Today was the first day back at school for the staff. There were warm hugs and lively conversations as we gathered in the library and recapped summer vacations and family news. There was excited talk of the Olympics and the amazing gold medal feats of swimmer Michael Phelps. Breaking Mark Spitz’ long-held single Olympic gold medal record, Phelps is no doubt an amazing athlete!
“His arm span is 6 foot 7 inches!” our Assistant Principal excitedly exclaimed, “That’s 3 inches MORE than his height!”
“Did you know he has ADD?” marveled a coworker.
“Yes, and his mother is a principal!” one teacher proudly added.
We took our seats and our morning meeting began. We reviewed the staff handbook and student expectations and then discussed the requisite policy on bullying. Conversation again turned to Phelps. In an interview with Bob Costas, Phelps’ mother shared that her son had frequently been a target of bullying and harassment during his childhood. Then she relayed a poignant story.
After Phelps made the Olympic team at 15, a fan approached him at an airport to shake his hand. His mother identified him as a former classmate of Micheal’s, but her son appeared not to recognize the eager young man. “I’m sorry,” Phelps asked, “Do we know each other?”
The teen walked away, and his mother ~ somewhat puzzled ~ inquired, “Michael, didn’t you recognize that boy?”
“Yes,” her son acknowledged, “I know exactly who he is, one of the kids who harassed me growing up. I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of thinking I ever noticed him.”
Incredible athletes are an inspiration in and of themselves, yet those who overcome odds are even more so. Whether it’s breaking a 36 year-held Olympic record or triumphing over the school bully, we rise to our feet and applaud. An amazing athlete indeed!
Golden Examples: Phelps & Spitz
There have been many comparisons between these two storied athletes in the weeks and days leading up to this Olympics. Sports pundits debate which man is the better athlete, and argue who would win if all things were equal. But how can you compare great athletes of different generations? And, more importantly, why should we? Both men have acknowledged the other with admiration, yet commentators aren’t satisfied. They want a story of jealousy and ill-will.
In 2004, Phelps was quoted as saying: “I’d rather be the first Michael Phelps than the next somebody else.” Since then, this quote has been morphed into “… than the next Mark Spitz.” Citing this line, commentators have criticized Michael Phelps as irreverent, disrespectful, immature, and self-indulgent. What an ego!
Kids these days. What kind of example is that?
Frankly, if I was his mother, I’d be proud if my son expressed that sentiment! Phelps’ words offer a mantra for every one of us: Be the FIRST you, not a COPY of anyone else. Develop YOUR full potential. Be the best one of you there is to be. THAT will be amazing. The greatness will take care of itself.
In 1999, author Anna Quindlen gave the commencement address at Mount Holyoke College, a beautiful speech on the perils of trying to be perfect. She offered that on one level it’s too hard, and at another it’s “too cheap and easy.” In our efforts to be perfect, we are no more than imitations of someone ELSE’S version of who or what we should be. Anyone can imitate,
“but nothing important, or meaningful, or beautiful, or interesting, or great, ever came out of imitations. What is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”
Like Michael Phelps, may we all aspire to BE an original. May we all have the courage to discover our own potential within. The greatness will take care of itself.
“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” ~ George Eliot
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Of Interest …
- Donna de Varona “What it takes to be a Hero”
- Michael Phelps’ mother recalls Helping Her Son Find Gold-Medal Focus ~ a child with ADD
- A version of Anna Quindlen’s commencement speech is now available as a book.