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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
About the Author
Elizabeth 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!