“What if I break one of them…or more than one…or the entire team?” I said to myself as I lay my head on the pillow at night.
If sleep came, it was preloaded with the same nightmare: me standing naked and not properly shaven (because all worst nightmares have some degree of public nudity) on an empty Olympic podium having to explain to the global community exactly how I had caused irreparable damage to a gaggle of Canadian Winter Olympic athletes.
Like millions of people around the globe, I am fascinated with the Olympics. The thrills, heartbreaks and gut-clenching feats of human endurance these few days contain are captivating and often leave me feeling like a barnacle by comparison.
As full time yoga and Pilates instructor, I had a unique perspective on the young men and women fighting for their dreams in pools, on snowy mountainsides, or on the track, having taught some of Canada’s finest Olympic hopefuls. Full classes and one-on-one sessions were equally intimidating and damn cool.
Under orders from a multitude of coaches and trainers, I had instructions to push the athletes as much as necessary. These people had no idea the sleepless dread this power caused me.
Despite my worry-ridden insomnia and paranoia of damaging the demigods of the sporting world, I worked to hide the giddiness of being able to lay hands on their sculpted muscles without being served a restraining order. Witnessing a human body perform each strengthening movement with pristine execution was a marvel, and my slack jaw often gave away my fan-girl status.
Yes, they are swimming, skiing, jumping, twisting, flying, running freaks of nature, which is what millions of people see and expect, however, they are first and foremost humans. And in most cases, very young humans.
There were days I would look at their faces before beginning a class or individual session, and beneath the practiced determination was a thin layer of exhaustion. Perhaps the residue of defeat from a bad day of training or a less than perfect performance at a competition.
Before each and every session, these athletes shared their injuries of the week, and these tender spots in their superhuman armour proved to be landmines, needing careful attention and delicate dismantling in the 90 minutes we shared. Seldom did they show up as vibrant, athletic machines pulsing with strength and endurance you see from the comfort of your couch.
In their eyes was a reflection of the weeks, months, and years of sacrifice and the disconnected gaze caused by time away from home, friends and family. Those fleeting moments of vulnerability were swift glimpses of the children they pushed aside for a dream that began as a bulky garment several sizes too large.
It is true, not all Olympians are young, but each and every athlete began their journey as that child clomping around in the floppy, over-sized shoes of aspiration. And it is this I see as I watch the games.
I see the child who wins and those who lose, and sometimes my heart breaks for both.
Because perhaps the greatest practice they each undertake is overcoming and navigating the plethora of ways in which their beautiful, human flesh rebels against their unswerving desire to break the natural laws and limitations of endurance, physics, and corporeal capacity.
I will never forget the hours I was given with these young women and men, even though for them, I was likely just another face flashing past the window of their dream train. Our 90 minutes a couple of times a week was a proverbial drop in their sweat-filled bucket, but it was an opportunity for me to deeply understand something that can be applied to each and every imaginable dream.
The real work—the true win—happens in the arduous, sweaty, fretful years before the podium is ever in sight.
This brush with purified determination was a gift I wish I could have received and ingested much sooner in life, because like most valuable gifts, it changed the way I live in the world.
And I no longer see only the gleaming faces above the gold, silver or bronze medals. I see each and every one of those kids who show up at the start line with hours upon hours of preparation etched on their faces. The desire which burns in their eyes is identical.
To me, each athlete shows up covered in a dust of gold that leaked from their pores while they strained and suffered the growing pains of achievement.
Author: Melanie Maure
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Bonus: Mildly infuriating, What happens when you leave Ralph Lauren in charge of your olympic uniformsಠ_ಠ (Via imgur.com)