NOVEMBER 17, 2010

Why do you watch?  Why do you cheer?  Why do you care?

I am writing from yet another airplane, seems this is the one place I am certain I can write and not be interrupted by anything.  I am on my way home, if for only 4 days before heading down to Stanford for the last of my Deloitte campus tour stops, from a very eye-opening trip for me.  As I sat in the middle of Central Park in New York City last weekend watching the marathon with my sister Leigh, I couldn’t help but begin to try to put it all together.  Why do we watch?  Why do we cheer? Why do we care?

Leigh sat on the wooden rail next to me just before the mile 25 sign, barely over a mile from the finish line where we just stood 30 minutes earlier watching the elite of the elite finish the most prestigious annual marathon in the world.  And as much as I appreciate watching the best do their thing, as much as I know what they are feeling when they cross that line in first place on the biggest stage in the world, it wasn’t until we were watching the rest of the marathoners did it dawn on me.  We watch because we want to feel a part.  If but for a glance from that person that is conquering their fears and living their dream.  We feel what they felt and know what they went through to get there.  That is what drove me all this time.  As Leigh yelled out the names of perfect strangers (some people write their names on their shirts just for this reason of encouragement) with a caring cheer, I couldn’t help but cheer too.  It took me a little while because I found it a bit cheesy at first.  Then I couldn’t help myself in feeling their struggle, in feeling their energy as they went by us and the thousands of others who came out across the city to watch thousands of perfect strangers from all over the world. 

I’ve been traveling the country telling my story of how I fought through five years of injuries to find bobsled. How I battled the disappointment of past Olympic failures to finally reach the top of the podium.  And for quite some time, somewhere deep inside of me asked why people would care?  Why would one of the most respected financial companies in the world place me in front of Harvard Business School students just three days before?  Why do I feel deep inside it’s a good thing, no, a great thing to go into schools and tell young students about what I went through to get to where I am?  So why three days after the marathon was I standing at P.S. 196, in the heart of Brooklyn, speaking to elementary school children about hard work and perseverance?  How does that work?  How does sitting in the middle of a park with thousands of strangers watching others live their dreams connect Harvard and P.S. 196?

All three of these connected events for me are why I believe the Olympic Games are so relevant in our world today.  Sure, the ratings may not be what they once were.  Olympians often do not stand up to the gigantic measuring stick we are placed against.  Drug use, alcohol use and foul play are seen far more than any of us would like them be.  But none of us are perfect.  Your Olympians, your medalists, we all have faults.  As do every last one of the marathoners my sister and I cheered whole-heartedly for that beautiful fall day in the greatest city in the world.  But knowing that didn’t stop us from cheering.  It didn’t stop us from wanting them to finish that race even though it would not change our lives one bit.  We cheered because it made us feel good to see someone tryingattempting, LIVING! That is what the Olympic Games bring to the table. If we could all just use the heart of an Olympian in certain areas of our lives I think we can be whatever we want to be. 

And that is the connection.  We want to believe, we want to hope that if those kids in Brooklyn can put forth and Olympian-sized effort they can get to Harvard.  If those Harvard students can use an Olympian-sized effort they can become the best in the world.  They can then do amazing things for themselves and their communities, inspiring the rest of us to do great things… thus continuing the cycle.  That is why I know it is important for us to hear Olympians stories, and the stories of anyone who has tried, attempted and lived- successful or not we can all learn from them all.

I think we watch because we love to observe others living out their destinies right in front of us.  We think we know, or we want to know, what they went through.  So we watch and we cheer and we cry.  Or at least I do.  Why do you watch?