February 16, 2010
"The Best Olympic Race of All"
The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner
Let me be honest. Up until this past Sunday, I had never heard of Seth Wescott or Hannah Kearney. I now know them as the first two USA athletes to win gold medals in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Seth won the gold in the SBX, or snowboard cross race, and Hannah took the gold in the women's moguls event--a combination of speed and aerial jumps and turns.
It's hard to believe that just six weeks ago Seth Wescott was unable to walk after a serious injury drove his femur up into his pelvis. It was the most serious and painful injury of his long career, and because he was already considered past his prime for his sport (he is 33) no one was giving him much of a chance at these Olympics. His qualifying run put him 17th out of 32 snowboarders, and any hope of a medal seemed distant. He fought his way back though and came out of nowhere to make a dramatic aerial pass just before the finish line to claim the gold medal. His family, waiting for him at the finish line, handed him an American flag that had belonged to his recently deceased grandfather.
Hannah Kearney was favored to win a medal in the 2006 Olympics in Turino, Italy, but finished a disappointing 22nd. In February of 2007 she found herself crying in her doctor's office when she found out she had torn an anterior cruciate knee ligament. At age 23, she saw the 2010 Olympic games as a shot at redemption for herself. She knew that in order to win gold she would have to defeat the home country favorite, Jenny Heil, who everyone was expecting to win Canada's first gold medal. On Sunday Hannah skied last in the women's moguls and amazingly snuck by Heil to claim the gold.
What do these two gold medalists have in common, other than being the best in the world at their respective sports? They both have great back-stories. Without the stories, their athletic accomplishments would be just that--great athletic accomplishments by relatively anonymous people. There is a reason that the television coverage of the Olympics spends so much time giving us the back-stories of the athletes. It is through these back-stories that we can find ourselves identifying with the competitors. We will never participate in a snowboard or mogul race with Wescott or Kearney, but once we know more of their back-stories, we realize that we are all fellow participants in a more important race, and that's the human race. Like them, we have known times of disappointment and setbacks, along with times of success and celebration. We have each cried when we thought our dreams were over, and we have each wondered if we are past our prime and found our confidence shaken. We have each experienced the "thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat" on countless occasions. As fellow participants in the human race, we all draw great inspiration from the Wescotts, Kearneys and the hundreds of other athletes in the winter games.
I will continue to watch as much of the Olympics Games as I can over the next twelve days. In the meantime, it is hard to say which I will enjoy more, the athletic efforts of the competitors or the back-stories that go along with them. One without the other would seem incomplete. I do know this though, when someone asks me which event or race I find most inspiring, I know for sure what my answer will be: the human race.