It seems that as of lately, all anyone can talk about, blog about, keep up with, and watch is the 2012 London Olympic games. The intense fascination is to be expected considering that the Olympics are the epicenter of all things athletics. Every sport imaginable, every country you’ve heard of, and every type of person is involved. And above all else, the Olympic games give all of us someone to root for. Whether it’s our own country’s superstar, the MVP of that sport, or the underdog with a tear jerking story, we can all glue our eyes to the television and cheer for something that is unattainable, even unfathomable for most ordinary citizens; something that, although not so complex on the surface, symbolizes national and individual pride and years of blood, sweat, and tears. We can all cheer for something that is as simple as a color; and that color is gold.
Every four years, a group of people travel to different locations to represent the United States in the Olympics. These people look like us (aside from a few extra muscles) and talk like us (aside from their stories about training 40 or more hours a week), but what is unique about these people is that they are the best of the best.
When you picture a perfect athlete, you picture Alex Morgan hammering a game-winning goal into the net. You picture Misty May Treanor lunging into the ground to dig a ball out of the sand. You picture Gabby Douglas sticking the landing after summersaulting through the air. And you picture Michael Phelps draped in 19 Olympic medals.
You may think to yourself these perfect athletes; these flawless specimens must have undergone years and years of training, participated in dozens and dozens of competitions. They must have seen it all and done it all, and now here they stand on the podium collecting the medals that they’ve waited their entire lives for. But what you may not consider is that a large number of these athletes are incredibly young.
And while they have spent years training and they have participated in dozens of competitions, most of them still have the suffix ‘teen’ on the end of their age. It is shocking for me to realize that so many of these outstanding athletes are my age, or even younger.
While I often like to think of myself and be treated as an adult, the fact of the matter is that I am 16 and still a child. These people diving into the pool and catapulting through the air are children. And as children, they have managed to become extraordinary at what they do. They have managed to muster up more courage and perseverance than most people twice their age have ever dreamed of possessing. They have made sacrifices greater than many people, including me, can ever understand. They have moved cross-country, fought through pain and injuries, and risen from failure to get where they are now; standing above the rest of the world with gold around their necks while they listen to their country’s national anthem being played. And all while studying US History and calculus, or even attending public school.
Katie Ledecky is 15 years old and as the youngest member of any US Olympic team this year. She is a gold medalist. She placed first in the Omaha Olympic trials, her first major swimming competition ever. Ledecky also holds the US record in her event and the world record for her age group. She beat out the competition in the medaling event by over four seconds and was able to bring home gold for the United States. All of this at an age where Katie is not even qualified to get her learner’s driving permit and while she attends school as a rising sophomore in Bethesda, Maryland.
For someone who claims they started swimming to make more friends, you can’t help but wonder if Katie’s hectic training schedule leaves her with much time for a social life.
Kyla Ross, who is ten months younger than I am, and McKayla Maroney, who is two weeks older than I am, are both members of the US Olympic Gymnastics Team, and received gold medals in the team competition last week. The girls, who have been friends for over ten years as a result of their gymnastics training, have both had their fair share of first place finishes and record breaking scores. But nothing was as satisfying as taking the gold at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Especially for two teenagers who have been home schooled since a young age and travelled incredible distances to the best gyms around in order to keep their Olympic dreams alive.
Katie, McKayla, and Kyla are only three of many teen athletes competing in the 2012 Olympics, as well as in previous years’ games. As a student who often stresses over balancing sports, academics, and a social life, I am in awe of these kids who have been able to maintain a schedule that allows them to reach the highest possible level of success. And as someone who is usually indecisive about my interests and priorities, I admire those who, at my age, have found their passions and pursued them to the fullest.
As we watch the remainder of these Olympic games, we should continue to root for the superstars, the MVPs, and the underdogs. And we should never stop cheering for gold. But as you thrust your fist in the air in a triumphant motion, remember to cheer for more than just the color. Cheer for the hours upon hours of training. Cheer for the failures that fueled these athletes’ thirst for winning. Cheer for the sacrifices made so that these teenagers could walk behind the American flag at opening ceremonies. Cheer for everything that they have done in order to make their parents, friends, team mates, classmates, and above all else, their countries proud.