Monday, August 18, 2008

What's so great about sporting achievements?

It's Olympics season! I have a stunning fact for you:

* Dara Torres is 41 years old. This secret has been kept tightly under wraps, but you deserve to know.

!!! It's a revelation!!!

Yes, there was no escaping the fact of Dara's age during the Games. I truly think the NBC commentators were under contract to say that she's 41 every time they said her name. Trying to beat me over the head with this fact to make me watch her compete was really, really annoying.

But I am going to ignore the annoying aspects of NBC's coverage (and they are legion) because what's so great about sporting achievements anyway? How does this help anyone?

Spoken like a true immigrants' daughter, right?

I was never encouraged in sports growing up. Well, not true- I had Indian immigrant parent-approved tennis lessons for a year. I had ballet for a year at age 5, then got dance lessons again when I begged in middle school through high school. But it wasn't something encouraged, discussed or explored much in our household. And I was a skinny kid, and probably didn't show much competitive spirit.

But studies, that I knew for sure was important to my parents. And I liked school pretty well, so you know, I did that school thing until I was, oh, through law school.

And even Derek, a decent sports enthusiast, had to agree that going to the Giants game just sucked. (Sorry Giants fans-- the drunken assholery was just stupid). So I haven't been feeling like I've missed anything huge.

Until, well, the Olympics. Strip away the ridiculous pageantry-- or wait! Before you do-- The architecture of the Bird's Nest and Water Cube is stunning, and I'm no modern/post-modern lover. And the drummers of the opening ceremony were awesome.

Ok- now strip away the ridiculous pageantry, and you've got a group of the most single-minded, driven, beautifully achieving people on the planet. I've realized that despite the values I'd been taught that didn't place much importance on sports, there's a great value in focusing everything you have on something positive, and working to achieve it in a way that transcends any previous achievement.

Why? Because every time a world record is broken, we can see what humanity is capable of-- in a good way, not a Darfur or Guantanamo kind of way. FOR ONCE!! I think this is also why lots of people are fascinated by David Blaine types of stunts-- challenging the notion of what is possible.

You might even say that Nobel Prize winners do this in their fields as well. I'd say that. It's just not as pageantrified as the Olympics, and the achievements aren't as easy to understand. NBC can't market it the same way, so there's not as much public adulation and glory. But still, same heroics, in my mind.

Maybe if we all approached our work (paid, unpaid, volunteer work, etc.) with the same focus, the same drive that Olympians bring to their work, our society would be very different. I don't mean that we'd all work at frenetic paces; I just mean that we'd all be more thoughtful, mindful about what we're doing, how we're doing it.

Maybe reminding us that we can develop that mindset is the real gift of sports achievements.