Thursday 10 May 2012

What does it take to become a sporting hero?

What does it take to become a sporting hero?
By Christine Stanschus – CEO Little Kickers, based in Toronto, Canada

My husband, Frank, and I were fortunate to be able to attend a fundraising event in Toronto last week, which was organized by the CAN Fund – Canadian Athletes Now.  I have to admit that until I went along to the event, I had little understanding about the lives of athletes who are preparing for the Olympics, and their motivations.

We had the opportunity to see presentations by, and to meet, a number of ex-Olympic medal winners and to hear their stories around their participation in sport.

I had always assumed that athletes who achieve Olympic performance levels are probably born as naturally superior physical beings to the rest of us, and that whilst a certain amount of effort is bound to be involved, they are ultimately “made that way”.  It’s possible for the chosen few to become Olympians, but not for most “ordinary” people.  I assumed it would be obvious from the first time these talented athletes picked up a hockey stick / kicked a football etc, that their gift would shine through and they would be earmarked as a future Olympian and would be set onto a training conveyor belt which would propel them effortlessly to the Olympic Games. 

Whilst many of the athletes who spoke at the event described the buzz they got from competing in their chosen sport right from day one, I was amazed at the way they described their ongoing involvement.   The effort involved in forcing themselves to train when they really didn’t feel like it, the physical discomfort which often bordered on pain, the “down” moments, when they felt they were underachieving.  There were, however, certain characteristics the athletes shared, and messages which were repeated over and over again throughout the presentations and conversations.  The first being the overwhelming sense of pride they feel in representing their country.  Also, the respect and admiration they felt for their teammates and their determination to do their best for “the team”, the dedication and hours of training required in order to achieve their dreams….  Many of them had stories of injuries, which should have resulted in an end to their Olympic careers – serious joint injuries, serious accidents incurred while training etc.  They all managed to overcome these, and to go on to achieve greatness.

The other thing they all had in common was the huge support they had received from their families.  From instilling an early passion for their sport and a drive to do their best, to more mundane things like getting up early to drive them to practice and being a constant source of encouragement when the going got tough.  They were unanimous in their views that without the support of their family they would never have achieved their Olympic goals. 

So whilst physical attributes obviously contribute to the make-up of great athletes, the support of a strong family is equally as important.   So the next time your Little Kicker wakes you up at 7am on a Saturday morning, asking you to take them to football class, remember that all 11 spaces on the 2024 Olympic football squad have yet to be filled…!
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