There is No Finish Line

 Who could not be absolutely in love with Gabby Douglas? With Alex Raisman, Jordyn Wieber, McKayla Maroney, and Kyla Ross…the Fab Five who won our hearts and medals at the Olympics?  Along with so many athletes we are watching intently, cheering for, sighing for, disappointed with and celebrating with, they are paragons of health, of beauty, of achievement, of competitiveness, of winning.  Even when they fall short (literally off of a balance beam) we know they are at the Olympics because they are the best in the world.

As I watch night after night in my bed, my bedroom being the only place I have a television (very small) and air conditioner (very noisy), I find myself wondering what it is that these young women and the other athletes at the Olympics have that has made them the great athletes they are.  Is it exceptional physical abilities, a drive and commitment to their sport, parents who devoted themselves and their children to rigorous training, some unknown Higgs Boson-like God particle that they were born with? (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/07/120704-god-particle-higgs-boson-new-cern-science/)

I did a little very non-scientific research on “what makes athletes great?”  Here are a couple of results.  The first is from a New York Times blog for junior high students. This is an answer from a 13 year old:

 Okay a lot of things make athlete storng and those things can be by eatting good and also by trying there best.but most importantly is when they never give up  http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/08/what-makes-an-athlete-great/

This one is from an article in Shape magazine from a couple of days ago:

In my opinion, it’s not just the amount of medals you win or how many events you compete in. There is definitely a lot more to being an Olympian than that. I believe athletes like Wilma Rudolph and Jesse Owens epitomize what it means to be an exceptional athlete. Rudolph was born prematurely and spent the bulk of her childhood in bed. She suffered from double pneumonia, scarlet fever, and later she contacted polio. After losing the use of her left leg, she was fitted with metal leg braces when she was only six. However, years of treatment and determination to be a “normal kid” worked, and Rudolph was out of her leg braces at age nine. She went on to become a basketball star before taking the track and field world by storm and ultimately went on to win three golds and one bronze at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. From there, she became the fastest woman in the world and the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics.  http://www.shape.com/blogs/london-2012-summer-olympics/what-makes-olympic-athlete-great

Never giving up and overcoming difficulties seem to be favored ingredients, and certainly we have seen that night after night.  Gabby Douglas actually did fall off the balance beam and got back on; she didn’t win a medal in that competition and she knew she wouldn’t win, but she got back on that narrow strip of hard wood and jumped and tumbled and vaulted off.

Two things were going on in my head as I was watching event after event and pondering the question of what makes these athletes great: they were perhaps more subliminal than rational thoughts.  One was the often-played snippet from the Phillip Phillips song, Home.

Just know you’re not alone, Cause I’m going to make this place your home

And there they were accompanied by the song: the women’s gymnastics team, the audience cheering, the parents, the coaches.  The Karolyis and Liang Chow literally going to the mats and challenging Alex Raisman’s score to secure her bronze medal on the beam. Win or a fall, you are not alone.

The other had nothing to do with the Olympics.  It was an article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine section from July 29 that I kept getting distracted from and kept being pulled back to.  The picture on the first page of the article, titled Hope in the Wreckage, was of two women who could not look less like Olympic athletes.  Claudia Cox, a visiting nurse is pictured kneeling on one knee at the bed of a women dying of bone cancer at home.  “Just know you’re not alone,” the lyrics seeped into my head.  But it wasn’t just the photo. Claudia Cox works in Jackson, Mississippi a place with some of the worst health outcomes in the country.  Sixty-nine percent of adult Mississippians are obese or overweight: at least 25% of the state’s households do not have access to healthy foods, adequate grocery stores being up to 30 miles away.  The article notes that many of these families buy their groceries at gas station convenience stores. Mississippi has the highest teen birth rate and Human Rights Watch calls the state “the epicenter of the H.I.V. epidemic in the United States.”  Tragic human wreckage indeed. So where was the Hope?  The Hope is Claudia Cox working for an organization called HealthConnect which was founded by Dr. Aaron Shirley and Mohammad Shahbazi, a professor at Jackson State University, based on the community outreach and very personal home care in a program in Iran. The Iranians founded “health houses,” local huts that contain exam rooms and sleeping quarters for community health workers in rural areas to reach the population living in more than 60,000 villages outside the urban areas of Iran.  The community health workers who are all from the villages themselves, “advise on nutrition and family planning, take blood pressure, keep track of who needs prenatal care, provide immunizations and monitor environmental conditions like water quality.”  The services of the health houses lowered rural infant mortality by 75% and substantially lowered the birth rate, two benchmarks of overall improvements in the health of a population.  Dr. Shirley, impressed with the positive impact on health outcomes in Iran, adopted many of the same services, mostly local community members/health workers establishing close personal relationships with patients, encouraging them, counseling them, advocating for them. In one year the services of HealthConnect cut the rate of admissions to Central Mississippi Medical Center by 15%. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/07/27/magazine/mississippi-health-care.html#

I have seen these same health strategies and relationships in the home visiting programs in Costa Rica, in Resource Mother projects in Norfolk, Virginia, in the MIRA project in Nepal.  Community health workers, peer educators, home visitors teaching, supporting and advocating which all comes down to what the best coaches do for the best athletes.

The positive differences in any of our lives are often the results of coaching.  I will never play tennis at the Olympics, I am not even seeded and I don’t play at an exclusive club, but I do have a coach.  Bill is the best; he knows just how to keep me improving and “playing up,” without my getting frustrated (although he occasionally slams one past me just to keep me humble.)  He is also a person who has been there most weekends through many of my life’s changes over the past 7 years.  I missed the opening ceremonies for the Olympics because I was out with two of my other coaches, my yoga buddies Lauren and Julie who have also coached me as friends and guides.  My daughters Kristin, Kierra and Alex keep me balanced and let me fall and are there to get me back up or just sit on the floor with me for a while.  Carol has been coaching me since I was 5. Heller An who is a triathaloner knows good coaching.  I am fortunate to have many wonderful coaches.

Sure we all have our gifts, we all have our challenges, our abilities and disabilities, and some very exceptional people to dazzle and inspire us in Olympic events.  They show us what can be.  So does Claudia Cox.  So do each of us when we refuse to give up, when we open ourselves to being coached and when we assure others that “you are not alone.”

Home Phillip Phillips

or

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dfTURAhrTY

Hold on, to me as we go

As we roll down this unfamiliar road

And although this wave is stringing us along

Just know you’re not alone

Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Settle down, it’ll all be clear

Don’t pay no mind to the demons

They fill you with fear

The trouble it might drag you down

If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone

Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Settle down, it’ll all be clear

Don’t pay no mind to the demons

They fill you with fear

The trouble it might drag you down

If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone

Cause I’m going to make this place your home

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Janice Cohen
    Aug 11, 2012 @ 14:10:09

    Loved your article and thanks for providing the video and words for Home. I especially liked the additional information provided and your insights. Perseverance is the key ingredient to the finish line along with support of others and the willingness to be your very best at whatever you want to do.

    Reply

  2. dishingondining
    Aug 11, 2012 @ 18:04:48

    I agree with you 100% about Bill as a coach. He’s quite unique and has helped me become a better (and more fashionable) tennis player. I am blessed to have had some inspirational and life-changing masters in my martial arts as well, particularly my current one – Master Oh in Norwood, NJ. He is my Mr. Miyogi!

    Reply

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