport! After all, I knew how to jump on a sled and fly quickly down a hill. All I had to do was, well, do it standing up!
I begged and begged for skis, I begged to be taken somewhere to learn, and every weekend I waited for sports tv to come on so that I could look for skiing. Unfortunately, Illinois is NOT a good place for aspiring ski racers and Mom deemed our sledding hill to be insufficient for my dreams. She did happen to provide a couple of red Fischer-Price "skis" for me, but after only one attempt, I realized they weren't even CLOSE to what I needed, and I refused to use them. (The Diva in me emerged that early!).
I didn't actually get an opportunity to learn to ski until I was 17, and that day, after realizing the bunny hill was boring and useless, and I couldn't stand up, I hit the lift and went to a big hill, hoping survival mode would kick in. It did. As I was headed for a huge cliff and a flimsy orange snow fence, having watched other skiers for a half hour or so from the bunny hill, I knew my skis needed to go sideways TOGETHER....and I began doing parallel turns. About 5 In my 20's, my 4th time ever skiing downhill, I volunteered for the Ski Patrol....and the following fall/winter finally had the opportunity for formal instruction. I began racing that same year, went to State Individuals that spring, and took 4th place.
Um...I should mention that there were only 4 racers in my age group.
I raced for a few years, enjoyed my time on the Ski Patrol, but my life was moving on and I had to make some hard decisions. I realized by then (long before, actually!) that I'd never win an Olympic medal, that skiing was all I hoped it would be and more, and...very real surprise...I had a very natural ability in it! But skiing had to go, and so the last few years haven't involved much of it for me.
I've always wondered, though, what might have happened had we grown up near a ski area of any sort, if I had REAL racing talent and whether I'd ever have the real drive and fearlessness of the greats. The world will just have to suffer as it ponders that incredible question.
God's Glory Revealed in Humanity
One of the things I love about the Olympics, and love even more thanks to my theological education, is the way God's Glory shines in these events.
In the Papal Encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, paragraph 10, John Paul II wrote about "Man's amazement at himself" and how God is glorified in His creation: in humanity. As anyone familiar with his works will know, John Paul II frequently quoted the Vatican II document Gaudium et spes, 22, in how our Redeemer, Jesus, "fully reveals man to himself, making his supreme calling clear." Over the last few years, we've frequently read this passage, regarding the human dimension of our redemption in Christ, the amazement at our very humanity, the very GIFT of our humanity. It's often been the subject of meditation, if not only mere study.
When I watch these Olympic Games, I wonder if I am experiencing perhaps one of the things John Paull II himself may have experienced when watching and participating in winter sports over the years of his life (he was an avid skier.) I am taking note of the human ingenuity that invented so many of these sports and, in the incredible abilities of the athletes to constantly go further and faster. I am more and more amazed at the ability of the human body not just to adapt, but to continue to push onward, to new and greater things, aided by technology, physics, all things that have, as their ultimate beginning.....God.
I even find humor in these sports we love to watch, and of course, participate in if we are able. While I tend to only watch a few of the summer games, it's the Winter Sports that have my undivided attention, and, to my way of thinking, show the greatest human ingenuity. What do humans do in the cold, harsh conditions that cover the northern hemisphere for half the year, and the southern for the other half?
WE INVENT COOL STUFF TO DO!
And then we compete!
We humans looked at the mountains and once we climbed them, said, "There must be a better way to get down." Thus we have the advent of skis: 2 waxed boards can get one from summit to valley in a very short period of time! It's not a huge jump to see how one can get from sledding to luge and skeleton and bobsleigh. It's not hard to see how one can go from saying, "Speed isn't enough; I wanna learn to fly!" and thus we have aerials and nordic ski jumping, then snowboarding and skier/boarder cross...etc.
The Winter sports in general point, in some sense, to how the Glory of God is revealed in Man, and it brings me to my knees in amazement and gratitude. How BEAUTIFUL humanity is! How incredible! What ingenuity! What Glory of God is His creation! As fallen as we are, as terrible and sinful, we HAVE to also take note of our beauty in the intellect and will God gave to us to be able to do such amazing things. After all, we were created out of love, for love, to love God, and we have to see not just the sin that brought our redemption, but those things, our inherent dignity and even BEAUTY that makes us worthy of Redemption in God's own eyes!
The other day, having watched her for years now, I saw hometown girl Lindsey Vonn finally take her first Gold medal, on what was maybe one of, if not THE most dangerous, icy and bumpy downhill courses in the history of the Olympic Games. And she did it with an incredibly painful injury to her shin. I watched her interview at the end, and cried with her, unable to help myself as it was such an emotional moment. I confess I often used to imagine what such a moment would be like! Seeing her live was a moment of joy so many of us could share with her. I remember when she was an up-and-coming racer, and I remember her crash in Torino four years ago. In my estimation she has really worked for this and deserves this medal!
I can't forget her tearful, joyful interview after the race. "This is my dream! This means EVERYTHING to me! I have sacrificed EVERYTHING for this. It means EVERYTHING to me!"
I understood her sentiment, and rejoiced, but was surprised in that I was also a little taken aback.
"Everything?" No, I thought to myself, "...a Gold Medal isn't worth "everything." I was further surprised to catch myself thinking, "You sacrificed EVERYTHING...for something so...finite?"
I do not mean here to denigrate ANYTHING Lindsey Vonn has accomplished. I'm THRILLED for her and remain so, and also realize that power of the moment she was in. I realize her sacrifice and that yes, she truly has sacrificed so much of herself, of everything, for so many years! I have nothing but the greatest respect for ALL of the Olympic aspirants and athletes out there and I will forever love the Games.
Rather, I am trying to explain something going on within me that signals a change in my own values, for at one time, I would have been willing to give EVERYTHING for the chance to obtain such an award as an Olympic medal.
But...well...although Olympic Gold would mean a great deal to me, and undeniably it is supremely cool, and one of the greatest accomplishments available to mankind, well....it's not everything. And it's not worth everything. And I'm not willing to sacrifice everything to obtain it.
I realized in that moment that while our humanity and pinnacles of accomplishment reveal God's Glory, and in revealing His Glory to us, causes us to be amazed at our very humanity, in what we can accomplish, through Him, through sacrifice and suffering...I saw none other than...Jesus. I saw the Cross, I saw our Redemption and came to a greater understanding of the love God has for us...and for Lindsey, whom He brought through her years of suffering and sacrifice to win the Gold in her moment of triumph.
"God fully reveals Man to himself, making his supreme calling clear." (GS, 22)
Yes...He does. And He uses everyday people to do it, and people often become His unwitting agents.
If I was going to sacrifice EVERYTHING, if I was going to give EVERYTHING, in order to possess something, I would no longer desire that that "something" be a Medal.
I want Christ Himself, and nothing else.
There is nothing else worth living for, and nothing else worth dying for...but for Him, and love of Him.
Let the world keep its medals. I don't want them anymore. I can do more and BE more with God alone.
*** Papal Encyclical Letter, John Paull II, Redemmptor Hominis, 10: ""This...is why Christ the Redeemer 'fully reveals man to himself.' If we may use the expression, this is the human dimension of the mystery of the redemption. In this dimension man finds again the greatness, dignity, and value that belong to his humanity."
* ** Vatican II Document, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et spes, 22. "The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown.
He Who is "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15), is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.
As an innocent lamb He merited for us life by the free shedding of His own blood. In Him God reconciled us to Himself and among ourselves; from bondage to the devil and sin He delivered us, so that each one of us can say with the Apostle: The Son of God "loved me and gave Himself up for me" (Gal. 2:20). By suffering for us He not only provided us with an example for our imitation, He blazed a trail, and if we follow it, life and death are made holy and take on a new meaning.