As Meryl Davis and Charlie White swooped and glided across the ice in Sochi, my daughter Alyson and I had an Olympic-sized conversation about friendships and why having people who are in your lives consistently and over the long haul is really an important part of a good life.
It was a spur-of-the-moment chat sparked by the video clips NBC presented of the two figure skaters, starting when they were little kids paired up to skate more than 17 years ago. The segment followed their growth — both in their sport and physically. It traced the relationship their moms share, as well, forged over countless hours side by side in too many ice arenas to try to count or name.
We all need friends like that, we agreed. People you can work and grow with. People who know your past and your present and plan to be there in your future. There’s an intimacy that comes only with a great deal of time and shared victories and disappointments that just can’t be replicated. Those victories and disappointments that create bonds don’t have to be in the sports arena. And they don’t have to be actual wins and losses.
We also had another Olympic-sized conversation as we watched Ty Walker smile and make good-humored gestures after she failed to make it into the women’s snowboard slopestyle finals Sunday.
That conversation was about a lot of things: Youth and not being in too much of a hurry. Aly opined that it might be hard to win a gold medal at that age, because where do you go from there? We also talked about endurance and courage: Walker competed beautifully on an injured foot that had to be injected with Novocaine before the start of the competition. She didn’t let it slow her down.
We talked about the bronze medal that Jenny Jones won for Great Britain in the women’s snowboard slopestyle. Jones is 33, making her the oldest of the group. That’s a lot of years of hard work and competition and won’t-quit effort to try to emulate in the parts of your own life that burn bright, I told my daughter.
We discussed disappointments and sportsmanship as we watched Bode Miller have what ESPN called “one of those days,” finishing eighth in men’s downhill. And grace. He was clearly disappointed, but he didn’t make a lot of excuses. He’d trained hard and skied with great heart, and that’s really all one can do — in the Olympics or in life.
The Olympics are one of the great loves of my life, although I’m about as unathletic by nature as one can be. I am busy and active. I take care of myself. But I can’t imagine skating or skiing or snowboarding or luging or any other athletic activity for hours and hours, days and days and years on end in hopes that it would lead to that moment, that chance that comes every four years to claim an Olympic medal.
What I love is that others have that passion and dedication. It reminds me that we all have bright lights blazing for very different things and I am forever grateful that we don’t all have the same goals or interests.
I also love the Olympics for the sense of community it creates. There’s great national pride on display and we all get behind whoever carries our own flag. But it is not possible to begrudge a great performance by someone from somewhere far away who clearly worked as hard and wants the prize every bit as much.The competitors know that as they admire each others’ performances and exchange smiles and hugs.
The Olympics may be the grandest of all competitions. But they are also fodder for learning the best of what it means to be human.
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