a little something extra

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Citius, Altius, Fortius

"Faster, Higher, Stronger." The motto of the Olympic Games, coined by a Dominican priest.

Ben asked me to blog about sports. Actually, he asked a question about sports in an email, and I responded, "Sounds bloggable. Yes?" He agreed.

Ben watches and plays tennis. Both for fun, recognizing that the competitive spirit can be a big part of the fun. I do neither. I don't watch any sports, live or on TV. I don't follow any teams or individual athletes. This might lead one to believe that I have no use for sports.

One would be wrong in that conclusion, though. I think of myself as a natural athlete. In my first, aborted career, I pursued professional dance and achieved pretty remarkable results for someone who doesn't fundamentally have the "right" body for ballet. When I was in high school, the head of the P.E. department was mystified by me. I kept outdoing my classmates, yet I was on no sports team, not even intramurals. Once I clued her in to what I did with my extracurricular hours, she remarked no further -- thus demonstrating that she wasn't really trying to recruit me for one team or another, she was just being a good teacher and making sure I was doing something with my time and energy.

I swam competitively when I was little. When that started to compete with ballet, swimming lost. Everything that competed with ballet lost, for a good long time.

Oddly, I was later involved briefly in what is sometimes termed "dance sport" -- that is, competitive ballroom and Latin dancing. I picked it up during my last year of grad school, and it wound up serving three simultaneous purposes:
a. keeping me from going completely berserk, as would inevitably have happened if I hadn't had a place to blow off steam
b. incubating some excellent friendships that continue to this day (Blair and Cristopher, I'm talking about you!)
c. getting me in the best physical condition I've enjoyed in my adult life

I haven't taken a dance class or gone to a studio in years. Now I just show off at wedding receptions. :-) My "sports" life consists of gym membership, where woe betide the person who tries to talk to me at 6:30 a.m. when I hit the treadmill or elliptical trainer. (I love the elliptical trainer. Lots of cardio with no knee pain!) Home yoga, which helps offset the fact that I spend way too much time in my job reading, often curled into unlikely postures in my chair.

But earlier this year, I met a friend of a friend, and she turned out to be an Olympic athlete. Megan (hereafter referred to as Mehgan, to avoid confusion as far as possible) was, or perhaps still is, a diver. The last time I saw her, she talked a little about the Olympic ideal as she experienced it.

That conversation lives in my mind to this day, though it's now a good couple of months in the past. Where sports really connect with my life is in the focus on and endless striving for excellence. The individual excellence which no one can achieve for you, and the team excellence that reconfirms for us all that people working together can do miracles. The miracle might be breaking the four-minute mile, or finishing a marathon (as Shannnnon is aiming to do next month, huzzah!) or pulling off a team triumph that no one ever would have expected (U.S. vs. U.S.S.R. hockey in '80, anyone?)

That striving for excellence resonates with a lot of disparate elements of my life. So while I experience no temptation to participate in or watch sports, I will always admire and respect committed athletes, delight in the uncommitted pickup games and fun runs that can unite a neighborhood, and remember how extraordinary athletic accomplishments can renew our sense of human capability and push it just a little bit farther.


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