Wednesday, September 8, 2004

The Olympics of every day

JoEllen Collins

Commentary by JoELLEN COLLINS

By now you may have read all you ever wish to about the Olympics, as I have. But my daughter?s dream the other night stimulated some thoughts on this quadrennial event that I hope to share with you.

In one of those dreams that seem so logical at the time that you actually believe it, she dreamt she was getting a gold medal in sleeping?yes, sleeping?and as she lay there in bed she imagined that the judges were carefully evaluating her performance and awarding points on such things as turning, not disturbing the sheets, breathing techniques, and soundness of effort!

While I roared at this image, I remembered a dream I had this summer where I not only had been hired as a writer for ?Saturday Night Live,? but was so hilarious in my presentation of material to Loren Michaels that he was shouting ?Hire her on the spot! She?s the best thing since Gilda Radner.? I actually awoke at the sound of my own laughter! We all, of course, harbor fantasies, and sometimes these appear subconsciously as dreams. I enjoy mine and loved my daughter?s because we have long joked how much she and my other daughter like sleeping. I gave them both tee shirts that state, ?I?d rather be sleeping? to use as adult jammies.

All of us can share self-deprecating laughter about our images of ourselves as celebrities or other people of well-deserved fame. I think, however, that the Olympics, as wonderful as they are, may send the wrong message to the dreamers of the world. Few little girls who aspire to be Mary Lou Retton or Carly Patterson will stand on the podium while our national anthem plays. Only three women can do that every four years. I sometimes wonder at the sacrifices in childhood experiences hundreds of petite girls are experiencing by harboring the fantasy that if they just ?try enough? they can be a champion. I do not mean to diminish the accomplishments of gymnasts, skaters, track stars and other kinds of achievers. A career in music requires many childhood hours of practice as well, for example. And I do think we should ?follow our dreams.? An integral part of my philosophy is that each of us should try to use the particular talents we have as fully as humanly possible. I would stress, however, that enjoying the process rather than the result is the component of true value in any such endeavor. Unfortunately, my books haven?t been grabbed up by publishers the minute I put the final period in paper, but that doesn?t mean I will stop writing. I enjoy doing it too much. Perhaps that is naïve, but I also feel that writing is fulfilling in many other ways I don?t even realize. Writing this column, for instance, has connected me with people in this valley. I have been enriched by the discussions I?ve had with strangers who have read my pieces and share their perceptions with me. This little writing I do once a month keeps me looking for the anecdotes and details that make writing interesting, and encourages the habit of the perceptions that help my mind stay active. In short, I love to write these little bits. For every Margaret Atwood or Maya Angelou there are hundreds of other unsung writers, many talented, who will never be published. For every Olympic star there are perhaps thousands of young people sweating long hours in gyms and pools and on fields hoping for recognition and medals. Part of my disenchantment with the Olympics is the patriotic fervor when the USA wins a gold medal. Counting the total of U.S. gold medals every day only adds to the pressure put on young athletes.

If this event really celebrates the spirit of the best in world competition, why are bronze medalists viewed as failures? Look at the doleful expressions on the U.S. women?s gymnastics team when they ?only? won a silver? Surely, doing so well in such a rarefied sphere of talent should suffice. Actually, I thought the men swimmers had a proportionate emphasis on the joys of competition with other accomplished swimmers. It is not failure to do one?s best, even if a 4-1/2 foot teenager never gets to the Olympics. Maybe we should all remember this as we put even more stress on our children and students to succeed at all costs, even the expense of a ?normal? life.

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