Our daughters began attending the University of Utah in Salt Lake City just a year and a half after the city had hosted the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. The Olympic organizers had made an arrangement with the university to build the Olympic Village to house the athletes right on the university’s campus. This was a win for both organizations as it was centrally located for the sporting events andfter the Olympics the network of buildings were converted into dormitories for undergraduate students. Our daughters lived in those buildings and to date that is my one and only experience of an Olympic Village. While the athletes were long gone, there were countless photos of them eating in the dining hall, with one such shot containing all of their signatures.
I love the Olympics and so have watched many hours of coverage over the last two weeks. I simply marvel at the diversity of athletic gifts that are represented in the athletes as they compete in events that could not be more different from one another. Just stop and think for a moment about the different skills needed to compete as a runner, a shot putter, a fencer, a gymnast on a balance beam, a swimmer, a volleyball player, a badminton player, a wrestler, a weight lifter, a diver, a shooter, a sailor, or a table tennis player.
In the midst of all the diversity of skill, there is one common trait I see in almost every athlete who is interviewed right after they have competed. Nearly every competitor first thanks their own Olympic village. By that, I am not referring to the actual Olympic Village where they are staying in Rio, but the village of people who have supported them on their journey to Rio. Without those people giving their support they would never have made it to the Olympics. Included amongst those members of the athlete’s personal Olympic village being thanked are any or all of the following: parents, family, coaches, team mates, clubs where they train, famous athletes who preceded them to whom they looked up to when they were young. And sometimes the village even includes, “All the people in my home country.” Occasionally, there is a very emotional moment when an athlete thanks someone specific in their village who has passed away, but whose presence they feel as they compete.
There is a passage in the Bible that sounds very much like the Olympic athletes when they talk about their personal villages of support. In the Letter to the Hebrews, found in the New Testament, the writer inspires people of faith to keep running the race that is set before them, no matter how challenging that race may be, and to remember that as they run their race to take courage in the fact that they are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” (Hebrews 12:1). A great cloud of witnesses sounds a lot like a personal Olympic Village to me.
So it seems that no matter what kind of race we are running, whether an Olympic race, or just the day by day journey that constitutes life for the human race, our ability to persevere is a combination of individual effort and the cloud of witnesses that surround and support us. I, for one, take great comfort in knowing and feeling that those witnesses, both living and those who have passed on, are with me every step of the way.