Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger)
I was infected with the Olympic bug (not Zika) when I was 6 years old. I sat in front of the television, enthralled with the gymnastics competition that was unfolding at the Olympic Games. From that point forward, I was on a mission to become an Olympic athlete.
I was at the very beginning of my own gymnastics adventure, and turned our home into my own personal gymnastics arena. I set up my mini-tramp in our family living room and launched myself daily through the air, challenging myself to do harder and harder skills. I did back flips off the solid wood cabinets that housed my mom’s china. I managed never to land in her curio cabinet wrought with her precious figurines. Only once did my mother have to peel me out of the Christmas tree! God bless the parents who allow their formal living rooms to be turned into gym environments.
Each day, I was trying to go Faster, Higher, Stronger or Citius, Altius, Fortius – the Olympic Motto.
However, the Olympic creed reads:
“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not to triumph, but to have fought well.”
When my coach had to give up coaching our gymnastics team, my gymnastics arena turned into a diving well. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to re-direct my love for gymnastics into diving, and met with success in the diving well. I achieved my dream of making the Olympic team, but was prevented from attending because of the US-led boycott of the Games that were held in Russia. Despite my years of daily striving for Citius, Altius, Fortius, my dreams were crushed by a political reality over which I had no control. So what happens when one’s dreams melt into a puddle of reality?
Every four years I have to re-live this question. I have to deal with everyone’s anger that I am apparently supposed to still feel at Jimmy Carter, the president who called for the boycott. In case you’re wondering, no, I’m not still angry at Jimmy Carter, because if I were, I’d be dead, or at least in ill health. Yes, it was a lousy decision, and proved nothing in the long run, except that using athletes as pawns in an international chess game is not a winning formula for achieving political objectives.
Over the next couple of weeks during the Olympics, you will hear heartwarming and heart wrenching tales of great triumph and struggle, of corruption, doping, poor conditions, and viruses. And you get to decide what you are going to focus on when you think about the Olympic Games. For me, the Olympic Games and international sport are the most powerful peace weapons we have. It’s a time when the world comes together to celebrate talent, commitment, dedication, culture, and a shared love for sport that is universal. We always came away with new friends from faraway lands after international competitions, along with new knowledge and understanding of people who were raised in very different environments than our own. This goes a long way to tearing down walls between countries.
As I watch these next couple of weeks of competitions and hear the stories of the athletes, I will appreciate most how these people will all leave Rio with an understanding of universal human struggles and the triumphs and new bonds that emerge as a result of them. In regard to my own Olympic experience, in the immortal words of the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want.” But, I’ve spent my life trying to live up to the “Faster, Higher, Stronger” motto in gymnastics, diving, school, personally and professionally. I don’t always triumph, but I do keep showing up to fight well. I focus on the things I have control over, I focus on the process, and I learn how to take the results as they come.
You don’t have to be an Olympian to live by the motto and creed of the Olympics. That’s what Olympism is about for me.