London Olympics: Are you inspired?

Missy Franklin and Allison Schmitt, two of my many Olympic inspirations

My discovery that I love to swim coincided nicely with the beginning of the Summer Olympics, which is also incidentally when all of the swimming events take place.   I found myself watching the swimming events through new eyes, with a deeper appreciation for what it means to be able to swim far and fast.  In previous times I would just watch the swimmers cut through the water, one eye on the clock, but now I watched the way they moved their arms, the cadence of their kicks, the angle at which their hands re-entered the water.  I thought about them when I swam laps at the pool, tried to incorporate the things I saw them do into my own practice.

I had already made up my mind to work on becoming a better swimmer before the Olympics started, but after watching these athletes at the height of their abilities, I decided that I wanted to take it a step further, so we’re planning on joining the local master’s group next week. I don’t want to sputter my way through the water; I want to learn how to glide.  I will never be able to swim like Missy Franklin or Allison Schmitt, but that’s not the point.  The point is to be better than I am now, and to become the best swimmer I can possibly be.

I found myself going through much the same thing when I watched the men’s 10K, the women’s marathon, the women’s road race, the women’s triathlon.  I came away from watching all of these events more excited than ever – and usually I am pretty excited! – to get back to my own training and to give it everything I’ve got.  I want to run like Galen and Shalane, ride like Kristen and Evelyn, compete like Sarah and Laura.  I want to be the absolute best I can be at all of my sports.

I don’t think I’m the only one who has found themselves bitten by the inspiration bug while watching the Olympics.  Everywhere I look – on my social networks, in the comments of blogs and status updates, in casual conversation – I hear people talking about how they’d like to try this sport or that, how rowing looks so cool or how they might like judo or maybe they should take a diving class.

The Olympics blows the visible world of sports wide open, giving people the chance to see that there are a ton of ways to be athletic, that there are sports for every body type and every set of mental gifts.  For a long time, I believed that I was bad at sports because I was bad at a very specific kind of sport, the ones that involved balls.  (There is just no way to say that without it sounding pervy.  Sorry.)  I played basketball, volleyball, soccer and softball and I stank at every single one of them.  It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized I could actually be good at sports; I had just been playing ones that were wrong for me.  I suspect a lot of people who are spending their days and nights watching the athletes in London are having the same kind of epiphany.

It’s also possible that people are watching the Olympics and seeing athletes with all kinds of bodies and realizing that you don’t have to be cut with a low body-fat percentage to be an athlete.  You can be fat and be an athlete.  You can be short and be an athlete.  You can have no feet and be an athlete.  The popular image of an “athletic body” is just that: an image.  The reality is that an athletic body is defined not by how it looks but by what it does.  Do you play a sport?  Do you work hard at it?  Then you, my friend, are an athlete.

So I’d like to challenge everyone who finds themselves thinking about how much they’d love to do something after watching it in the Olympics to go out and find a way to give that sport a try.  Check out your local rec centers for volleyball leagues and soccer teams and diving classes.  Consider joining a master’s group.  Sign up for a 5K.  Go talk to someone at your local cycling shop about local riding groups, see if there are any rowing teams around.  Take classes in judo or sign up for a boxing class.  The opportunities are out there.  They didn’t cease to exist once we became adults.

So tell me, have you been inspired by the Olympics?  And what do you plan do to do with that inspiration?

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8 responses to “London Olympics: Are you inspired?

  1. I love seeing all the different shapes and sizes of bodies in the Olympics. We women are so tough on ourselves, and it’s a great reality check. I’m inspired by all the events, even the ones that don’t interest me that much. The women’s marathon really inspired me, especially knowing they were running around a 5:30 pace–something I can only dream of doing.

    • We really are way hard on ourselves, aren’t we? I mean, the world is, too, but we, like, are pre-emptively tough on ourselves. And yes, the marathoners are incredible. I know I’ll never be able to run that fast but it doesn’t keep me from wanting to try!

    • No way, I’m totally down with everyone promoting their own work in the comments (as long as it’s relevant and not at odds with the general point of this blog). Plus, Katie Taylor is a total bad ass so any love she gets is welcome in my book!

  2. I had the same epiphany this summer that sports /= balls. I have watched incredible women swim incredibly and ROW incredibly! How I wish that crew or swimming had been available to me as a girl. The only women’s sports at my highs school were softball and basketball, neither of which appealed. I might never have been an Olympian, but I bet I could have rocked it at a more local level. I don’t know if there are rowing opportunities for newbies in their 30s, but I do know that there are definitely swimming opportunities for newbies in their 30s. I am making plans to really learn how to swim this winter.

  3. I am terrible at sports that involve either hand-eye coordination or precision. . . which basically meant that I sucked at gym class in school and thought I sucked at sports in general. The first time someone called me an “athlete” was when I was in my mid twenties and I’m like, “who are you talking about? not me?”

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