Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Husband and I have been glued to the Olympics since the start. We're total Olympic junkies and cannot get enough.

One thing, though, that has struck me time and again is the look of absolute focus certain athletes get before a race/match/event. it's something in the eyes. A sort of "I'll do whatever" look that makes you feel like they're going to give it 110%.

I happen to know for a fact, despite rarely looking myself in the eye, that I have never had that look on my face. I have never in my life had a moment of absolute and total commitment. I've been committed. I've been focused. But I've never had that cold-blooded look of a predator about to eat everyone in the competition.

And perhaps "competition" is the key word here. I'm not a competitive person. I hate playing games with people I love because I always want them to win. Husband will tell you I've been known to cheat in his favor. No. Really. I have.

It's this quality in me, though, that would make me a lousy athlete. I don't have it in me to win at all costs. I have it in me to be dedicated, sure; to give something my best. But not in any area where I'm competing against someone else.

Back when I was an acting major I would definitely find myself getting into character before shows, and would put my mind on my performance. But it wasn't to the exclusion of all else. No matter how focused I was, I would still notice things like the stage manager's beer breath or the fact that the lighting guy was wearing white sneakers. I could never, ever, manage to block everything out of my mind and think about nothing but Shakespeare.

And this quality of focus, which denies me my Olympic gold (that and the total lack of any type of athletic skills) is also responsible for my lack of sleep. I am an insomniac because I cannot shut of my mind. I will lie in bed at night and my mind is racing 95 mph over bills I need to pay, duties I need to take care of. I'll be lying there thinking that I'm trying to sleep, and then realize I've been writing a short story in my head or trying to remember who played Sam in Casablanca. (And yes, I know it's Dooley Wilson.)

I've tried bio feedback and acupuncture. I've tried chiropractic care and meditation. I've tried sleep studies and keeping a dream journal. The only thing that reliably gives me a good night's sleep is Ambien. And as for meditation, I'm a total failure. I do not possess a brain that can be shut off. I've tried for over 40 years and never once been completely quiet, blank, focused. Not on getting down the hill faster than anyone else. Not on pushing out care and focusing on my breathing. Not on shutting it down and getting some sleep.

Like many of my photographs, I am out-of-focus. And I will never be in the Olympics. Or, alas, sleep.


Duke said...

Humanity generally regards a hero as someone who sacrifices their own life to save others. Our highest award, the Medal of Honor, is reserved for those who risk thier own life to save someone else.

As you point out, athletes are focused on themselves. They are the opposite of a hero. Someone totally selfish who has a single-minded goal of elevating themselves above everyone else. They are the definition of selfish.

We have plenty of real hereos in this world. It would be nice if the kids looked up to them instead of athletes who don't care about anyone else.

Kittie Howard said...

Olympic gold doesn't belong just to the athlete but to the athlete's country. Yes, athletes are self-focused to win but know of many, many who are selfless with free time, speaking to kids' groups and so on, encouraging them to push themselves to accomplish more...not in just athletics, but in normal school subjects and so on...Decca, like you, I internalize and can have problems sleeping. I tried everything else and gave up on the non results and so, take Ambien upon occssion. Such is life, one makes concessions!

Decca said...

I do think some (not all) athletes are heroic. Take Lance Armstrong. i admire the way he fought back from cancer to resume his career. Along the way he's helped thousands who have also suffered and has become a strong role model.

I admire Olympians and their dedication and hard work, and I think that people could have far worse role models than individuals who are willing to toil and sacrifice in order to achieve their goal. And yes, many are selfish. But there are also those who use their "celebrity" to do good.

I recall working at an AIDS organization in San Francisco at the height of the epidemic. We were contacted out of the blue by 49er great, Jerry Rice. He had heard we were having a fundraising auction and he not only bought a whole table worth of tickets, he volunteered a couple of signed footballs. We didn't contact him, mind you, he called us. Of course we jumped at the chance and when the footballs arrived they also had signatures from Joe Montana and others. They were our highest-bid items and we were immensely grateful.

It's probably easy for an athlete to be selfish when he or she is offered large sums of money to sell a soda or be photographed on a cereal box. But the ones who give back to the world, and who stand as a good example of what you can achieve if you work hard for it, are heroic.

At least they are to me.

FinnyKnits said...

I don't really think of athletes, Olympian or otherwise, as heroes - but I tend to regard them very highly, still.

It completely impresses me that someone can find a sport like, say, speedskating (which I find endlessly entertaining to watch) and wrap their entire lives around it to the point where they are focused only on becoming The Best at that one, perhaps useless, activity.

And to become The Best is something that I don't think I, personally, have the capability to become - given that it requires intense focus and the shunning of most other activities - but I truly admire those who do.

Sure, some of these athletes are extremely self-centered, maybe ridiculous, likely unbalanced or possibly insane - but they managed to focus so intensely on one thing that they became The Best at it - and that is remarkable.

Plus, I do like to watch dudes in spandex skate very quickly in an oval. Let's just leave it at that.

Duke said...

I don't disagree with any of you. Many athletes do charity work and good things for others. The ones who do should be honored for it. Some, like Armstrong, may even be heroes when they battle cancer and then contribute to its cure.

But Armstrong wasn't given medals for that was he? That's all I was saying.