Stray Hope In Sochi

February 23, 2014 by  
Filed under B2P Hot Stove

Raggedy, unkempt dogs roam the muddy streets of Sochi, pilfering leftover scraps of forgotten rummage. Despite the efforts of many media outlets to paint them as vicious, mangey animals who prowl tame sidewalks looking for a young child to tear apart, I’ve found most of them to be looking for nothing more than a “bite” to eat and a friendly pat on the head. More often than not, their tails begin to wag and the fact that no single identifiable breed can be recognized seems to fade with a wry canine smile. Yea, they’re dirty and probably in need of a vaccine or two, but how different are they from you or I when we too were in need of a hand-out from a world that seemed to constantly conspire against us? Sure, Sochi — let alone the world — has many greater problems than stray dogs, but today I began to think about how many of those problems could be eased with little more than second-hand scraps of compassion…

Homeless dogs briefly made headlines as the 2014 Olympic Games approached. On the one hand, many seemed to be anxious to find holes in the system, chinks in the mighty Russian armor — they’re perpetual nihilists and are forever critical of a system that they offer no help in restructuring. The stray dogs were an easy target: let those helpless creatures shoulder the blame for the fact that buildings aren’t entirely complete and the Russian hockey team yet again failed to make the medal round at an Olympic Games. Blame the dogs. Blame the helpless, the most hungry and needy.

At 30-years-old, these Winter Games are my first Olympic experience. If you had asked me 15 years ago, I’d of regaled you with splendid stories of how I’d already become a magnanimous Olympic champion, perhaps many times over by now. But reality’s shoveled  different plans my way, and I’ve adjusted. A few untimely injuries never quelled my spirit or my hopes that I too could participate (at least in some capacity) in what always turns out as the greatest sporting event known to man. The standing-room only line of those who actually take part is always sparser than the line that bursts with those who yearn to be touched by Olympic magic.

One reason I love the Olympics so much is because of the stories; they overwhelmingly drip with humanities greatest (and sometimes worst) attributes. Injuries, heartache, rejection — it’s all there…an all-inclusive painful journey put on display for the world to see. Within that very pain, smothered beneath its ashes is the spark of life. Naturally, man longs to hope, to imagine a better day. For many, amidst the struggle of a career, and for a few select weeks, that better day sees its dawn. As these moments unfold over our HDMI tv sets, we’re all vividly given a morsel of hope to carry on to revel in our own better day. I’m always amazed at the athletes who do so well in their first Olympics, only to stumble and utterly fail four years later defending their thrown. Oftentimes, its this very failure, this humbling of the soul, that propels them to climb back eight years post their debut to reclaim even a piece of their former self-attained glory. Working towards something for so long, so hard…to stumble and then learn from mistakes…is a maternally-teaching microcosm of life.

The Olympics come and they inevitably go; the world continues to turn. Oftentimes I’d be so focused on one competition that nothing else after it seemed important. But guess what?…life did in fact continue, whether I succeeded or not. When those few fleeting moments of intensity do have their day in court, it’s hard to not wonder if I had done enough, had I fully prepared for this moment, or had I slacked off? Those heightened moments of palpable rivalry in the spotlight of competition are often what keeps me going through the long, incredibly lonely days in a cold gym in the middle of nowhere. I never wanted to arrive at my moment in the sun only to be rendered into a silent cosmos of unpreparedness. At that point I would cast myself aside and resign an unfit duty.

Hope is something that can melt faster than the mountainside of Krasnaya Polyana’s southernly slope after a leisurely rainstorm. It seems to come and go as if predetermined by some uncontrollable outside force. It’s almost tempting to believe that by God’s grace alone are a select few chosen to succeed in life while the rest of us are meant to stutter-step our way through life. What’s much harder to grasp is the given influence we have over our own fate. But the incessant cry persists: why has God overlooked me? When will my ship come in? I’d be rich if I had a dime every time I asked myself that weakened question. For some reason, it’s so much easier to feel sorry for ourselves than to take full responsibility and take positive action.

A realistic, opportunistic mind-set is another form of grace, far more powerful than the “easy street” path seemingly paved for some. We may not all have access to the best, most perfect genetics but we all have that often underutilized grace of compassion and hope. It’s that hope that wakes those stray dogs up in the morning and sets them out to become third-rate beggars. Remarkably, that same hope sustains the dreams of our finest champion athletes.

Matt Hicks is a contributor to the Good Sports Blog, an elite level gymnast who has competed internationally and training  for the 2016 Olympics