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I salute the participants and Olympic champions from the four “directions” of our planet, and I hope to pass along some of the reasons I am inspired, especially by the veteran Olympians; I believe their Journey has much to help us on our own Life-way, whether we are old or young, healthy or not, although I tailor this post especially for lessons applying to diabetes.
RICHARD JOHNSON – ARCHERY
SUSAN NATTRASS and LIBBY CALLAHAN – PISTOLS
RICHARD “BUTCH” JOHNSON
Butch has competed in 5 Olympic Games and survived through 2 successful rounds at the 2008 Games. He has represented the United States in a 20 year archery career. Johnson’s first match had been an extraordinaryly long one, 4 rounds and shoot-off against Abramov of Russia, yet when the next match, with Korea’s Im started, Johnson shot a perfect 10, then a 9. However, Im bested him and in round 2, continued as Johnson’s tiredness appeared. Johnson lost 115 – 107. No shame there.
On Day 4 of the Beijing Olympics, while her country, Canada, had yet to still win one medal, Susan Nattrass began a journey that resulted in an 11th place finish in Trap-Shooting. She had been one of Canada’s best chances for a medal, and failed to move forward. Heading into the final qualification round, Susan was tied for 4th, but something unusual happened and she failed to score well on 7 of the 25 targets. That explains her 11th place finish.
Susan was so disappointed that she expressed her possible retirement, but friends who know her well say that won’t happen! Susan says her prep was the same as usual, but because she felt this was going to be her final Olympics, possibly she just began “trying too hard”, rather than just relaxing and let her experience shine.
Susan was the first female shooter in any Olympic Games, and started in Montreal in 1976. At 58, Susan has never won an Olympic Medal, even though she has won 7 World Championships. Definitely, Susan earned her place in herstory/history and whatever she decides, she can look back on a sterling career.
ELIZABETH “LIBBY” CALLAHAN
At 56, Libby is the second oldest competitor on the US Olympic team and is the oldest woman on the team. She was the oldest US team member at the Athens 2004 Games. Born in South Carolina, she is a former Washington, DC police officer and is currently a Staff Sergeant in the US Army Reserve. Her sport is women’s pistol shooting and air rifle.
Libby is a 5 time police champion in this sport, and she is a 4 time Olympian. Each time, Elizabeth had improved in the Olympic Games; her best had been 19th. But, this time she placed 25th in Beijing (however, the points from 8th place to 25th are a almost a virtual dead-heat). The tiny margins are why Libby said she was frustrated with her performance; she said she just kept making small, mental mistakes that accrued and really cost her. She could very easily have been 8th, or better.
It was the men in the police force and army who saw her special potential and encouraged her to become the athlete she is. Libby is the 2007 US National Champion and she won a bronze medal in the 2005 World Cup. Elizabeth says she may try to compete in the London Olympics in 2012.
LESSONS LEARNED —
___ prepare well and pace yourself; have a strategy and stick to it, otherwise you may not be able to reach your goal as easily as you might have
___ be prepared that you might not succeed; have a back-up plan that still meets your needs; be mentally strong
___ only deal with now / today. Let tomorrow take care of itself. Try not to let your mind force you into worry-mode. Have confidence that your knowledge and proper execution can help you succeed.
HAILE SATAYIN ( SETENG AYELE ) – MEN’S MARATHON
HAILE SATAYIN – also AYELE SETENGE / SETENG/ SATAIN
Haile is the oldest Olympic caliber marathoner in modern history, and his story is one of high drama – in the most altruistic and also in the most-painful ways.
Just as the transliteration of his name is confusingly inconsistent, Haile’s real age is also confusing. He was born in Ethiopia, which uses a calendar which started 7 years before our usual one. What is believed to be the proper birthdate on our calendar is is one that Haile says makes him “only 46” rather than the soon-to-be 53 years stated in running records. Either age is phenomenal for a marathoner.
Haile is an Jew who was rescued from Ethiopia in 1991, as part of Israel’s massive re-patriation effort called Operation Solomon. Airlifted by the Israeli government, Haile found freedom and settled near Tel Aviv. All people, proven Jewish, have “the right to return” to their ancient homeland, and Israel has tried to keep her word, bringing tens of thousands of people “home”.
Not all the immigrants are skilled, especially those from African countries. Those often illiterate and destitute people have caused great economic strain for Israeli society, for these immigrants need a great many social service safety nets, which are difficult for Israel to provide, especially when it’s money most still mostly be focused on its very survival.
Consequently, someone like Haile has to do ‘the best he can’, and as Haile’s gift is running, that’s what he has concentrated on, but it does not give him an income. He is supported by a monthly grant, and it is barely enough for his family of 9 to survive. Friends in the running community also try to help him out financially, and he runs endlessly for “prize money” on tough surfaces that extract a significant toll with extra body stress. The races don’t bring in much financially anyway, but he works with the few opportunities open to him.
Haile is 5 foot 7 inches tall but only weighs only 119 pounds! He trains all the time, adding 120 miles every week (200km) since the Athens Games four years ago. Yes, in the streets of Hadera, near Tel Aviv, Haile’s been running through his impoverished neighborhood, year in and year out, in the hope that Beijing would help him gain attention and sponsors. It has been a lonely battle.
His personal best in the marathon was 2 hrs 14.21 mins in Venice, 2003. In Athens’ Olympics in 2004, he was 20th, and he was 19th in the 2007 World Championship in Osaka, Japan. This year in Beijing, he was 69 and said he had been injured during the race, but insisted he must finish it. That was true grit. Haile is still the oldest runner ever to finish a world-class marathon. At 52, all his hopes for the future were dependent on that race in Beijing.
Haile (also spelled Ayele) had debated as to how much to jeopardize his Health by running in Beijing’s filthy air. It was a serious risk to his long-term health, and as the sole bread-winner for his family, this was no easy choice. After all, the marathon is more than 26 miles.
The international favorite, Haile Gelbrselassie of Ethiopia, and Haile’s friend, decided not to compete for that very reason; Gebrselassie put aside his almost-certain chance for the Olympic gold medal, because Beijing would hurt his Health, but Haile Satayin did not feel he had that choice.
Both Hailes are also pushed harder as marathoners for, usually, most Ethiopeans do best at the middle distances, but right now several Ethiopeans are at the top in marathon; the Kenyans are often the best marathoners from Africa and the Nigerians usually are the best sprinters.
In just his 3rd world-class marathon race, 21 year old Kenyan, Samuel Wanjiru, got Kenya’s first marathon gold medal by winning the 2008 race in Beijing. A 36 year old Morocccan got the silver and an Ethiopean won the bronze. The defending Olympic champion, Stephano Baldini of Italy, running in his final marathon, finished 12th. The Africans definitely had the advantage in the 86F (30C) degree heat.
At least, as it turned out, a blasting rain storm the evening before, cleaned the air and the men’s marathon, which is always the last event of the Olympics, was run in clean air.
This was the 100th anniversary of running the marathon in the Olympic Games.
Where Haile Satayin will go from here, I have not read, but he holds 35 national titles and is the most-gifted, flowing runner, known world-wide as the “cheetah”. Haile began running because of his Health. He found that the richer and more plentiful Israeli food was causing him to gain too much weight. So, a door opened when he found his gift.
Hopefully, this new injury will not be threatening to his future, and maybe someone in the world will notice his courage and help him to craft a better life for his family. I most sincerely hope this happens.
Already having some knowledge of accounting, Haile now wants to study Economics and make a better life for his family. His natural-gift as a runner has cost him and his family dearly, fiscally. Hopefully, now, Haile will have the chance to use his excellent mind, and will be able to give his body a well-deserved rest. I hope someone will step forward to help him have the resources needed to take time to study, so his family can have financial security. Maybe it will even be someone who reads this post!
Haile says “My age is old, but my heart is young.” I wish him and his family all the best. He is a real hero.
CONSTANTINA TOMESCU-DITA — WOMEN’S MARATHON
And, now, even though we are chronologically out-of-synch, I wanted to end this article on a high-note, and show that Haile Satayin’s dreams of winning the men’s Olympic marathon at an advanced age were not far-fetched, for the oldest female runner did indeed win the 2008 Women’s Marathon Olympic Gold Medal. Yes!
After years of leading marathons in world-class events, only to have them snatched away, this time Constantina triumphed. It took courage to constantly overcome years of regrets to place herself in contention one more time.
I watched the race on TV. Luckily NBC carried all of it. The other runners did not realise that Constantina had run away with it, because of the road configuration when the lead-pack shuffling and jockeying worked out. So the African and Chinese runners, in the pack of the second half, thought THEY were the front-runners!
We sat on the edge of our seats wondering whether Constantina, at age 38, could hold onto the lead which she had originally wrested from world champion British runner, Paula Radcliffe who had led the first half of the race, even though Paula was recovering from a stress fracture. She finished 23rd, in 2 hours 32.38 mins (6 minutes behind); what an effort. Brava!
Maybe Constantina also got-away because the original leaders-of-the-pack at that time, were the only ones to see Constantina “take-off”. The news was not passed on to the “new”, younger runners who took over in the second-half, as the tired original leaders fell back, to a lonely race on the rain-slicked roads.
Constantina often has tried to dominate the last half of a race, usually to find a younger runner zoom-up at the end and deny her the win, so she did not look back at all, and ground along, digging deep, giving it everything she could from a place that even she had not plumbed before. It was the making of a champion happening before our eyes.
She amassed an 80 second lead, which is huge, as it dwindled to only 22 seconds by the end, and there was only one-hundredth of a second between second and third. 80 seconds, over 26 miles — how tremendous!
Only in the last 5km did Dita turn around for the first time. It was a place in the road where we are not sure she could see how far away the runners were. Constantina did look back a few more times, but when the “pack” finally got the chance to see she was there, and therefore “the leader”, even their youth was not enough to make up the ground, in the last 3 kilometers, although they nearly did.
The race was won by Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania in 2 hours 26.44 minutes. She, alone, had adapted well to the flat, humid, rain-slicked course. Kenya’s world-champion Catherine Ndereba won the silver in 2:27:06, China’s Zhou Xianiu the bronze at 2:27:07.
At the end of the women’s marathon, like the crowd in the stadium, we were jumping up and down for Constantina. It was wonderful to see a veteran runner physically and mentally outwit, overcome and outlast the younger runners. The others had discounted her as a credible contender. Their loss.
Up until now, the oldest male marathon champion was aged 37, and the oldest female winner was aged 30. This Olympic marathon longevity record is owned by Constantina, at 38years old, now best-in-the-world, triumphing over a field of 81 starters and 69 finishers. Brava Dita!
NOTE: Fabulous American marathoner, Deena Kantor, and another one of my Jewish heroines, had to pull out a few miles into the Beijing race, as she felt something pop in her foot, and x-rays showed it was broken. Wise move. Courageous move. Heal well, Deena.
LESSONS LEARNED from Haile and Dita and Deena and Paula:
___ dream big! Never let your Life be ruled by “I can’t”. Figure out how “I can”.
___ work hard, but understand there are no guarantees. The only way to succeed is to be on the field, in the mix, and then you give yourself a chance. Don’t sit on the sidelines of Life.
___ watch out for physical problems, and react with the attention you need, right away, regardless of where you are. Follow your physician’s recommendations when recovering.
___ always have a plan B, and if you need to change direction, use the same courage on your new course.
There are a few athletes I left out. One, James Tompkins, was on my original list, and I’ll try to slide him in during a revision sometime soon or in another post as an example. We are always looking for role-models. But, because I found other veteran Olympians participating at Beijing, along the way, I may add a Part 5 in the future.
Meanwhile, what I want to do now is dedicate this series to 2 brave Olympic-caliber athletes who died before they could reach Beijing, and to Dara Torres’ coach.
Mike Lohberg, Dara Torres’ coach, could not accompany her to Beijing, as he is fighting for his life, in hospital at the National Institutes of Health, in Washington, DC. Knowing this, makes Dara’s accomplishments even more phenomenal. We wish Mike well.
American marathoner Ryan Shay, age 28, was a famous runner from Notre Dame, who unexpectedly died while trying to qualify for the US Olympic Team in November 2007. He collapsed about 5.5 miles into the race in New York City. Our thoughts are with his wife, Alicia, and the rest of Ryan’s family. Surely, the marathon for them was bittersweet.
And, we remember Gyorgy Kolonics, aged 36, Hungarian canoeist and Olympic Gold Medalist in 1996 and 2000. He collapsed while training for Beijing and had won the most recent of his 15 world-titles this year. Our thoughts go out to Gyorgy’s family, too.
And, I want to make sure you also know about Aladar Gerevich, Hungarian fencer, who died in 1991. Between 1932 and 1960, Aladar won 7 Olympic Gold Medals in individual (2) and team (5)competition, at least one Gold Medal in each of 6 consecutive Olympics. It is the longest, unbroken winning streak of any athlete, ever, at the Olympics. He also won one silver and 2 bronze Olympic medals, too. His last gold medal was at age 50. Amazing!
And, if you have any doubts that these athletes can be role-models for you, learn more about diabetic American swimmer, Gary Hall and about Sir Steve Redgrave, British rower, from Olympics 1984 – 2000, who in this even more physical endurance sport won 5 Gold Medals in 5 Olympics all while taking 6 insulin shots a day!
And, as the most heroic athlete of all in the 2008 Olympic Games — I nominate Natalie Du Toit, and I will tell you her story in a few weeks (you’ll learn why we have to wait, later).
Meanwhile, in summation:
I believe Life is all about taking your innate Gifts (everyone has some) and using them well.
If they are athletic gifts, great! Artistic gifts, wonderful! Interpersonal strengths are really special, are still seriously needed and seldom fostered. That is why true Humanitarians are so highly-regarded.
I believe in Life that there is no winning and losing. The medal is not the Ideal for a serious-player. Neither is the adulation a worthy goal. What I think is important are the Lessons learned on your Journey, and how they change your life, and then, most importantly, how you Change others’ lives.
And, all of this can be done in any venue. The Olympics is a showcase of the agony and triumph in one arena of Life. Importantly, as we vicariously share their Journey, we can apply what we learn to our own. That is their great and lasting contribution.
I hope you found the articles inspiring, and as diabetics, fighting diabetes requires the same determination as these athletes have.
As diabetics, it’s important to keep perspective and not be affected by what ignorance in others can wreke (but only if you let it happen).
Each of us is a winner, as long as we are doing our very best to particpate fully in creating our Journey through Life. No excuses!
Best to all — Em
You can read more articles by using the Titles Tab on the upper Navigation Bar.
Read the other parts of this series:
Part 1 at:
Part 2 at:
Part 3 at:
The horsemen design of Native American riders is from: Native Spirit Co.
The “Beijing” calligraphy is from Ralph Lauren.
(c)2008 Em https://diabetesdietdialogue.wordpress.com
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