Monday July 7, 2008
One of the benefits of the discipline of writing week after week hits you when you realize, “Hey! I wrote about that.” Thanks to the marvel of the search engine, within seconds, I can find those long forgotten pieces, pull them up out of storage and relive the moment. If you are a writer, and many of my readers are just that (not a few of you much more accomplished than I), you can appreciate the process. You write. And then you go back and read. You edit. You refine. You reword. And you read again. And sometimes you wonder, where did that come from? That’s pretty good. You smile.
It’s a secret you keep, because it’s not particularly flattering to let your narcissism show. Best just to ruminate on those sorts of things on your own, in the privacy of your own thoughts. But song writers and poets and photographers and musicians and painters and crafts(wo)men and artists of all sorts know what I’m talking about. The creative process is a delicate, mysterious thing. First you’ve got to get started, set aside the distractions and demands and just do it (usually this is the most difficult part – deadlines help). Then when it starts and the creativity flows you get into the zone. And after it’s over, you look back at what was created; and if you’re reasonably good (and you probably are), you reflect back on the whole thing and savor it for a little while. Sort of the way God did in those first couple of chapters of Genesis.
I’ve got nearly ten years worth of these weekly essays all stacked away on some little digital shelf on a hard drive up in the cloud. Sometimes I think the index might well be as telling as the table of contents. When you are free to write about whatever strikes your fancy, in time, you cover a lot of ground.
Every four years, the Summer Olympics come around. This week, we tuned in to the qualifiers. At least three familiar names hit the headlines. And once again, they captured our attention. In past LeaderFOCUS essays, in separate weeks, I wrote about all three.
When you take the time to tell one’s story, it’s as though you become a friend. You listen harder. You work to get the facts straight. You research. You think context. You connect the dots. A Gold Medal never happens in isolation. It is the apex of a perfect storm; a compilation of training, dreaming, coaching, mental preparedness, recovery, acceptance of monotony combined with terrifying moments of high risk, overcoming obstacles – all of it. The stories inspire us. For some, they inspire imitation. Some on-lookers will take the feat as a calling… and spend the next few years pursuing the same high level performance. For the rest of us, the inspiration takes on a different form. It becomes motivation to focus on our own unique hopes and dreams – to take them seriously and to push our opportunities up to the next level.
I first met Allyson Felix when she was about three years old. Her mom, a school teacher, liked to braid her hair and dress her in bright colors. I remember her chasing her brother around the living room. Her dad, a high level businessman turned pastor, loved his family. Never did I imagine this little girl might become one of the fastest women in the world. I wrote about her (LeaderFOCUS – July 19, 2004) four years ago. And now, after a college career excelling at USC, she’s back in the headlines. She handily dominates the 200 meter sprint. Last night, she cruised to the number one position, and officially won a ticket to Beijing. She is to sprinting what Tiger Woods is to golf. She’s a finely tuned, running machine. She makes extraordinary high speed seem effortless.
Michael Phelps (LF – August 23, 2004) became a household name last time around (in Athens). His dominance in the pool was legendary then. I was taken by the head-to-head combat with a swimmer I then called his “nemesis,” Ian Crocker. Phelps gets the headlines. Crocker is only a shade (we’re talking hundredths of a second) behind. Their friendship is the stuff of legend. Now, Phelps is back. Crocker, too. Four years ago, I described the finish of the 100 meter butterfly that gave Phelps one more Gold Metal in a photo-finish over Crocker. It knocked Crocker out of contention for the relay event. But Phelps understood the gift Crocker gave him. So in return, he voluntarily relinquished his place on the team, opening the door for Crocker to compete. And it worked. Crocker got his Gold.
And after the qualifiers this week, they are together again. On their way to Beijing.
Laura Wilkinson (LF – October 2, 2000) first stepped into our world of awareness in the 2000 Games in Sydney when someone put a microphone in her face just after she, well, here’s what I wrote…
On her final dive, Laura said later, “I thought I had nothing to lose. I didn’t want to hold back.” Like every dive in the competition, she turned once more to her family and smiled, drawing on their strength. And this time, she stuck her most difficult dive – a two and a half somersault with a two and a half twist in the pike position. The judges rewarded her with the highest score of the day – 75.6 points.
And a Gold Medal.
Through tears of joy, Laura acknowledged the congratulations of the NBC reporter, waiting at the edge of the pool. “Laura, you are the first woman to defeat the Chinese in sixteen years. You are an American hero.”
And her response to that question is what got us. With the world watching she said simply, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The stunned reporter didn’t know what to say. We replayed it a couple times just to be sure we heard it right.
That line got me writing about Laura and her journey. And thinking about the question – does authentic faith enhance or inhibit high performance? Now, she’s back… eight years later. Older. Wiser. A team leader. A mentor. A coach. An Olympian.
So here we are on another Monday, you and me. You are a leader. Me, too. We’ll be watching the Games again, this time in high definition.
Pick your favorites. Learn their stories. Back in 2000, I found Laura’s web site. I sent her my little essay (Peak Performance) and to my delight, she wrote back. She liked it. She thanked me. Her web site tells me that her commitment to faith remains strong.
So I’ll be writing again. I can’t help myself. Allyson. Michael. Laura. And probably others.
Let the Games begin.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2008