I forget how many times I have said to my family that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but the fact is on this occasion, at least, I was right. It will be a long time before we see the London 2012 Olympics come to our country again.
We witnessed 10,500 athletes descend upon the UK, along with the hopes of 204 countries. There were 302 medal events across 26 sports, 70,000 games makers with two million visitors over two weeks. It was estimated that another four billion watched it on TV. Then there is the paralympics which is no less an amazing spectacle in itself.
When I hear the personal stories of courage and endurance it is hard for something not to stir deep inside of me. Athletes will stop at nothing to win and will consequently put themselves through any amount of pain to do so.
Kate Walsh, the captain of the Team GB Women’s hockey team refused to let her injuries stop her from playing against New Zealand. There she was out there on a pitch with a broken jaw, picked up after an early game with Japan, leading the way. For the game she had to have emergency surgery to insert a titanium plate in her jaw and then play with a protective mask.
Kate was restricted to having meals blended and was reduced to drinking through a straw. She also received nerve-blocking injections before each game to dull the pain. Her team eventually walked away with a well-earned silver medal, but hardship and pain are not automatic ingredients for success.
Women’s BMX racer 23-year-old Shanaze Reade told a BBC Sport interviewer of how over the years she had broken multiple bones in her body and dislocated both shoulders, but thought nothing of it compared to winning. However, after a disappointing Beijing Olympics, there was no fairytale ending for Shanaze at London 2012, only further heartache.
Yet, it is these extraordinary stories of courage that “inspire a generation”.
I think we would all be off our rockers if we were inspired by failure, but what really moves me is the capacity of the human spirit to achieve more than we feel able, to overcome adversity, to dig deep and find that little bit more from within.
In the Bible Paul the Apostle writes, “We are more than conquerors” Now, he was someone who knew how to take suffering to make gains. Although his endeavours were not in track, hockey or BMX, he nevertheless put himself through immense pressure and pain for what he believed.
He was not driven for gold, but for his passion for Jesus. But here is where maybe Paul the Apostle and athletes have something shared in common: victory is not found in the absence of hardships, trials and tribulations, but in the overcoming of difficult circumstances. For some, it will mean glory; for others, a wooden spoon, but for all there is a deep soulful satisfaction that no amount of effort and hardship is ever without purpose.
At times I have had to tell people that becoming a Christian is not about having an easier life than others. It is not. In fact, the Bible says quite the opposite. Faith is there to strengthen and empower us to cope with whatever life throws at us. Jesus, in himself, gives us the deep compelling reason to get up and carry on. It is not a belief driven by a fear of failure, but one driven by love and acceptance.
But there is a second part to Paul the Apostle’s words: “We are more than conquerors…through him that loves us.”
Kate Walsh and Shanaze Reade are both amazing people. No-one is going around feeling disillusioned with them because they have not walked away with gold. In the same way neither does God ever get disillusioned with us. He thinks we are amazing and will never be prouder of us. That’s how deep His love is for us.
For those who beat us ourselves up for failing, it might be time to get a little upwards perspective.