Enjoying The Journey

To borrow a phrase from Al Bundy, the Olympics are no time for regrets. That’s what anniversaries are for.

(Apologies, of course, to my beautiful wife.)

“Citius, Altius, Fortius” is the Olympic motto for Faster, Stronger, Higher. In this era of instant gratification and intense media scrutiny, some skeptics would have you believe a better Olympic motto would be “woulda, coulda, shoulda.”

And that’s too bad because they’re missing a good game.

My daughter Jessica and I were talking about this as we enjoyed a late night stroll through the depressed and deserted streets of Vancouver after the United States had beaten Canada at its own game earlier in the day.

Jessica felt sorry for the Canadian athletes and the unbelievable pressure they were feeling because of their “Own the Podium” program and the money the government put in place to help local athletes achieve Olympic success.

A couple of days earlier she saw Canadian skeleton racer Mellisa Hollingsworth break down and cry on national television, apologizing for shaming her country. She finished fifth, less than a second from gold and the blink of an eye from the podium.

“I feel like I’ve let my entire country down,” a tearful Hollingsworth said afterward.

If I was a Canadian, I would seek her out and say that there’s no apology necessary. You ran a great race, eclipsed a personal best time. Her only crime was taking one turn a little too wide, which cost her a split second of time.

One little slip and your dream of Olympic glory goes up in smoke. That’s the nature of sport. Only one athlete or one team can reach the top of the podium. That’s out of how many athletes who are competing here? That doesn't take into account the hundreds and thousands of athletes who didn't make the cut to come here.

The fact that there is only one winner doesn't make everyone else losers. For them success can and should be measured in other forms. The time and effort they've put into perfecting their craft. The people who have supported them; the friendships they formed; the goals they reached.

Olympic gold comes to a select few. The Olympic spirit is available to everyone. It's all a matter of enjoying the journey, enjoying the ride.

That’s the message we try to get across to parents and players in youth hockey. Some people get so wrapped up in winning the next tournament, making the next AAA team, reaching the next level, that they lose sight of the moment.

I think about that every time I go to a USA Hockey National Championship tournament. Over the course of five days you see the best players and teams from around the country. You see great goals and amazing saves. You witness wonderful displays of athleticism and moments of true sportsmanship. The only thing missing are smiles in the lobby of the rink.

I always toy with the idea of approaching a hockey dad who looks like the veins in his forehead are about to explode and ask him if things are really as bad as they appear. Your child is healthy, athletically fit, and is obviously a pretty good hockey player. They are making new friends and creating lasting memories. They are learning valuable lessons about sportsmanship and teamwork. And let’s be honest, playing at this level of youth hockey isn’t cheap so there’s a pretty good chance that you’re doing fairly well from a financial standpoint.

Let’s face it. The chances of a youth hockey player reaching this level are about as slim as me getting invited to the swankiest parties in Vancouver. There’s a pretty good chance it’s not going to happen, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Hopefully that thought resonates with readers better than it did with the bouncers at the exclusive Budweiser party. 

So bigger, faster, farther is not about becoming an Olympic champion in skeleton racing or a National champion in youth hockey. It’s about doing your best, working hard to improve every day in whatever endeavor you chose.

Most importantly, it’s about enjoying the journey you take to get there. Because one day soon you’ll blink and it will be over. That doesn’t mean there’s not a certain amount of disappointment in not succeeding.

There are always things we regret when we look back at our Olympic experiences. The shot that sails over the crossbar. The triple axel that isn’t landed. The turn on the slopes we took a little too wide. The free buffet we missed at the media centre.

The one thing we shouldn’t regret is that we didn’t enjoy the journey and cherish the wonderful memories we gathered along the way.

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