In The Name of the Best Within Us
By nature, I am very competitive. If you put me in an arena with the fastest men in the world, I would try to beat them. Not only that, I would be fuming if any of them attempted to give me an advantage, or even slowed down a tiny bit just to give me an edge. I fight when there is no way of winning, hope that everyone else comes in way behind me, and worst of all, I’m hugely disappointed if things don’t go my way.
Since London is currently in the lull between the Olympic and Paralympic Games, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the people who didn’t win medals, the folks who were excited just to have made it to the games. My mind keeps going back to one athlete in particular, Tahmina Kohistanti, the sprinter from Afghanistan who is the first female athlete the country has ever sent to the games. She is amazing in every sense of the word, fighting not only to gain speed but respect from her fellow countrymen.
I forget so often that society progresses because of small things, and the movements which change the world do not happen overnight. An old text says “Who will despise the day of small things?” Or, to put it another way, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
We are dependent on small things to change the world, but small can never be confused with effortless. Kohistanti’s presence in these games are such that it will cause little girls to take a lap around their school, when nobody is looking, just to see how fast they can go. In familial debates with other Olympic hopefuls, a father can never again say to his daughter “no Afghan woman has ever gone to the Olympics.” There are young women at home who will hear about the Muslim woman runner, and will inevitably wonder what strength can be found within themselves. These are small actions, even just interior thoughts really, which begin to break down walls chip by chip.
It is easy to get onboard with a movement when the crowds take to the streets with banners held high and chants pouring forth. But at that point the hard work has essentially been done. The crowd and the media, with everyone whipped up and raring to debate means that change is already well underway. Rather, it is when we struggle to break boundaries on our own, going in to work every morning when either no one is looking or people are actively trying to discourage us, that the battles are waged and upheaval begins.
In this way, I think about the difference between the Olympic and Paralympic athletes which are now getting ready to come into our city. Although we have so much anticipation and hope for the upcoming Paralympic Games, they will most likely always be an afterthought to the media blitz of the Olympics. Here is a perfect example of what I am speaking about. The athletes with the greatest disadvantages, be it a situation as extreme as Kohistani, or the man who just five years ago was fighting to breathe on his own after a spinal cord injury, are the ones that have managed to pull out the very best within themselves, even when no one else was looking. In a world where fame is everything, its very easy to forget that the greatest victors and most inspirational people, are the ones we’ve never even heard of.
It wasn’t until I was much older that I realised that the most important thing about my practice had to be primarily that I was committed to making great work, regardless of how many people read my blog. I suppose much of this concept still is very foreign even to myself, but it is true. There are far too many variables to success, and no matter what I do, in reality I have very little control over any of them. What we do have control over, is how often we strive for our very best, what standards we are willing to take on, and how we push ourselves, even when no one else is looking.