August 05, 2016 | The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner
Scott is on vacation this week and so we are sharing a column that he wrote right after the 2012 Summer Olympics. Note that this column begins with a story about Michael Phelps who will be the flag bearer for the US Olympic team in Rio for the opening ceremonies later today.
My wife, Holly, who loves swimming laps, was at the pool yesterday and witnessed a powerful example of just how important role models can be. Three ten-year old boys were getting ready to jump into the pool to race each other to the other end. As she watched them, she noticed that each of the boys was bending over and warming up by doing the Michael Phelps’ arm flap. And of course, being ten year old boys, they immediately began to argue over which one had the right to pretend they were Michael Phelps. The life guard threw out the names of other famous swimmers in an attempt to settle the disagreement, but they all wanted to be Phelps. Clearly these boys, like many of us, have been avid fans of the summer games in London.
Excellence is contagious. When we witness it--when we are fortunate to be close to it--it rubs off on us. It inspires us to want to be excellent, too. This past weekend I had the good fortune to be surrounded by excellence and it has inspired me throughout the week.
My wife and I rode in the Wisconsin MS Bike Ride this past weekend. The ride is a two day fundraising event involving 1,400 riders who travel up to two hundred miles across Wisconsin from Milwaukee to Whitewater on Saturday and from Whitewater on to Madison on Sunday. This year riders once again raised over one million dollars to help eliminate MS. This was our second time participating in the ride and I can say it was, again, one of the most inspiring experiences I have ever had.
There were definitely some amazing cyclists participating in this fundraising event, men and women with exceptional skills and stamina. Throughout the weekend as they rode by me I would try to pick up some tips on form or on drafting and, like the boys my wife witnessed at the pool yesterday, I would try to imitate some of their habits in an attempt to improve my own riding. Their skills and physical excellence were contagious indeed.
As inspiring as the physical excellence of my fellow riders was this past weekend, they are not the people that continue to inspire me five days later. There was another show of strength that I was privileged to witness up close that I have also been trying to imitate this week. The weekend bike ride for MS provided me with numerous opportunities to talk with people who are battling MS and/or their loved ones who are supporting them in their battle with MS.
The emotional and spiritual determination, courage, and strength of the people I met with MS, along with supportive friends and family, was as inspiring as anything I have seen in the Olympics. Having lunch with four young husbands of women who have MS and listening to their stories of commitment, love, and devotion to their wives was transformative. I found the strength of character that has been both developed and revealed while both battling MS and supporting a loved one with the disease to be contagious. I want more of what they have. I aspire to the emotional and spiritual excellence that I see in them. I want to imitate their emotional and spiritual strength as much as those ten-year old boys at the pool want to imitate Michael Phelps. They are true role models for me.
Who inspires you to excellence, whether it be physically, emotionally, or spiritually? Who are you in a position to inspire? This past weekend reminded me that we all have the capacity to inspire excellence in others in a variety of unique ways. In our families, our friendships, our work teams, and our congregations we have many opportunities to inspire one another.
Nancy, Dee, Judy, and Mary are four of the people that inspired me this week. Upon finishing the MS Bike Ride on Sunday, these four MS survivors, sitting in chairs waiting to sign each rider's bib number as a sign of appreciation for participating in the event, each gave me a hug and autographed my number. At that moment those autographs meant more to me than one from Michael Phelps or any other Olympic athlete because they are the quiet heroes who face adversity each day and keep bravely moving on. I share their story in hopes that their strength might inspire you as much as it has inspired me.
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