Although it's been over twenty years since I last threw a javelin, people get excited to meet an Olympian. The Olympic Games provides a universal experience in excellence, celebration, and camaraderie. I grin as I recall the Olympic moments on television, where athlete after athlete is seen hugging competitors after their events. I grin because I once was chastised by a coach for hugging a competitor before the event. There was no need for him to worry, as my relationship to competition would have me warrior-ready by the time I stood on the runway to throw.
Over the years, our society's respect for competition has diminished, which at first had me scratching my head and then downright pissed me off when I saw public school Physical Education curriculum specifically ban competition. Don't get me wrong, as a founder of a youth basketball club and girls' basketball coach, I've seen my fair share of youth sports gone bad. However, my belief in the good of competition has me want to work to improve the state of athletics, not discard them. The critics say that competition brings out the worst in kids. I strongly disagree. Look at any playground, and you will see kids naturally competing. If you look further, competition is one of the best motivators to improve performance.
If you look up the word competition in the dictionary, you'll find the root words mean "together we rise." That's certainly my experience, when in 1980 I found myself in 4th place with a best throw of 175' with one javelin throw left in the Olympic Trials. To make the Olympic Team, I needed to throw over the standard of 180'5" and place in the top 3 -- in the Eugene, Oregon rain. To this day, I believe I launched my best throw ever, 181'3", placing third and making the Olympic Team because of Karen Smith, one of my competitors. She threw her final throw just before me, and had an amazing throw over 200 feet. Wow!
She then ran back on the runway and gave me a high five as the click-click-click of the professional photographers created a sound I remember to this day. And, having just seen my competitor do the impossible, I became inspired. I remember saying two things: "I want me some of that" referring to the photographers taking her picture, and "I am an Olympian" knowing the truth of that was on the other side of the next 30 seconds.
To Play Big, we as individuals and corporate teams and community organizations are called to be competitive. I invite you to embrace competition, and work to improve the conditions under which we compete -- because in the end, we can both celebrate being human beings on the same planet and be warriors in our quest for excellence.