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Lessons from the Olympics

Not To Win But To Take Part

A Life Lost

Chris's statements made me think about another Olympic champion, Jack Shea. Jack won a gold medal in speed skating seventy years earlier, almost to the day, during the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics. When Jack Shea competed at those Games, the worldwide economic depression did not make for ideal conditions in which to host an international sporting event, but the United States was determined to provide a respite from the troubles the world faced.

Seventy years later, in February of 2002, with Jack's grandson, Jimmy, scheduled to compete, the Salt Lake City Games were likewise being held at a time of uncertainty and turmoil, by a nation still traumatized by the events of September 11, at war with terrorists, and in economic recession, but similarly determined to go forward with the Games, to provide an oasis of calm, good sportsmanship and good feelings in a desert of negativity and doubt.

I always thought the goal of the Olympics was to create peace," Jack Shea said last March. "In a world such as we have today, with troubles all over, that should be of even higher priority." Given Jack's dedication to the highest ideals of sport, it is no wonder that, in 2000, U.S. Speed Skating created The Jack Shea Award, which symbolizes dedication to Olympic excellence, citizenship and the betterment of mankind through sport. The recipient must embody the values of sportsmanship, commitment, humility and perseverance; and inspires people of all ages to reach new heights and believe in their dreams. The first recipient was Jack Shea. The second recipient was Eric Heiden.

In January 2002, Jack shared with the media what his feelings would be to watch his grandson, Jimmy, participate in the 2002 Olympics: "The pride that's coming to me will be absolutely priceless." Sadly, as most everyone knows by now, Jack, who I had the privilege of being introduced to by a mutual dear friend, Lou Lockwood, last October in Lake Placid, lost his life at age 91 in a car crash just days before the Olympics. Four days before the Games began, on February 4, 2002, his alleged killer was being arraigned for murder for driving intoxicated, seventy years to the day after Jack read the Olympic Oath to the athletes assembled in his home town of Lake Placid for the III Winter Games.

"Medals and gold's and winning were not important," Jimmy told us after winning gold. What was important was doing it: doing what his granddad had done, doing what his father had done in Nordic Combined at the 1960 Olympics at Squaw Valley. Doing it, and doing your best. "That was all that mattered," said Jimmy. "My grandfather always felt it was not who won the gold; it was truly about bringing the world together in a peaceful setting".

Hanging Out

A highlight for me while in Utah was to be able to just "hang out" with my family and all of the new families that I met. My sons and I were honored to be guests of Olympian and MomsTeam contributing writer, Angela Ruggiero, at the AT&T Friends and Family Center during our visit. During mealtimes at the Center I spent countless hours watching big-screen televisions showing all the various events live and talking with the parents and other family members of the U.S. athletes.

What I learned from every parent is that you cannot push an athlete into becoming an Olympian-it has to come from deep within. The athletes have to love the sport and the "taking part" credo Baron de Coubertin so eloquently and succinctly expressed in the Olympic Creed. Angela's mom, Karen, told me numerous times that "I never did much to encourage Angela to play hockey, she loved playing the game. There was no need to push her". Angela's younger sister Pamela was recently asked "are you jealous of Angela"? Pam simply answered, "No, she is doing what she loves, I am only jealous of all of her teammates who get to see her all of the time".

I spoke with free style skier Travis Mayer's mom Lynn Mayer, on the day that he won the silver medal, about the love of mogul skiing that her son has. She told me that Travis, 19, was not expected to medal at the Olympics but that the minute that he entered the start gate at the top of the mountain and saw the sea of spectators he beamed with joy. Later he told his parents that never has he seen a crowd larger than about 100 people to watch him perform. "I just love mogul skiing so much that I wanted to do the best that I could for my self and my country".