As a youth, I dreamed of being a professional basketball player. I was five foot, eleven inches. The odds were steeply against my ever succeeding at pro ball. But now, at four foot, three inches (sitting down), I was playing for the greatest athletic trophy in the world—an Olympic gold medal—and I was confident we would win.
And win we did. The score? Fifty-five to forty-three! I was delighted to have scored eight points, but ecstatic at how well we played as a team. Each of us did our job. We mastered the teamwork attitude essential to success in any organization. Selfishness and grandstanding were eliminated. We each played our role and achieved together the highest level of success possible in the world games.
Twenty minutes after our victory, we rolled out to listen to the national anthem and watched as they raised the flag of our great country to the rafters in the center position. As we were presented our individual gold medals, I felt those powerful emotions experienced by athletes who win the gold. My eyes blurred with tears as I remembered only ten years earlier lying in a hospital bed, wondering if I would ever play basketball again.
When I got home, Mom was so excited about my gold medal, she wanted to bronze it!
One of the first friends I made after arriving at the Olympic Village was a French athlete. He was a mighty four foot, two inches—standing up. I loved hanging out with him because he had a great sense of humor—and he made me feel tall! He was an eighty-pound weightlifter who bench-pressed somewhere around three hundred pounds. He said he could do it because he didn’t have to lift it as high as anyone else. He only had to push it fourteen inches! But I don’t think I could bench press three hundred pounds even one inch.
I have seen a man with one leg jump over a seven-foot high bar and another long jump twenty-two feet. I saw a one-armed man with no legs swim—fast! I have seen blind runners outdistance their competition and sat fascinated watching a team of blind athletes play a game called “goal ball” (similar to soccer). The ball is electronically programmed to “beep” repeatedly so that the team members could locate it.
I realized that these are real athletes who can out run, out jump, out shoot, out maneuver and out persevere almost any mere mortal. Olympic-level success always depends on Olympic-level positioning. What is “Olympic-level positioning?” No matter the difficulty, the pain, the challenge, the disability or handicap—or the mood one might be in—it is overcome by adopting the position that we keep moving (limping, tapping, or rolling) forward.
And what if we are in a bad mood and need to cheer up? Look out, hotel staff! You might become victim to one of our pranks. One day we stuffed our little weightlifter into a pillowcase in our room in the Olympic Village and hid around the corner waiting for the maid to show up. As she stripped the beds and shook out the pillows, she was shocked to see a little human tumble out of the pillowcase. We didn’t exactly understand the language she spoke, but we did get her meaning!
It was a lot funnier to us than it was to her.