Like many Canadians, it was an early morning here at our house. We didn't travel to the local pub or anything (although it was open and business was booming), but we were still part of the great cultural event that was the men's gold medal hockey game. Even my parents on holiday in Palm Springs were up to watch. Once again, sport brought our country together.
And now another Olympiad is over.
It's been nice waking up each morning to news of Canadian medals - or not - and sharing events like the women's gold medal hockey game with friends and fellow Canadians. We have felt part of something larger than ourselves and taken pride in those who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of excellence.
They have taken their talent and are using it well.
This is the first time that my kids have been old enough to really be engaged in what's going on. My son has been into the Olympics since Mark McMorris won Canada's first medal nearly two weeks ago. He has subsequently announced that he would like to be a snowboarder, a figure skater, a hockey player, a speed skater, and do ski cross. Both kids have watched the events intently and tried their own versions in the backyard. It's been fun.
These Olympics have not been without controversy, with many people equating support for the Games with support for the Russian government. But these Games, and all those that will come before and after them, only truly succeed if we can take something away to use for the greater good. At least that's how I try to justify the immense expense of it all. So without further ado (I've always wanted to say that), here are five lessons from the Sochi Olympics I want to use to guide my kids as they make their way through life.
1. We Live in a Great Country
Just over a century ago, my kids' Eastern European ancestors left their home to forge a new life in a new land. None of them knew what they would encounter, and it was a difficult, though fruitful, life. The comfort that our family enjoys today is due to their sacrifice and to a country that rewarded them for it.
During these games, there was significant conflict in one of the countries that they left behind. In Ukraine, over a hundred people gave their lives in pursuit of freedoms that we in Canada often take for granted. Our government is far from perfect, but on those occasions when people rally in public spaces, protestors aren't shot down by police snipers. If war is to be waged, it will be in Parliament, or in the courts, or even in the media - but rarely in the streets.
Canada is a country where you are free to be who you are and where you can express love to those around you without fear. You can practice your faith and express your views openly. You are receiving an excellent public education and when you are hurt, you can receive the health care you need. Wherever you travel, continue to stand on guard for the ideals and values that our flag - the one that our athletes wore throughout the competition - represents throughout the world.
2. Sometimes Things Aren't Fair
To millions of people around the world, Yuna Kim should have won gold in the women's figure skating competition. She skated flawlessly in the free skate, whereas the eventual champion faltered. Ask anyone competing in a judged sport (especially figure skating): sometimes your absolute best effort may not be enough, and that can be devastating.
Or what about the short track speed skater knocked out of competition because of another competitor's mistake? That sport can look like bowling sometimes, with so many skaters falling down.
Yet as heartbreaking as these things can be, at a certain point you must accept that there is only so much you can control. You can let it defeat you, or you can move on, with grace. Please do the latter.
3. Things Worth Having Rarely Come Easily
None of the athletes at the Olympics started training last week or even last year. They have worked hard for the opportunity to compete for their country and for the chance to become Olympic champion. There have been early mornings, long hours, injuries and time away from family. But I'd bet that it would be very difficult to find a single one of those athletes who would tell you it wasn't worth it.
Take Jan Hudec, a Canadian alpine skier. He has more surgeries than even he can count and had to host a fundraiser just to have enough money to keep competing. Even his Mom has admitted that other people would have given up. Instead, he worked through the pain and won Canada's first Olympic medal in alpine skiing in twenty years.
Whatever kind of success you aspire to, achieving it will take a lot of hard work. Persevere. You will be glad you did.
4. Never EVER Give Up (Especially on Yourself)
I'll admit it: I thought that our women's hockey team was destined for silver. Being down 2-0 with just minutes left in the third period seemed like too big of a hurdle to overcome. It's a good thing that no one actually playing the game accepted that fate.
So, if in the game of Life you are ever down and people are giving up on you left and right, never give up on yourself. The road might be more difficult than you had anticipated (see lesson #3 above), but if you know in your heart that your goal is within reach, then keep striving toward it. Like we saw so many times throughout these Olympics, people fell - falling is always a possibility - but it's the ones who got back up that we remember. Even if you can't get back into the game right away, try your best to walk off the field, head held high.
(You should also know that there is a difference between making a conscious choice to choose a different path and letting others talk you out of pursuing your dream. Someday you might have to sit down and take stock of things and decide whether or not moving forward is worth it or if you should move on to something else. If you are going to let someone else talk you out of pursuing your dream, it better be for a darn good reason.)
5. Your Best Will Always Be Good Enough for Me
I don't care if you finish top in your class or on top of the podium. There were hundreds of parents in the stands at Sochi; very few of them saw their sons or daughters win a medal. Your effort will always mean more to me than the result. I will push you to be the best you can be, nothing more, and I will be proud of you no matter what.