Please, somebody, tell me that I’m not the only one who gets emotional whenever the Olympics grace our television screens.
There is simply something about the passion that these athletes exude. Their drive and their unflappable calm in the face of pressure gets to me, usually in the form of tears. After the videos they play about the athletes’ lives, and the sacrifices they and their families have made, I’m already reaching for the box of Kleenex.
After qualifying rounds and semi-finals, and whatever else there is that I don’t fully understand, I feel as if I know these people. I have invited them into my living room, into my life, and they have told me their story while I sat idly by eating pasta for dinner and trying not to sob. We’re old friends by this time, okay?
But it is when the medal ceremonies take place that I lose all semblance of control.
Seeing dreams coming true before my very eyes, seeing the pride, the flash of emotion, and inspiration standing before me while the National Anthem plays and the camera moves slowly in on their faces—I lose it.
I lose it while they lose it. I see tears in their eyes, and it gives me permission to let my own fall. And sometimes if I see them struggling not to cry, I cry for them…I don’t have the entire world watching me.
A few days ago I was working from home and I put on the gymnastics and swimming events that had played live the night before. I was catching up on my emails and next to me the U.S. gymnastics team was doing their thing. By the end of those floor routines I was crying right along with those girls as they found out that they had medaled, the U.S. taking gold and silver in the gymnastics all-around event.
I was crying for these girls that I have never met, but who I felt for, and I don’t think that it’s solely because I am an empath. Sure, I can say it’s due to my energy awareness and call it done. But, wait—shouldn’t we all be tearing up as we watch these strong, capable, proud young women on the world stage who are actively fighting for their dreams in life and making them happen?
I’d like to think that as a human race, we are all cheering on those Olympians who are heroes. They are the ones who fight for dreams that tax their bodies, their spirits and their minds. They are the ones who never rest for the hope of getting a shot at greatness in their one moment to shine.
And the rest of us? We are watching them tackle life in such a magnificent way, how can we not cry? How can we not cry hot, messy tears of happiness at the human achievement before us?
And to be honest, that wasn’t even the first time that I had cried during that segment of the Olympics. The first time was when I watched Michael Phelps take the podium after winning his fourth gold medal in these Rio Olympic Games.
As I watched him step up on to that podium and struggle to keep his emotions in check, I did the same. I looked around for Kleenex, and I couldn’t find any.
I wondered, what was it that he was thinking this time around? He had been up there 26 other times—what was it that was going through his head this time that had him choking up?
And then I remembered an interview he had done with Bob Costas. There was a line that Phelps said that stuck with me. He said,
“The life that I live now is a dream come true. I’m able to do what I love in the pool and out of the pool. I have a beautiful baby boy, a gorgeous fiancé, a great family, I’m closer to the people who like me and love me for me than I ever have been in my life—and I would never change that. I truly am living a dream come true.”
I’ve been watching Phelps swim in the Olympics for as long as I can remember, and he has surely been an incredible person to watch. I have felt inspired by him, in awe of him, humbled by him, and I have felt confused by him, as I’m sure have many, many others. But he’s always been such a solid, consistent sight to behold in the games, that it was a shock when he fell to what he called his “absolute rock bottom” after his announced retirement.
I had a moment of judgement when I heard about his DUIs several years ago, but in watching this new interview with Costas today I felt a renewed sense of pride for not only a fellow human being, but for an imperfect person who raised themselves out of a dark place and worked hard to redeem themselves, to build themselves back up, and to come back better than ever.
In my humble opinion, Michael Phelps returned to the Olympics this year to prove to not just the world that he had found himself again, but to himself. And that he was worthy of the medals he had been awarded.
And when he was choking up on that podium? I was choking up right beside him because, man, he deserved to be there.
He might be super-human when it comes to talent in the pool, but this man has picked himself up from the depths of addiction and recovery, and remade himself into the person he knew he could be. That takes more than just athletic skill, that takes a deep sense of self, of courage, of commitment and of bravery.
And I saw just that same series of emotions and character traits flash across the face of Simone Manuel when she was on the podium after receiving her gold medal. I watched her historic swim where she became the first African-American woman to claim an individual gold medal in the sport of swimming. In response to her achievement she said,
“This medal is not just for me. It’s for a whole bunch of people that came before me and have been an inspiration to me. And it’s for all the people after me, who believe they can’t do it.”
Olympians are an amazing group of people. If we are going to hold sports idols to a higher standard and look to them as role models for our children, I wish we would look more to the Simone Manuels and Michael Phelps of this world, for in those faces, in those eyes and in their actions, the world can witness true character.
I think that when people the likes of these athletes cry, we should cry right along with them. Let’s cry tears of pride and joy, sorrow and disappointment.
So the next time you see an athlete crying during the games? Reach for the Kleenex and get emotional with me.
Author: Molly Murphy
Image: YouTube Still
Editor: Emily Bartran
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