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Running to Win

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September 2021

It sure did work. In 1919, the Ringling Bros. and the Barnum & Bailey circuses merged. They needed a tagline to better attract customers. After some thought, they chose “The Greatest Show On Earth,” a title earlier coined by an Arkansas paper to describe the performances of Dan Rice, a 19th century humorist and circus clown. Original though it wasn’t, the tagline stayed with the newly formed circus until it closed nearly a century later.

Not unlike the passing of a runner’s baton, the title has passed these days to the Olympics. They are impressive to say the least. Certainly the $15.4 billion price tag to produce the Tokyo Olympics was impressive. So were the magnificent venues created to hold the events. There was plenty of action. This year’s Olympics had every sport imaginable, including new events. Surfing and skateboarding? Why not! And, of course, the athletic performances were truly outstanding as men and women set all sorts of Olympic and world records.

But the Olympics themselves don’t stay with us. They come, and in two weeks they go, the flame passed to another city committed to spending billions to host the event. As for those records, they are made to be broken—and eventually are. Ultimately, what are far more impressive, enduring, and inspirational are the stories of the athletes themselves. Of how they got there. And of how their quests for a chance to win a medal and a small bouquet of flowers changed them and others for life.

For many athletes, the thought of competing on a world stage is a dream of a lifetime, topped only by the thought of winning. But dreams-come-true don’t come easy. It takes incredible drive, a willingness to push harder today than yesterday, and even harder tomorrow. A runner will train months and years, running thousands of miles, for an event only 100 meters long and lasting less than ten seconds. And it takes more than drive. The financial costs of training, conditioning, eating, and competing in preliminary events all over the country are not cheap. So is the cost of being away for long stretches from family and friends. It’s all part of every athlete’s decision to go for it all in the hopes of winning it all.

In the desire to accomplish something of value, none of us always make the right choices. It’s true for athletes. It was true for Olympic runner Sanya Richards-Ross. As the 2008 Beijing Olympics drew near she learned that, quite unexpectedly, she was pregnant. It was an unbearable thought. As recounted in her memoir Chasing Grace, she wondered, “What would my sponsors, my family, my church and my fans think of me?” Knowing that other female athletes had abortions, on the day before her flight to Beijing she had one, too. She struggled emotionally; it was the toughest time of her life. Expected to win a 400 meter race, she came in third, and she knew why. Sanya still suffers the pain but has found relief in God’s arms. She decided to go public in the hopes of helping other women. She is a true winner.

So is Allyson Felix, a 35-year old woman who exudes character and integrity. Allyson has successfully competed in many Olympics and now is the most decorated female athlete in modern Olympics history. When she became pregnant, sponsor Nike cut her funding by 70% and refused her request to waive penalties for her performing at a lower levels because of a very difficult pregnancy and post partum recovery. She had a hard time finding other sponsors to help defray expenses. She could not take her new child with her to competitions because of housing restrictions. She spoke up about the difficulties she and other mothers experience in the athletic world. This summer, Allyson  established Power of She, a fund helping Olympic athletes with childcare expenses. She’s another true winner.

And then there is silver medalist Maria Andrejczyk, a Polish javelin thrower. After all her hard work, she auctioned off her medal to raise funds for a heart operation critically needed by an eight-month old boy. She wanted to pass her “enormous happiness” in winning. The medal’s true value “always remains in the heart.” It’s “great value” lies in helping others “instead of collecting dust in a closet.” Diagnosed with bone cancer in 2018, Maria is proud of how she fought back from loneliness and depression. As for that medal, a Polish convenience store was the highest bidder. It promptly returned Maria’s medal to her and donated money for the boy’s operation. Her selflessness turned the medal from silver to gold.

Stories like these are not just the province of Olympians. Actress Ashley Bratcher, star of the movie Unplanned, and Heartbeat International awarded a scholarship to a pregnant teen who chose life for her child. Victoria Petersen, the reigning Mrs. America, is an advocate for foster children and for the unborn. Her mom had saved her from abortion. Her organization Bring Beloved works with foster children—as she was—to help them know God’s love. TikTok star Naim Darrechi fearlessly speaks to his 26 million viewers to raise their awareness of the gift of life. Giving life to someone and raising that person responsibly “is the most beautiful and precious thing in the world.” A TikTok viewer posted a video to share her struggle with and grief over her abortion so that others might be spared. Winners all.

God calls us all to run the race. Each of us can answer His call. The talent is there. It’s a matter of fidelity and drive. More than a medal and flowers await at the finish line. Much more.

Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics.  He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois and have six children.
© Paul V. Esposito 2021.  Culture of Life.  Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted.  Visit us at http://www.the-culture-of-life.com/ and on Facebook.

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