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Going for Gold, Even When No One is Watching

Recently, I was having a conversation with my father about the Olympics. He has always been a big fan of them, especially the summer games. I remember, as a child, watching a variety of Olympic sports with intensity, as several members of my family had different favorites. My great aunt, who lived in Florida and who we sometimes visited over the summer, loved gymnastics. My mother preferred the winter sports, particularly ice skating. But my father loved to watch swimming. Having been a swimmer in high school, he had an understanding for the sport that went far beyond my limited knowledge. As we watched the athletes compete with their best butterfly or backstroke, he would tell us stories about his own time in the pool. How he’d have to get up for 6:30am practices in freezing, outdoor pools, how tough the competition was and, sometimes, how being an athlete kept him out of trouble.

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This year, our conversation around the Olympics was a bit different. We talked about the realities of a pandemic Olympics. How resilient these athletes had to be, how hard it must have been to wait an entire year to compete, and how surreal it must be to finally get to Tokyo and know that the eyes of the world are on you. And then what it must feel like to be in the biggest competition of your life, with no one, not even your family, in the stands to cheer you on.

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Compared to all of the changes we’ve seen in the past year and a half due to the pandemic, the lack of spectators at the Olympics is certainly minor for those of us watching it on TV. But for the athletes, many of whom are miles away from their homes and families, the lack of support and validation must be huge. I couldn’t help but compare their Olympic experience to the lives of our sisters. Both have sacrificed much and worked hard their entire lives, dedicated to something larger than themselves, and in the case of our sisters and this year’s Olympic athletes, quietly and without anyone cheering them on.

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Of course, under normal circumstances, there would be spectators in the stands, nervously watching and waiting to cheer for their country, favorite athlete, or for that next record to be broken. And the sisters don’t, and never have, gotten quite that kind of applause and accolades. They have always went about the work of God quietly, faithfully and without fanfare, going to wherever they were called and meeting whatever needs they saw. And they changed the lives of so many people in the process.

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As we continued to speak about the Olympics, my father also asked me if I had seen the commercial about the Paralympic swimmer, Jessica Long. Being a millennial, I don’t have cable and rarely see television ads anymore, so I looked the ad he described up on YouTube. In it, Jessica’s story is told – a child, born with a rare condition that meant her legs would have to be amputated, given up for adoption. But it’s also the story of her parents, who got the call that this young girl needed a family, and who offered her all their love. (You can watch the commercial here.) My heart swelled as I watched this young woman, who was faced with such adversity all her life, but went on to win gold, her parents supporting her along the way. These are the stories that I love seeing most during the games, whether it be the Olympics or Paralympics. They remind me that with perseverance, hard work, and the ever-important element of faith, we are all capable of things that may have once seemed impossible.

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After this pandemic year, the Olympics are different. Our lives are all different. And I worry that there are still difficult times ahead. But the sisters have taught me that with a lot of work, we can all do great things. Besides, the Olympics are nothing if not a time for people around the world to come together and find commonality. Even though each athlete is playing for their home country, each person can be part of something bigger than themselves.  Much like the sisters, who work “that all may be one,” the Olympics remind us that we are all sharing a common home, that we have the ability to all come together for a common purpose. Like the Olympic rings are all connected, so too is the work that we each do. And maybe, if we cheer each other on however we can, our hard work can change the world.

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About the Author

Elizabeth-Powers,-WebElizabeth Powers is the Electronic Communications Manager for the Congregation of St. Joseph and manages the blog, Beyond the Habit. She sometimes acts as a contributing writer. She loves reading, writing, Harry Potter, and PBS. She is a first time mom, and working to figure it out!

20 thoughts on “Going for Gold, Even When No One is Watching

  1. Mary Jo Curtsinger says:

    Thanks Elizabeth ! I’d just seen that amazing commercial about Jessica and watched swimming along with a friend who once competed in butterfly…so your piece synchronized with my mind tonight. Well put !

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  2. Maria Hill says:

    I loved reading your reflection. I, too, love hearing the back stories of the Olympians. So much hope and joy amidst the pain and perseverance. Thank you!

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  3. Carol Creek says:

    This is such a heart warming tribute to our Olympians and to our Sisters!! The joining of the two is brilliant and true! Thank you Elizabeth!! Really well done!

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  4. Sharon F says:

    Thank you Elizabeth! I, like your family, have been watching the Olympics with great zeal, staying up late at night until 1am, sometimes shouting and cheering with the cats wondering what’s going on with mom, “Go Katy!, or, “Run, go, go, you’re almost there!” It’s a lot of fun, in a unique way, since the grade school I attended for 8 years was without athletics of any kind, and no gymnasium until 7th grade.
    But most eye opening is that commercial you’ve written about! I’ve seen it many times, but just thought it was a touching piece of fiction, I had no idea it was real! You’ve given me a real piece of gold, that’s touched my heart, with how brave, loving, and open hearted some people in this world are who will never wear medals. The nuns and friends I’ve made at River’s Edge are the unsung champs of this city so deserving of gold medals! Thank you Elizabeth and Carl Creek! 👏🏻🙏🏻

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