The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro have ended and the teams with their champions are home parading their national heroes. American Gold Medalists will soon be appearing on retail shelves promoting everything from cereal to sportswear. Children competing in Olympic sanctioned sports look up to our Olympic athletes as role models. Some of those children have hopes of some day being selected for our national teams.
People love champions. The word “champion” traces back to the Middle Ages in Late Latin as “campiōn”. “Champion” can refer to a person who has defeated all other contenders in a competition. It can also refer to anything that takes the blue ribbon in a competition; a best of show photo, a top prize winning pie or a blue ribbon pig. A champion can also be the victor on a battlefield. You can be a champion while championing a cause. You can be a champion of the homeless while championing the cause of low cost shelter development. Like the champion athletes, some social champions are high visibility, well known celebrities. Others carry their passions and pursue their causes with no demand for name recognition or glory, and yet their efforts have tremendous impact. Some who come to mind are the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero and Father Ragheed Ganni and also Mother (soon to be Saint) Teresa of Calcutta.
You see – there’s more to being a champion than being number one. However, most people don’t long remember those who come in second, or third – or last. I remember watching films of the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics; specifically, films of John Stephen Akwhari, the Tanzanian marathon runner who, despite his injuries from a terrible fall, continued running and entered the stadium over an hour after every other runner had finished. When asked why he didn’t quit after his fall, Akwhari simply said “My country did not send me five thousand miles to start the race. They sent me five thousand miles to finish the race.” He received a standing ovation from all who remained in the stadium after the awards ceremony, and you can be sure all who saw him run around that track remember the name of the man who came in last. He is their champion.
Abby D’Agostino and Nikki Hamblin went to Rio to run in the women’s 5,000 meter race. Neither had any idea they would be remembered for much more than their running. As champion athletes selected for their American and New Zealand women’s track teams respectively, these women were already warriors on the track. That competitiveness may have led to the collision and fall that took place during a qualifying heat in Rio; it’s difficult to say with certainty. What can be, and was said is what defined these women’s championship moment for the rest of their lives. Being a champion can require you to empty yourself of ambition and sacrificially focus on the needs of another. When the severely injured D’Agostino saw Hamblin lying on the track, she turned back to help her up. The American later said in a statement to the media “Although my actions were instinctual at that moment, the only way I can and have rationalized it is that God prepared my heart to respond that way… This whole time here he’s made clear to me that my experience in Rio was going to be about more than my race performance — and as soon as Nikki got up I knew that was it.” I guess being a champion is always about winning a medal or a trophy, but it IS always about faithfully doing what God has enabled you to do, the way He tells you to do it, when He tells you to do it – no matter what.
© 2016 Curt Savage Media