Saturday, August 16, 2008

Pearl 22: Passion is the Silver Bullet

Like 100 million other people on the planet, Vicki and I watched the pomp and circumstance of the closing ceremonies of the XXX Olympic Games held in London, England for the past 15 days.  My goodness do those Brits know how to throw a party.  From everything I saw after what seemed like a thousand hours of coverage on NBC, Great Britain was an ideal host and the games had some very special moments.  Who could not be thrilled at the shear speed of Jamaican Usain Bolt or American Allyson Felix?  Who wasn't awed by the beauty, grace and athleticism of the U.S. female gymnastics team and Gabby Douglas?  And, seriously, three gold metals in a row over three Olympics for the undefeated in match play woman's beach volleyball team of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings.  WOW!  The list of accomplishments was staggering.

All who compete in the Olympics are talented athletes.  From every nation, every ethnic background, every religious affiliation these heroes of sport come to compete every four years and give us a glimpse of what hard work and dedication can accomplish.  One man's performance stood out this year above most....Michael Phelps.  Breaking a decades old record, this swimmer, this freak of physical nature, Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time with 22 overall medals and 18 (EIGHTEEN!) Gold Medals for his career.  It is a feat which will not soon, if ever, be broken.

Four years ago in Beijing, Michael Phelps won 8 Gold Medals, the most of any Olympian in a single game.  I was so impressed by this feat I wrote a "Pearl" about it for my grandchildren, making the point about passion.  When all other things are equal, passion makes the did in 2008 and again in 2012.  I have included it below and I hope you enjoy it. 

Dearest Eliana and Gehrig,                                                                            8/16/08

Good morning, my sweethearts.  Oh, I know, I just wrote you a few days ago but the events of the past few days have me inspired to write again.  In just your second year of life, the 2008 Beijing Olympics have captured the imagination of the world once again as it does every four years.  The drama and excitement of the games is always high but this year there is the opportunity for one participant to do something no one in the history of the games has ever accomplished.  Namely, to win eight Gold Medals in one Olympics.

 Michael Phelps is an impressive physical specimen in his own right but as a swimmer he is darn near perfect.  Michael is 6’4” tall.  Normally, a person’s “wing-span” or distance between the tips of his fingers measured across outstretched arms is roughly equivalent to his height.  Michael’s wing-span is 6’7”, three inches longer.  Combine those long arms with huge hands that measure 11” across from his pinkie to his thumb and you have an exceptional swimming stroke.  Then consider that Michael has the legs, measured from his hips to his toes, of a man only six feet tall, but a torso or ‘trunk” of a man that is 6’ 7”.  This gives him an incredible kick off the wall on his turns with those compact, powerful legs, but also the long-muscled upper body every swimmer needs to excel.  Michael is double-jointed in both his shoulders and knees and, finally, consider Michael’s size 14 feet, wide at the toes and narrow at the heel, all of which gives him almost Dolphin-like swimming power. 

Built for power and speed in the water, Michael Phelps has few, if any, equals in the sport.  But last night, when he won his seventh Gold Medal in a final 15 meter, come-from-behind charge that saw him touch the wall just 1/100th of a second ahead of Serbia’s Milorad Cavic, there was more than just physical prowess involved.  This brings me to my next Pearl.

 Twenty-Second Pearl:  Passion is the Silver Bullet

In any competition between two or more equally matched opponents, passion is the difference.  You can see it on the faces of the winners. In these games, you could see it on the face of Nastia Liukin, the 18 year-old from Parker, Texas, who took the individual all-around gymnastics Gold Medal with a flawless floor exercise.  You see it on the faces of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh as they methodically and passionately dispatch team after team in beach volleyball.  Passion is an unmistakable intensity, a driving force and consuming love for what they are doing.  Add passion to the mix of talent, preparation and opportunity and you have an unbeatable mixture. 

Passion makes the difference not only between winning and losing in sport but in life as well.  The people who are the most successful in business, in their careers, whatever they may be, in entertainment, in politics, in the practice of their faith and even in love are passionate in their quests.  So whatever you do in your lives, little ones, do it with passion.  You may not always win, but I promise you will be happier for it.  I am confident we will see passion, once again, on the face of Michael Phelps as he strives for his 8th medal tonight in the 4X100 meter relay.  I am also confident his passion will be the silver bullet that gets him the GOLD!

I love you, bunches and bunches.              
Grandpa Jud

Monday, August 11, 2008

Pearl 21: Nationalism is a Double-Edged Sword

The positive vibes of the XXX Olympic Games trailed over a few days as the accomplishments of the American atheletes and teams sunk in.  A world record number of Gold Medals, 46, were collected by the Americans and a total medal count of 104 was 16 more than the second place athletes from China.  It gives me a feeling of pride for our country and for our culture and values.  I had the same feeling four years ago after the Beijing Olympics, even though we did not fare as well in those games as we did in London.  It happens every four years and it is a good thing.  I wrote a "Pearl" about those feelings of national pride for my grandchildren four years ago and I thought I would share it with you.  Please feel free to comment.  Enjoy!
Dear Gehrig and Eliana,

 Good evening my sweethearts.  Granny and I sure enjoyed our time with you in New Jersey while your mom and dad were in Paris.  They had a fabulous time but we enjoyed our time with you even more.  You are growing so big and are so accomplished for being only 18 months old.  I think both of you will be very athletic given what I saw on the playground equipment at Maggie’s Park. 

 Granny and I watched some of the 2008 Beijing Olympics last night.  It was fabulous.  The highlight of the competition was the men’s 4X100 meter freestyle swimming event which featured a French team who were the odds-on favorites to take the Gold Medal.  They were so confident before the event one of the French swimmers did a little “trash talking” and boasted his team would “crush the American team”.  There is an old saying, “Pride cometh before the fall” and it held true last night.

The American team was good, figured to at least take the Bronze medal in this event.  Of the four young men on the American team, its biggest star is Michael Phelps, a world-class swimmer who is heavily favored to break the 36-year old record of seven gold medals in one Olympic Game set in 1972 in Munich, Germany by Mark Spitz.  He needed his teammate’s help in this event to keep him on that pace.  The other swimmers on the relay team were all very good.  Garrett Weber-Gale was to swim the second leg behind Phelps followed by the first African-American to ever swim in this event, Cullen Jones.  Swimming the final leg was the oldest member of the team, a 41 year old journeyman swimmer with a good track record, but with some marginal races under his belt, Jason Lezak.

 Phelps’ first lap kept it close, but the French swimmer had the lead.  When Jones hit the water he didn’t lose any time and Weber-Gale gained a fraction.  Then in the final 100 meters, Lezak did the impossible.  He not only caught the boastful Frenchman, Alein Bernard, but beat him to the touch by .24 of a second in a thrilling surge at the finish.  The stadium erupted as the winning team flashed on the scoreboard and Team America leaped for joy, screaming and bellowing, their testosterone levels in overdrive.  In America, I am certain that every viewer screamed along with them as did Granny and I.  It was an emotional moment to see the American underdogs not only win the Gold Medal, but set a new World Record of 3 minutes, 8.24 seconds, which, by the way, beat the old record by over 4 seconds!

Today I drove into Dallas to take my drag car to be painted.  I made several stops and everywhere I went I heard people talking about the spectacular swimming event and the even more impressive American win.  There was animation and enthusiasm in everyone’s voice and an unmistakable pride.  I have heard and seen this before when other events and circumstances have drawn this country together and united us. When all that energy is channeled correctly, it is a hugely positive force, but when channeled incorrectly, the opposite is true, which brings me to my next Pearl.

Twenty-first Pearl:   Nationalism is a Double-Edged Sword

 Pride in one’s country is what the Olympic Games are all about.  Athletes from around the world prepare and train for years to represent their country in this once-every-four-year event.  National pride, as well as billions of dollars, is on the line and the strongest and best physical specimens of humankind sacrifice everything to compete and win.  Some countries with small populations might only be able to send a few athletes while huge developed countries can afford to send hundreds to the Games and at great expense.

Why do we do that?  Why do we spend the money and resources it takes to excel at a game?  Because when our athletes win and the Stars and Stripes, the symbol of our nation and our people, rise above the heads of our valiant warriors on the medal stand, a feeling of nationalistic pride sweeps over us.  At that moment, as our national anthem plays in the background, we feel at one with our fellow Americans and it seems like there is nothing we cannot accomplish if we only pull together.  The fervor of victory is intoxicating and we will pay any price to experience it.

 On that same day, in another corner of the world, nationalistic fervor went awry.  The Russians, still smarting over losing a valuable piece of the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to a now independent and democratic Georgia, went to war to regain that territory.  I won’t pretend to understand the politics or the military stratagems surrounding this conflict.  I can only hope and pray it is over quickly and that cooler heads prevail.  To paraphrase President Bush in an interview he gave yesterday, isn’t it ironic that at a time when the world comes together in the friendly and spirited competition of the Olympics to promote peace and harmony among nations, this act of war and disharmony erupts to ruin it.  This is the negative side of nationalism.

 As Americans we can channel our nationalism into positive ventures which serve all mankind, or we can turn that mighty force to serve selfish ambitions.  It is my prayer for you, my darlings that you will grow up in a world with the vision to put aside the negative aspects of nationalism which embraces war and conflict as a means to achieve an end, and substitute it with a positive nationalism which embodies the spirit of the Olympic Games, a spirit of cooperation and oneness as a means to that same end. 

 God Bless you and God Bless America and every other peace loving nation in the world.

 Grandpa Jud