Staring at the hand outstretched to help me up, I felt cold, clammy and humiliated. I could already feel the ice and moisture seeping through the bottom of my favorite Jordache jeans. Although my skates fit well enough, they didn’t fit perfectly. Sometimes I’d fall.
Just minutes ago, I had stood on the side in anticipation, watching the ice being resurfaced by a large Zamboni machine. My friend, Jen, and I had just arrived at the University of Illinois ice arena. Unlike me, Jen was a natural figure skater. I, on the other hand, was happy just to find a pair of skates small enough yet wide enough to fit my one-toed, unusually wide feet.
As I struggled to stay vertical on the ice, I finally decided to let go of the wall and try my best at a solid glide to the middle of the arena. I felt a sense of exhilaration as I released my one-fingered grip and felt myself sliding toward my goal. A moment later I heard someone shout, “Hey, look out! Watch out for Ivory!” Ivory was a tall, muscular and intimidating man who skated around the rink effortlessly. He was a frequent and well-known fixture at the rink. Something about him always made me nervous, on and off the ice, but on this day, I couldn’t seem to stop my skates and there was no way to avoid him.
Trying desperately to maneuver around me, Ivory lost his balance and we both fell. I scrambled to get up, but slipped back down. From my sitting position, I saw that he looked horribly angry. It was as if time stood still, with the entire arena waiting to see if Ivory would clobber me right then and there. But suddenly, as I continued trying my best to get up from the ice, Ivory noticed my misshapen hands and seemed to soften. Right before he skated off in the other direction (without helping me up), he turned to me. “You’d better skate near the wall and watch where you’re going,” he said without looking at me. “Yes, sir!” I practically shouted to his back. But the reality was, I knew I couldn’t get up and Jen was off the ice, nowhere in earshot.
“Here. Take my hand!” I paused. The fact was that although I was always willing try out new challenges, I was still mainly a “hider,” especially among strangers and definitely in photos. Feeling the cold from the ice now penetrating through to my underwear, I decided it was worth the shock and offered my one-fingered hand. The teenage girl was approximately five years older than I was. She seemed totally unfazed by my physical difference. “I think I just want to get off the rink, thanks” I told her, expecting her to lead me accordingly. “Hey, don’t be silly…..and don’t worry about Ivory. I’ve been skating here for years.” With one hand I pointed to my tiny skates, presumably made for a first grader. “They don’t exactly fit me right.” She said. “Well, anytime I have a setback, it makes me try even harder. C’mon, I saw you out there before–you can do it!” I looked up, with a new resolve to try my best on the ice. “See you around!” I turned and quickly shouted, “Hey, thanks again. I’m Meg. What’s your name?” She smiled and said, “Bonnie.”
Have any of you been watching the Winter Olympics in Sochi and happen to see a commercial by Liberty Mutual? Not that I am trying to plug an insurance company, but I was instantly captivated by its message. In the first few moments an image of Mary Lou Retton, the Olympic gymnast, appeared with a male voiceover talking about the concept of the comeback trail, how life can be a series of “false starts” and “what if’s?” The video showed Mary Lou stumble on the vault in an earlier competition. Recovering from knee surgery, she came storming back and ultimately earned the gold with a perfect vault at the 1984 Summer Olympics. http://www.ispot.tv/ad/7Tvm/liberty-mutual-rise-olympics
So it happened that the same night a friend passed along a story of Koni Dole, a junior in high school in Montana, who suffered a horrific football injury and ultimately had to get his lower right leg amputated. At the time, the doctors told Dole and his family he would never play football again. However, during recovery, Dole received a message from a girl he didn’t know that turned out to be a game-changer for him (pun-intended). Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., she reminded Dole that “faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” In that moment, his attitude shifted and, despite the fact that his leg was removed and recovery wasn’t going to be easy (he admits that he plays with constant pain as the bone of his leg grinds on the prosthetic), Dole refused to see his dream also shattered. “I am learning to accept the fact that I only have one leg,” he told the media this past fall. “This isn’t the end for me. It’s only the beginning.” With unbelievable drive and determination, and only ten months after breaking his leg, he scored two touchdowns at the first game he played, helping his team to a 45-0 victory.
I’ve thought about that piece about Koni Dole a lot these past several days, as well as how that commercial applies so directly to his life story, and to our own lives—about how Dole’s loss resulted in a newfound determination. Ethan, Charlie and I can directly relate, since our life’s hurdle is actually the very thing that motivates.
Actually, when any of our children are faced with any new challenge, I always try to guide them to believe that although quitting may be an option, it should never become our choice. That Liberty Mutual commercial said it best: With every setback, there’s a chance to come back and rise.
That teenager, Bonnie, turned out to be a pretty good skater. Her last name is Blair and she skated in her first Olympic games in Sarajevo in 1984. Until she retired from speed skating, Blair competed on the U.S. team in four Olympics, and won a career total of five gold and one bronze medals. Bonnie Blair ultimately became one of the most decorated athletes in Olympic history.