It’s been 24 years since Derek Redmond was carried to the finish line by his father.
Something about that story from the 1992 Olympics has always spoken to me. As a runner, I’m quite familiar with the drive to finish. It’s a vow I took a long time ago, when I first started running competitively in high school: finish every race. No matter the circumstances, the competition, the exhaustion or injury, a race won’t simply end like a timed game will. For it to end, you must cross the finish line.
Starting a race isn’t always easy, either. For me, it was always the knowledge that my physical and mental limits would be tested, that what I was about to undertake was almost guaranteed to physically hurt. Perhaps pain isn’t as guaranteed a factor in other sports, but stepping on a court or field is just as bold a move. Athletes are tested each time they compete, sometimes to their limits, yet it is their choice to push themselves as they strive for greatness.
It’s appropriate to offer a prayer for all athletes competing over the next couple of weeks in Rio. I hope that no one suffers the kind of injury that Derek Redmond endured in 1992. Whether they do or do not, Redmond’s push to the finish line is so indicative of the Olympic creed: “The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well.”
To that point, no one likely remembers who won Redmond’s 400-meter race. We remember, instead, Derek’s drive to compete, to finish, to have fought well. We remember his father, who understood that desire to fight well. We empathize with our own struggles, in athletics and in life, those times we did not “win,” but strove to fight well.
In many ways, Olympic athletes embody that fight. Through athletics, they represent us as nations and as people, carrying that fighting spirit on their shoulders. The gold medals needn’t represent the be-all and end-all of their success in that mission. As we watch over the coming weeks, let’s stand in awe of the beauty of their fight, in reverence of their accomplishments and determination, and in appreciation of the motivation these athletes from around the world offer us to fight our own fights a bit more bravely.