Jul 22, 2012

Olympic Stories, Dreams, and Inspiration

Olympic fever is building.

I mentioned in the last post that I'll be a member of the virtual audience, but no less enthusiastic about the competition and stories than if I were in the seats in London. I'm certain, though, that my excitement will be minuscule compared to that of the competitors from each and every country in each and every event. Along with the various contests, I'm eager to follow the personal stories of individual participants and the dreams, preparation, and obstacles overcome in achieving the honor of participating.

Just as Dr. Sammy Lee and Wilma Rudolph spent years and years preparing for their moments of Olympic success, so did Michael Jordan. His name and accomplishments may be more widely known for everything from shoes to NBA records, but his childhood definition of success in basketball was being on the US Olympic team.

DREAM BIG: Michael Jordan and the Pursuit of Olympic Gold, by Deloris Jordan, illustrated by Barry Root was released this spring. It is the story of Michael as a boy who grew up loving basketball and dreaming of representing the USA in the Olympics. Told by his mother, it's filled with  the voices that shaped his widely admired work ethic and determination: his mother's, his brothers', and his coaches'. I can imagine how often he heard some of the lines in this book: "homework before play", "it's one thing to want something, it's another to work for it", "keep your promise to yourself", and "with hard work anything is possible".
One rainy day Michael and his brothers watched the Olympic basketball game in which the USA lost to USSR with a score of 51-50, which only fired his desire to grow up and compete for his country.
Michael first led the USA team to a gold medal in 1984 when only amateurs could compete. Then in 1992 he earned a second gold medal as a member of "The Dream Team" when professional players were allowed to compete. His lifetime of accomplishments fill record books and web pages, but I have no doubt that memories of that first Olympic gold medal hold a special place in his heart.

An earlier title about Michael, written by his mother and sister, describes his desperate desire to be taller. SALT IN HIS SHOES: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream, by Deloris Jordan and Roslyn Jordan is illustrated by the award-winning Kadir Nelson and was featured in a previous post.

For even greater inspiration,  explore the stunning profiles of paralympic athletes. In many cases  elite athletes benefit from physiques and constitutions well-suited to their sports. Yet birth and life events  that make one's height, build, health, or circumstances  less than ideal have been overcome time and again to allow for record-making success. The common ingredients appears to be unstoppable determination and heart.
This site links to thirty incredible Olympic success stories. Tabs on this resource site will also take you to the stories of others with impressive  potential to watch for in the weeks ahead.

Whether an Olympian's personal story is depicted in a television profile, website feature, news article, or picture book, it most certainly should be heard. With few exceptions the privilege of representing one's country in the Olympics can be traced back through years of dreams, preparation, successes and setbacks. Some  benefited from privilege, community support, and unlimited resources. Others struggled against discrimination, poverty, and unrelenting obstacles.

Whatever the case, their stories can and should inspire all of us, most especially the Michael Jordans, Sammy Lees, and Wilma Rudolphs of tomorrow.

Schedules of events for the paralympic competitions can be found here.


  1. Glad to see more of these Olympic stories! I ordered the Dr. Lee book you mentioned last week. :)

    I love all the stories that accompany Olympic athletes as much as I like the competitions. Everytime someone breaks my heart, and someone else inspires. Only a couple of days until we see who is who this year!

    1. Thanks for stopping by. You won't be disappointed in Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds by Paula Yoo. Dr. Lee's story is powerful, and it's exciting to know that this year's London Olympics celebrations will be spotlighting the 1948 events and medal winners, Dr. Lee among them.

      I couldn't agree more about the individual stories being almost overwhelming. Winning assures they will be retold, but those who "miss the mark" are likely to have their stories shared this one and only time. I for one plan to have a notebook out, keeping tabs on some of these remarkable achievers, win or lose.

  2. We are huge NBA fans here at home, but I've never heard of these books yet, thanks so much for sharing them. Yes, it is Olympics period now, and I'm sure most people would be glued to their TV sets in the coming weeks, thank you for sharing the Olympic spirit!


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