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Lessons from the 2014 Olympics

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Every two years my social life takes a two week break. I spend my evenings curled up under a blanket emotionally investing myself in the lives and pursuits of people I’ll likely never meet. I learn about other countries. I learn about sports I’ll never be able play. I learn about the commitment and passion it takes to dedicate oneself to being the absolute best in the world. Some people only like the summer and others only like the winter. But me…I love both. I love the tradition. I love the pageantry. I love the unique combination of competition and comradery.  The Olympics offer unique learning opportunities – even some for us non-athletes. They demonstrate what we are capable of – as individuals and as a community. They show us the very heights and depths of human accomplishment. And, whether you are an aspiring athlete or just a wide-eyed spectator (like me), there are incredible lessons to be learned from our amazing athletes.

1) Discover what you love – Easier said than done, right? For many of us, the idea of discovering our professional passion is daunting, maybe even impossible sounding…And, the truth of the matter is that not all of us can be world champion figure skaters or snowboarders. The workaday world can be pretty unglamorous sometimes. That’s why it is so important to find something you enjoy and invest in it. Even if you can’t do it professionally…you can use your free time to turn your dreams into reality.

2) Respect your elders and inspire the next generation – The Olympics are about tradition. They represent a ribbon that ties together generations of athletes from around the world. It ties us to our past while reaching into the future. Some of the most awe inspiring moments at the Olympics come as we observe the course of the human life. Young superstars become seasoned veterans in just a few years, and while we celebrate the spirit and energy of youth, we must also look to the experience and dedication of those who have paved the way. One of the most startling examples of this in the Sochi games has been the retirement of Evgeni Plushenko. A Russian figure skating superstar, Plushenko helped Russia earn gold in the team skate. After a long and impressive career, he gave his very best to a crowd of his countrymen. Later that same week, Plushenko withdrew from the men’s singles competition due to an injury. He staked off the ice as fans showed respect and admiration for a long and accomplished career. He will long be an inspiration for a generation of athletes.

3) Celebrate the victories of other – As I write this, I am watching men’s snowboard cross. A former wax tech from the 2012 games just took bronze in the event. His teammates did not medal and yet they could barely contain their excitement. They celebrated with a passion and joy that was entirely spontaneous. If you have been on a team like that, you know how powerful it can be. It means trust, comradery, and mutual respect. 

4) Sometimes you lose – For many the biggest surprise of the Olympic Games has been Shaun White’s inability to medal in an even that he is largely responsible for advancing. To call White a legend in snowboarding is an understatement. He is a two-time gold medalist who was overwhelmingly favored to win a third gold in the event. Instead, he didn’t even make the podium. It was one of those heartbreaking, human moments that truly tests our character and kindness. When White realized that he had failed to earn a medal, he didn’t sulk off. He didn’t curse or make excuses. He hugged the winner (not a little hug either). He told an interviewer “I’m happy for the guys who did well.” And, to top it all off, White gave the three snowboards he had used in the games to three fans from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. 

5) Enjoy the moment – There is something so inspiring about a medal ceremony. Competitors who have dedicated their lives to a single sport, celebrating their accomplishment as their anthem plays. Honestly, I think it’s my favorite part. When athletes are interviewed after the fact, they often say the same thing “it all feels so unreal. It was a blur.” How many times, after your greatest victories, have you felt that way? Take a moment. Enjoy it. Listen to your anthem.

There are plenty of lessons from these Olympic Games. Although incomplete, they have already shown us such powerful moments of human accomplishment. They teach us about leadership. They teach us about passion. They teach us about dedication. In the next several days, I will strive to bring the Olympic spirit and commitment to all that I do (though I probably won’t be in skates or skis).  

Nicole Palmisano

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