It's Not Every Four Years

Last Thursday, August 5, marked exactly one year until the beginning of the Games of the 31st Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. For a few minutes the media’s attention was focused on the athletes. National pride swelled as past glory was remembered and the future was looked to with hopeful anticipation. And then it was quickly on to other news.

For that brief interlude between the bad news, our hard-working athletes from numerous other sports besides the popular games of cricket and football basked the rare attention, hopeful that it would help in their plight of financial support. 

Our unsung heroes did their best to smile for the cameras as they dodged awkward interview questions about whether they would bring home the gold, and instead patiently tried to enlighten the public about their sport and their plans for the remaining 365 days. All the while, I could recognise it on their faces. They couldn’t hide it from me. They were cynical. 

They were cynical because all of them acknowledged the truth that the Olympics wasn’t every four years. For them, the athletes, the Olympics is every day. It is today and not in 365 days. 

Each day of preparation is as equally important as the race day. All aspiring olympians are keenly aware that every decision they make every day in every minute of every hour, is either bringing them closer to realising their olympic dreams or pushing them further away.

They recognise that the stakes are astronomically high. With each Olympiad being only once every four years, life doesn’t afford many opportunities to participate, and there are no second chances. Reminders of the high stakes in this zero-sum game are all too familiar.  

Every aspiring olympian is aware that for every one who simply qualifies, far fewer attain sporting who try, fail and some who go on to live the rest of their lives with regret. 

From the perspective of the television commentators, the journalists and everyone else watching from the sidelines, there is the overused notion of the “four-year plan.” However, for those aspiring olympians who dare to dream, and subject themselves to the single-mindedness of preparation, who dare to make the sacrifices, to take on the debt, to ruin relationships, to risk it all, there is no four-year plan. They will all scoff at the notion and tell you that life happens over the four years between olympiads.

It is this time between olympiads when things become most difficult. Aspiring olympians will all attest to the truth that simply keeping the dream alive despite the unexpected pitfalls that await on their life’s journey during the years between the games. 

They struggle to keep motivated when they and their sport are forgotten, and is often the most difficult challenge they have ever faced. For them, an olympic medal, more than anything else, is a tangible embodiment of resilience. 

When it comes to the olympic dream, the destination can easily consume the vitality of the journey. When this happens one is always deeply afraid that if the end doesn’t justify the means, and they don’t achieve their goals, they would have wasted their time. 

When the delusional destination has consumed the journey, recognition of failure and surrendering the dream can be fate mercifully encouraging them to move on with life. In this way failure is saving some from a metaphorical shot of heroin that would go on to destroy their lives had they continued the struggle to keep the dream alive at all costs despite the delusion.

However, years later, they will look back and recognise in hindsight that they weren’t doing it, but that it was doing them. They will come to the profound understanding that regardless of success or failure in their olympic endeavour, it was the dream and the journey that gave them life in the form of experiences, and that the destination was only there to make the sweet struggle possible.

So, in 359 days when you see those same hopeful olympians again on TV, hopefully you too will understand that it’s not every four years, but every day. In doing so, you would be able to vicariously celebrate their daily struggle for excellence and the resilience of their dreams even if you are complacently drifting through life with no destination.