Undercurrents

Under
currents

Undercurrents

What Winning Looks Like

by | Aug 15, 2021

I love the Olympic games. Unapologetically, I love the competition and the camaraderie, the skill, the heart, the human desire to push the body to its limits and beyond. I love how the Olympic athletes love their sport. I love the fierce competition and the even fiercer friendships.

Mostly I love how the Olympic games bring out the best in us humans, how they blur and blend differences that could further divide us and how the competitions show us the best we humans can offer.

This year the summer games were an especially welcome respite from the pandemic and the politics, hatred, and anger that currently threaten our democracy. The Olympic games didn’t change those dynamics. But they did show me how incredibly beautiful life can be when you are doing what you love with passion, discipline, commitment, and integrity. They showed me what winning looks like.

I am not a skilled or talented athlete, so maybe that’s another reason I so admire and love watching athletes perform in a way I can only dream about. I was never chosen for team sports. I joined the swim team just so that I could swim in the public pool, free, every day. In high school I turned to fencing and karate. I loved fencing as a game of wit, finesse, and grace that I struggled to achieve. I thought Karate might be useful. I played golf mainly because it was a sport I could enjoy with my dad. I still miss our conversations while walking the back nine at dusk. Tennis required hand and eye coordination that I do not have. I tried running and hated it – for many years. Then my early morning aerobics class was canceled, and I needed something to get me moving in the mornings. I started walking. Then one day ran a block. It was not so bad, so the next day I tried running two blocks. Soon I discovered that pushing myself felt pretty good.

Pat Riviere-Seel poet, writer
Marine Corps Marathon 1991

Walk. Run. Walk. Run. I gradually increased the distance that I ran. As I increased my distance, my sense of accomplishment and joy increased. I was getting hooked. One day I realized that I was no longer depending on walking and running to jolt me awake. I was getting up early so I could go run. There are worse addictions. I ran a 10K, then a 10-mile race. I discovered the magazine Runner’s World with a cover story: “Mind Over Marathon.” Although I didn’t have an athlete’s body or talent, I decided that maybe my mind could compensate for what my body lacked. I decided I would run the Marine Corps Marathon in DC. It took a group of equally committed runners, a retired Marine who loved training first time marathoners, and a savvy physical therapist who understood that I was not going to quit training just because I had developed sciatica. It also took a seasoned marathoner who spotted me as I was heading out of Hains Point alone. He fell into step with me and talked me through the last 5K of that first grueling marathon. I left everything I had – body, mind, and spirit – on the streets of DC that chilly Sunday. But what I gained and what I still carry with me is so much more than I could have ever imagined. 

When I watch Olympic marathoners, it is with a deep appreciation, awe, and wonder, knowing I too have run that distance. I just enjoy the scenery a bit longer than the elite runners.

I was in tears when American runner Molly Seidel crossed the finish line to win the bronze medal in Japan. My admiration only grew when I learned that she had overcome an eating disorder and OCD. We all have our challenges and our demons.

When Simone Biles withdrew from competition, I applauded her courage, her strength, her self-awareness, her team spirit, and her wisdom. She knew what she needed to do and she did it. She remained true to herself even though that meant disappointing the expectations of others. Michael Phelps spoke for me and a lot of others when he said, “It’s OK to not be OK.” Even our heroes are not perfect. Phelps has revealed that he struggles with depression and contemplated suicide after the 2012 Olympic games. Yes, let’s do have a conversation about mental health.

Sprinter Allyson Felix called out Nike, her shoe sponsor for trying to cut her pay by 70 percent when she was pregnant. When she could not reach an agreement with Nike, she walked away and started her own shoe company. The 35-year-old mother was wearing her own brand, Saysh, in Tokyo when she became the most decorated woman in Olympic track and field history and the most decorated American athlete in Olympic track and field history. Nike has since changed their policies about pregnant athletes.

Two of the biggest winners at this year’s Olympics were high jumpers Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy who shared a gold medal. The two were facing a grueling “jump-off” to see who could last the longest when Barshim, the reigning world campion, asked if it was possible to share the gold. An unusual request, but the Olympic officials agreed it was possible. The two friends immediately slapped hands, hugged and celebrated the shared gold. Throughout the competition, the two had been hugging and congratulating each other for bringing their best to the games. 

Winning does not mean that others have to lose. Winning is not just crossing the finish line first or achieving the highest score. Winning is knowing your own worth. It’s how you live your life.

Love After Love
by Derek Walcott

The time will come 
when, with elation 
you will greet yourself arriving 
at your own door, in your own mirror 
and each will smile at the other’s welcome, 

and say, sit here. Eat. 
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart 
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you 

all your life, whom you ignored 
for another, who knows you by heart. 
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, 

the photographs, the desperate notes, 
peel your own image from the mirror. 
Sit. Feast on your life.

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16 Comments

  1. Edison V Seel

    I’ve always had a love of running. It’s a solitary sport, a solitary sport against your most difficult opponent, yourself. I have always been surprised by how much I accomplished when I kept trying, kept pushing myself to stick with it, not quit. In the end, you have a completely different appreciation for who you are, and your own worth.

    Reply
    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      So true, Ed! Wish you could still run.

      Reply
  2. Bev Jackson

    You are an athlete in MY book, Pat! And a brilliant inspiration in that and so many other ways. I love the poem, and take it to my non-athletic heart. xox

    Reply
  3. Elizabeth Holden

    I found this to be a very thoughtful and inspiring essay.

    Reply
    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Thank you, dear Bet!

      Reply
  4. Pat Riviere-Seel

    Bev, you are an inspiration to me in the way you live your life! Love you.

    Reply
  5. Bill Griffin

    Beautiful, Pat. At the close I’m in tears. And the poem so perfectly expresses that complete self-acceptance that is the real winning. That is something I will strive for. —B

    Reply
    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Thank you, Cuz. Your acceptance of others has always been one of the many things I admire about you.

      Reply
  6. Lynn McLure

    I love this. I share your love of running, but those days are long past for me. You inspire me, and I run alongside you in my imagination. I love the free feeling of my body running. You describe the joy of atheletics so beautifully. BTW I see you as a great athelete and with so much woman courage in everything you take on.

    Reply
    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Thank you, Lynn. There’s nothing like running for me. You inspire me with your passion for creating beauty all that you do.

      Reply
  7. Glenda C. Beall

    Very inspiring post, Pat. From one who never played team games as a child, I admire your efforts at sports. My sport was horseback riding and later efforts at tennis. I, too, think the Olympics were great and the athletes showed such courage and confidence. They are great examples for young people today.

    Reply
    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Thanks, Glenda. Horseback riding is a wonderful sport. I think we really needed the Olympic games this year. The young people I know give me much hope for the future of our country.

      Reply
  8. Carol Thomas

    A lovely, lovely column Pat

    And so important to love ourselves for what we CAN do rather than despair over what we can’t.

    Reply
    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Thank you, Carol. Yes, so important to remember what we CAN do.

      Reply
  9. Bernie Browm

    Thanks for a blog full of wisdom, Pat. I have a rowing machine and am slowly improving.

    Reply
    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      If there is wisdom there, Bernie, it comes from my wise friends, like you. Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy your rowing machines.

      Reply

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