Friday, August 10, 2012

Gold! Gold! Gold!

As I flew into Whitehorse, a city of some 30,000 people in the Yukon Territory of Canada, I was reminded of the Klondike gold rush that took place up there between 1896 and 1899.  Maybe it was the light from the late evening sun reflecting off the nearby mountains, or perhaps all the Olympic hype about winning gold sparked the connection. Of course, we glamorize and glorify the achievements of those who struck gold either literally or athletically speaking. But for some who participated in each "gold rush" there was to be no gold, only struggle, pain, disappointment and the anonymity of having competed and lost. 
Apparently, 100,000 people came to seek their fortunes in the Yukon gold rush. Only about 40,000 actually succeeded in prospecting for gold. Many of them gave up everything they had to take a chance at bringing home a bag of gold nuggets. A large number lost their lives in the effort to get there and find their fortune. Whether through accident, foul play or simply the severity of the winter, more often than not they ended up buried in a lonely churchyard in some deserted Yukon town. All but 4000 prospectors came away empty-handed. In retrospect, the risk/reward ratio did not make a lot of sense. 
At the XXX Olympiad in London some 10,500 athletes will compete. Many of them will have given years of their lives to prepare the chance to go for the gold. A large number of them will have suffered injury to attain the goal of being an Olympian. Only a few of these competitors’ names will be remembered, as all but a thousand or so athletes will come away empty-handed. And of those who leave London with a medal around his or her neck, few will be remembered outside of their country for long, if at all. I suspect that few people remember my uncle Nelson who holds an Olympic silver medal from the 1960 Rome Olympics as a result of his membership on the Canadian rowing men's 8, even though it was the only medal that Canada brought home from those Olympics. Yet, despite the odds, young men and women from around the world will continue to train and sacrifice to give their best in 2016. 
This quest for gold, be it indicative of financial or athletic success, leaves me feeling inadequate. Of course, regardless of any effort on my part, I would not be a likely recipient of an Olympic medal. And even if I had been less financially risk-averse and dedicated myself to the acquiring of wealth, I doubt that I would ever be among the richest.

So what can I learn from the gold rush of the late 1800s and the modern-day Olympics? Is it that I am simply mediocre and inadequate? Is it that I have never been in the right place at the right time to strike it rich? Am I simply relegated to our easy chairs where I read about or watch the "winners"? Does life for me become petty and small as a result? 
My answer is, "No". It is not the glint of gold that defines me or you. But it is our willingness to strive to be the best we can be. We must compete; not so much against others, but against our own attitudes, apathy and fear. Life is not an event every four years, it is daily. It is what happens when the camera lights have found a new target, the crowds have gone home and no one seems to be watching, let alone cheering. Life is lived for the most part after the Olympic torch no longer leads the procession of confidence. It is when hope for a better tomorrow feels like a candle you carry in the wind.

If gold is a symbol of greatness, let us define it in our daily achievements.

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