08/08/2012 12:03 am ET Updated Oct 07, 2012

Cultivating the Heart of a Champion

"My mother used to tell us in the mornings, 'Carl, put on your shoes; Oscar, you put on your prosthetic legs' ... So I grew up not really thinking I had a disability. I grew up thinking I had different shoes." -- South African runner Oscar Pistorius, nicknamed "Blade Runner" because he races on carbon fiber prosthetic blades.

Watching the amazing Olympic athletes competing in their chosen sports this past week, I am struck by what it takes to achieve greatness at this level. What is it that inspires someone to have such a clear vision, concentrate on that vision with a laser-like focus, overcome Olympic-sized obstacles and be willing to make the sacrifices required to fulfill their dreams?

Becoming an Olympic champion is a team sport. Even for those competing as individuals, it really does take a village. Just to make it to the Olympic games, the athletes and their loved ones have devoted years to the pursuit of a single dream. Many of these young people left their homes and families to go live with coaches or be near facilities where they could train with the kind of intensity required of a champion. Families often put their own dreams on the back burner in order to support the athlete.

We'll never know completely what it took from all who supported the dreams of the Olympians to make it to the top. Court reports reveal that Natalie Hawkins, the mother of U.S. gymnastics gold medal winner Gabby Douglas filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy earlier this year, and the parents of fellow U.S. Olympian Ryan Lochte were facing foreclosure in Florida. In the face of what looked like defeat, these parents kept on going.

Today, as Olympic champions, Gabby and Ryan and many of their fellow Olympians stand to earn millions of dollars from endorsement deals. Gabby is already slated to appear on the Corn Flakes box. But their road to success rarely followed a straight line. As their stories become public, we'll soon learn about the obstacles these champions and their families had to overcome just to make it on the Olympic team.

To the athlete, being on the team is just the beginning. It's winning that counts. But let us not overlook the fact that there is the dark side of winning. It's not all roses and medals to be sure. In the games called Olympics or the game called "Life" there will always be those for whom the price of winning is too high. There will be those who sacrificed too much of what turned out to matter the most: their families, their health, their peace of mind, and sometimes even their integrity.

And for those who do finally make it to the podium, we can't help but feel great pride along with them, regardless of their nationality, for these champions represent what's possible when one brings an Olympic level of inspiration, passion, focus and dedication to one's life.

They remind us of the courage it takes for anyone to conquer their own mountains and make it through the valleys and never give up. And when they cry tears of joy, we cry right along with them, for their joy is our own, played out in front of the world. We cry because something in the human spirit is cracked open and lifted up, and for that brief moment, we're right there on the podium with them. There is something exquisite and beautiful about witnessing this kind of human triumph.

And when they fail to make it, our hearts break along with theirs. We too feel the pain of their disappointment, for we know how many times we have fallen short of our own dreams, perhaps even giving them up in the face of failure. There is something touching and poignant about witnessing defeat in our own backyard or on the world stage. We ache for those whose efforts have fallen short even as we ache for that part of ourselves.

Sometimes life requires that we lose a round or two in the game, like Natalie Hawkins or the Lochtes, just to make sure we're committed. Just to keep us humble or to get us back on track. Just to carve out character, deliver a lesson, force us to become creative, or see if we really mean it. Just to see if we're in it for the right reasons. Just to see if our heart is pure.

What does it take to be a champion?

The truth is, each of us is called to become a champion in our own lives. We're called to become the very best version of ourselves we can possibly be and to live our best life. Our "job," as humans, is to do the work we came to the planet to do, to discover and develop our gifts and then share those gifts with the world.

Our call might not lead to the pinnacle in the world of sports. We might not be awarded a medal or have our picture on the cover of magazines or cereal boxes. We might never become rich or famous. The "world" we occupy might only be our personal world. It doesn't matter.

We each are called to take up our lives and live them with the degree of commitment and dedication on display at these Olympic games. We're called to live with the passion of a champion, to be inspired and to inspire others. We're called to give ourselves to our highest good, live up to our highest ideals, and hold nothing back. What could be possible if we did?

And every four years, when the Olympic games come back around, and we're called to witness the arrival of the torch that traveled through every continent of the world to light the Olympic flame, we're reminded once again that the true spirit of the Olympics is not extinguished when the flame goes out at the closing ceremony. The flame of the champion lives on within each and every one of us as we go about our daily lives, facing them with courage and with boldness.

The truth is, you already are a champion. Now, go live like one. Put on your uniform and take your place on the field. Live your life full out, with all the passion and dedication you can muster. Let your heart burst with courage, and have faith in yourself. Know that whatever you commit yourself to 100 percent, the game is already won.

What is required for you to be a champion in the biggest game of all, the one called "Your Life"? What is required for you to live a bigger, bolder, more creative and passionate life?

I'd love to hear about the heart of the champion in you. What are your triumphs? What have been your defeats? What defeats later turned out to be chapters in the larger story of your triumphs? Do leave a comment here and/or come pay a visit to my personal blog and website at Rx For The Soul.

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Blessings on the path.

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