Olympic Athletes: a lifetime of work

I enjoy watching the Olympics in spite of all the reasons people have for not watching the Olympics.  As a so-called “winter person,” I liked the winter Olympics best, though I’m a fan of the swimming, diving, and gymnastics in the summer games. One thing I noticed during reporters’ brief talks with the medalists is the athletes’ coments that they’ve been working all their lives to reach–and triumph in–the Olympic games.

I think all but the most avid sports enthusiasts are unaware of most of that work. We may hear about the hours of training, but we don’t see (or know about) the meets and competitions that lead up to a place on a country’s Olympic team.

While sports is quite different that the careers most of us choose, I think those of us in many areas can say we’ve been working a lifetime to move up the chain of command (instructor to full professor, line supervior to middle manager, resident to fellow to attending physician). I see this, of course, as a writer sees it as s/he “moves up” from a staff writer, to a paid freelance, to a successful novelist or nonfiction author. Other than reaching bestseller lists or winning prizes, the “best” authors appear at convocations and panels, serve as faculty in MFA programs, and/or teach upper level college writing courses.

When comparing a writer’s version of working for a lifetime with an Olympian’s version of working for a lifetime, most people in both groups are those who either don’t make the team or–if they do–don’t medal. For writers, we at least don’t have careers that can be cut short so quickly by physical injury of age. (You don’t know how much it raises my level of hope to see that Clint Eastwood, at 91, is coming out with yet another movie.)

Needless to say, there aren’t a lot of Olympic sports that have 91-year old competitors. It’s sad that whether it’s the Olympics or other sports, the window in which competing is possible is so short. Writers and actors and directors and doctors have more time. Yet time is always mving fasters than it appears: what seems like forever to a young writer (for example) suddenly becomes a time crunch with age.

So, we keep at it, happy that we don’t have to hang up our skiis or gloves or rackets (not counting the Williams sisters) when we’re only forty. The snare, of course, is always thinking tou have plenty of time. Ha! You might write your best book when you’re reach Eastwood’s age, only it doesn’t take off, only nobody believes in it enough to nominate it for a Pulitzer, only when the book fades from the scene, you feel no closer to your goals than you did when you were 18,

Time runs on so many continuums: sports figures probably have the shortest, college teachers don’t have forever to advance in rank; neither to officers in the military where the phrase is you either move up or you move out. Perhaps writers have it easy: we “get” to keep working on our lifetime dreams long after people our ages have already retired in other disciplines.

But we know what it means when an Olympic athlete a third of our age says, “I’ve been working a lifetime to get here.” I watch the Olympics partly because I enjoy the compeditors’ success. And, I feel sad then they come in .002 seconds behind the bronze medalists. “All glory is fleeting,” General Patton supposedly said. Yes it is. But experiencing it for a moment is a special honor whether you write or direct or care for the sick or swim 1,500 meters into the history books.


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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