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Olympic Dreams

Olympic Dreams can’t be Half-hearted!

By Betsy Kelleher

     Watching the recent Olympics, I was inspired by the perfection of individual performances. I was also humbled by what these competitors did to get that far!

     A recent post on Facebook explained it. “You can have anything you want, if you are willing to sacrifice everything for it.” Ah, I thought, that’s why I couldn’t do it! I’m not willing to sacrifice everything!

     I once experienced just a taste of what these Olympic competitors have on their plate. After getting my first horse, I met a woman who became my coach while I learned to condition Fanny for her first 25 mile competitive trail ride. For three months, I rode almost every day. There were times when I didn’t feel like riding, but Pam told me to do it anyway. She actually yelled at me once to just get on my horse and keep at it! Pam knew what it would take; she once had been close to the Olympics herself.

     Fanny had the heart of a winner. I knew it, and I was obsessed with the desire to show the world what she could do. I had a goal, and I had a passion. Pam understood and she shared my dream. By the weekend of our first event in late fall of 1978, I knew Fanny and I were ready. When I went to the barn to load up and go, however, Fanny had one eye swollen shut. I was devastated. I believe I lost out on my opportunity of a lifetime, to prove Fanny a winner and to be one myself. 

     The next year, I resumed my conditioning schedule without Pam’s hovering presence. Whether it was a lack of her constant guidance or just my lack of self discipline—on my own, I never had Fanny at that level of fitness again. Sometimes I didn’t feel like riding or there were other things that had to be done. Fanny and I completed five out of the six competitive trail events we started. We never even placed. Although I treasured every ride and I still feel that inner excitement when remembering, I also regret that we never reached my goal. I regret those days I didn’t ride when I knew I should have. I regret not going all the way when I had the chance. I later conditioned three other horses briefly for competitive rides, and one Arab mare did win a fifth place. But that same Arab mare would probably have won that ride if I’d put my desire to win above my decision to enjoy the ride with a new friend.

     Earning an Olympic gold medal takes more than ability and a dream. It takes passionate desire, dedication, focus and steadfastly working toward a specific goal. It takes years of work, hour after hour of practice, intense instruction from the best experts, facing your frustrations and failures, constantly striving to do better, to become perfect.

     I know my past record. I know that I would never make it to the Olympics. But that’s ok; I’d rather just watch. Although I’m a bit of a perfectionist in some ways, I’m not willing to sacrifice everything to get what I want. I’ve also realized my tendency to get discouraged—to let the fear of failure sometimes sabotage those last few miles before the finish line. Actually, the most difficult part for me is not the start or the finish. It’s the journey itself when the going gets rough. I’ve heard a little voice telling me, “You probably wouldn’t win anyway.” Was it my self image? Perhaps I didn’t see myself as a winner, so I didn’t fight to win. I know now that the drive to win must come from inside. I didn’t always ride my own ride, and I didn’t always ride to win. So here are my words of wisdom: you gotta believe in yourself and you gotta really want it. You can help others along the way in the spirit of good sportsmanship, but when the finish line is ahead, you must go straight for it with everything you’ve got. 

     If anyone is dreaming the Olympic dream, know that your journey will involve sweat, blood and tears, an aching body searching for that last ounce of strength, for the courage to face yourself honestly, and the passionate desire to keep going in spite of it all. You can’t quit. You can’t ease up until you get there. A winner is usually the one who keeps going the longest.  

     And don’t try to do it alone. You need a coach, to teach what you are ready to learn and to encourage at the right moment. For that moment will come, when you want to rest awhile or give up. The right coach may yell at you when you need a push or encourage you with the right instruction, but the right coach will keep you going. If you really want to win, you will have to go all the way.

     As I write those words, I realize it’s the same for anyone who wants to follow Christ. Living the Christian life is a day-to-day journey that parallels the realization of an Olympic dream! God did not promise anyone an easy road. He promised to be a loving coach, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, to teach, to inspire and encourage, to strengthen and to guide. In Mark 8:34, we are told, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” If we are to accomplish God’s plan for our lives, we must follow His guidance.

     Paul often compares the Christian life to a sports competition. In Philippians 3:13-14, he says, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

     The Olympics have shown me that a shallow Christianity isn’t enough. Our roots must go deep. As we face the problems of today’s economy, of tomorrow’s losses and failures, and the struggles to keep going, we will need a strong connection to the God of all wisdom and strength. In Philippians 4:13, Paul reminds us, “I can do all things through Christ.”

     God has promised He will be with us. We must realize that we are surrounded by His Presence, even when we don’t feel it. We must believe in His power and guidance and trust that it will be there when we need it. To know such faith, we must surrender fully to His will for our lives and give ourselves totally to living His life instead of our own. Seeking Him must be our top priority and our greatest pleasure. He will help us go all the way. 

(Originally published in the September 2012 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)

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