Anyone else been watching a lot of Olympics these past two weeks? I sure have! Ah, the Olympics. Where we all suddenly become experts in sports we previously knew nothing about and claim our country’s wins as if we were the ones to shed the blood, sweat and tears it took to achieve them. We cheer, we commiserate, we critique (as if we know what we’re talking about), we cry. Or maybe that’s just me!
No doubt it’s the storyteller in me but I’ve never been able to see a person without wondering about their story – how they got to where they are today, what made them who they are, etc. There are some incredibly talented, strong, determined athletes out there in this world.
And brave. Very, very brave.
Like the pole vaulters, launching themselves up into the air on the end of a stick and hoping for the best. Ever thought about what it’s like to do that for the first time?
I was watching the 10m platform diving final the other day and marvelling at the skill of those men. Especially the ones who start by doing a handstand on the edge of the platform. I can’t even do a handstand at ground level and they’re doing it on the edge of a platform 10m up in the air??? Crazy.
I tried a forward flip into water from a 3m height once. I’d done flips into the pool at home a hundred times growing up so didn’t think anything of it. I really should have. 3m is a lot higher than the 30cm diving platform I was accustomed to. I flipped in the air and then, having not taken into account the extra distance, hit the water flat on my back. To say it was painful is an understatement. I literally couldn’t breathe for a few seconds.
I can only imagine how much it would hurt to get the timing of a dive wrong from a height of 10m. And believe me, I don’t want to. What kind of crazy would possess someone to throw themselves off a platform that high knowing that if they get it wrong, it could really, really hurt? If not kill them.
And then I realised something.
Those men didn’t start their careers diving off a 10m platform. Or a 3m one. Or even one barely above the surface of the water.
Nope. First they learnt to swim.
Just like the gymnasts learnt to walk on the ground before trying it on the beam, and the 5000m runners started with 50m.
None of them started at Olympic standard.
So often, we see the final stage and forget everything that came before it. And not just with athletes.
I remember getting my textbook for maths at the start of grade eleven and, for some odd reason, deciding to flick through it to see what we’d be learning that year. And just about freaking out when I saw some of the trigonometry toward the end. I decided then and there that I was probably going to fail grade eleven maths.
I didn’t fail it because we didn’t start with that chapter. We started with the first one. And worked our way through the textbook. And we didn’t do it alone. We had a really great teacher. Trigonometry didn’t seem all that difficult by the time we got to it. [NB. Please don’t ask me how to do it now. I might have passed Maths, but only just! Maths has never been a strength of mine.]
But that moment, again, made me realise just how often I forget the in-between steps.
I look at couples who’ve been married for decades and wonder why my marriage doesn’t look like theirs, forgetting they’ve had decades more practice at it than I have. No doubt at seven years, they were working through the same challenges I am.
I pick up a musical instrument and get frustrated when I can’t play it as well as I play my viola – forgetting that when I first started learning violin as a five-year-old, I probably sounded just as bad. I might be able to play anything I like on my viola now, but back then, my ‘music’ consisted of three notes just like my guitar playing consists of three chords.
I marvel at the wisdom of others, forgetting the years of experience it took them to learn it. Or people who are incredibly strong and compassionate, completely disregarding the pain that forged it in them.
The in-between. The pain, the training, the courage to move up one more level or take the next step, the years of experience. When you look at the Olympic-standard versions of people, remember, no-one starts at the end. Not them, and not you.
The divers didn’t start diving off a 10m platform. First they learnt to swim.