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Greg Woodburn

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The Olympian Inside All of Us

Posted: 08/15/2012 10:27 am

As we reflect on the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Olympic Creed reminds us that the journey we take part in is more fulfilling than the destination:

The most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well.

After all, what is each medal but a physical talisman meant to kindle memories?

Great athletes of the world have fought well and fought together -- for victory, for joy and for meaning. Indeed, this Olympic spirit represents how we can change ourselves and our world for the better through the noble act of giving our full effort to worthy endeavors.

In the ancient Games, warring city-states literally laid down their weapons during Olympic competition, and even today sports have briefly ceased civil wars, helped pave the way for desegregation, given hope to the downtrodden around the world and provided avenues for leading purposeful lives.

The resilience and sportsmanship demonstrated by my University of Southern California Track & Field teammate Bryshon Nellum, who has battled back from gunshot wounds four years ago that threatened his ability to walk, as well as South Africa's disabled -- but not disadvantaged -- Oscar Pistorius, constitute journeys worth more than the "destination" honors of being the Closing Ceremonies flagbearers for their respective nations. Moreover, the goodwill these two 400-meter runners have created will journey forward in the lives of others. Indeed, the best accomplishments and endpoints become points of new beginnings.

The Games also remind us of the triumph of the human spirit as personified by such past Olympic greats as World War II hero and courageous prisoner of war Louis Zamperini, and my USC distance running coach Laszlo Tabori, who was the third person to break 4:00 in the mile and competed in the 1956 Olympic Games after spending months in an internment camp during the Hungarian Revolution.

Yes, the drama of sport creates stories of happiness well as tales of heartbreak, but both share the greater core narrative of dedication to inspirational goals and to life. The journeys at their heart, in other words, are more significant than their divergent destinations. I believe a worthy goal is not only measured by achieved ambitions, but also by the influence the goal has had over one's pursuit of excellence.

In my personal experience, I look back on my original philanthropic goal to collect, clean and donate 100 pairs of running shoes with gratitude and pride not in its completion, but in the larger journey it helped ignite. The best accomplishments and endpoints become points of new beginnings; while we set goals to influence our future, in truth they are meant to shape our action in the present.

More than five years and 13,000 pairs of shoes later -- and with a 501(c)(3) non-profit that also leads youth running camps and other programs -- my principle responsibilities remain the same: dream big, build relationships, and have fun. As my mentor and Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor likes to say, "Believe -- and achieve!"

The Olympics embody the transformation power of sport as well as the universal connections at the heart of such experiences. Give Running builds on this transcendent potential of sport -- and this applies to the Olympian inside all of us who dares to be better than we were before.

The world needs us to manifest our full potential for empathy and generosity more than it needs new world records. We must seek to be not only faster but more patient, not only stronger but gentler. We must strive to not only go higher ourselves, but to bring others with us to new heights. The Olympian inside all of us represents our country and community, world and self, through the journey.

Similar to the Olympic Creed is that of the Special Olympics:

Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.

Whether it's volunteering at the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles, or reflecting on a favorite moment from London 2012, or witnessing two best friends race each other stride for stride and smile for smile at a Give Running event, may we all fight well by fighting for others.

Give to others as a means of giving your best -- such bravery doesn't guarantee a spot on the podium, but the Golden Rule outshines gold medals.

 

Follow Greg Woodburn on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GiveRunning

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