On February 13, 2014, two men suffered devastating injuries either before or during the men's short program in the Olympics. They each handled their obstacle differently, and we can - and need to - learn a lesson from them both.
Lesson 1: When to Get Back Up
Jeremy Abbott crashed hard when he failed to land his first jump - the incredibly difficult quadruple.
Now, to me, a normal human being who would get excited if I could do a bunny hop on the ice, falling from that jump would be a given. But we spectators become a different breed of critic when we watch the stunts pulled of by these amazing men. Still, I think each one of us held our breath when Jeremy did not get up. We had seen others fall and get up so seamlessly that it looked like part of the routine. Jeremy clutched his hip and winced in pain, and we wondered if this would be the first time we would ever see some kind of ambulance zamboni.
To our continued amazement, we millions of viewers watched the young man rise and CONTINUE his program! The rest of the routine showed so little flaw, so little expression of pain, that more than a few of us must have questioned whether he faked his injury.
He didn't. After he finished and waved to the crowd, the wince returned. He again grabbed his side and he returned to his coach with the words, "That really hurt."
How much more painful was it to wave to the crowd when he felt he hadn't given them his best? To his country members who hungered for more medals? How much did it hurt to sit in front of cameras recording his reaction to a score being issued that was nearly 30 points less than what the gold medalist would pull in. A score well less than he expected himself before the routine began.
But we clapped. The Americans clapped, the Russians clapped, and everone at home clapped. (Admit it - you wanted to.) We were more amazed at his performance after seeing his failure than if he would have done it perfectly. And here's why.
He finished, even knowing there would be no hope of a medal. He was there, and he did what he came to do. Here are his words in a post-performance interview.
"First thing, I was in a lot of pain and I was laying there kind of shocked and I didn't know what to think," Abbott said. "I was waiting for the music to stop. The audience was screaming, and I was, like, 'Forget it all, I am going to finish this program.' As much of a disappointment as this is, I am not in the least bit ashamed. I stood up and finished this program, and I am proud of what I did in the circumstances."
He wanted a reason for what he had done. His first thought was to quit, but he didn't know how that was supposed to happen. So he just went on.
Lesson 2: When to Stay Down and Know You're Done
Another skater was supposed to perform first that night.
The Russian, Evgeni Plushenko, had already given the audience a preview of how dominant his performance could be in the team competition. He placed first, overwhelmingly. No doubt, his country, the host, was awaiting their moment to shine again in men's figure skating.
However, something was wrong. After Evgeni's warm-ups, more time passed. Audience members could only watch him approach the judges and wonder about the conversation. We didn't see any problems.
We at home heard the conversation on TV, though. He spoke to the judges in English. "My back is bad. I cannot skate."
Evgeni took the ice again, and his Russian fans were excited. He waved a thank you salute to the audience who mumbled in confusion. He was acting like he had already finished. An annoucement was made in English to a mostly silent reply from the audience. Once the announcement was repeated in Russian, there was a pause again. No one knew how to respond when they heard their hero would not skate for medical reasons. And then the faithful audience knew what to do. They applauded. And, after answering a few questions, Evgeni Plushenko retired.
What do we learn from Evgeni Plushenko? Time.
Time is the one thing that is so precise, it can choose a winner in a race by a fraction of a second - literally less than the time it takes to blink.
On the other hand, the scale of time in one's life is so very different that it varies from person to person. Because no person is exactly like another, there is no exact manual that explains when your body is done. No athlete is ever 100% sure when his healthy body has finished its maximum amount of quality work. Many will try to continue their trade, only to find that dimishing quality brings out the worst in viewers. Armchair coaches complain that "he should have retired long ago." Those perfectly-hindsighted coaches always know best, you know.
Most of us are not Olympians. So few are professional athletes. Does this principle apply to us as well?
You know it does. It might not be our body. It might be a friendship, a parenting style, a job, a volunteer assignment. You probably know right now what it is. Something is done. Something has to go. Something's quality is starting to diminish.
Some of us are going down the hill now. We are no longer growing, but just fighting decay. But when we recognize such things as getting up and moving on or staying down and moving on, we are still growing. As we grow in maturity, we can be smarter with the time we do use.
Jeremy Abbott showed us sometimes we keep going.
Evgeni Plushenko showed us sometimes we need to stop.
T.C. Slonaker, Eagles fan
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