By Sarah Fuller
Distinguished Young Woman of Pennsylvania for 2013
With the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics just around the corner, a vivid image of the Olympic flame comes to mind. To me, it represents the dreams of the athletes who are coming together to compete in the games. As I was looking for inspiring stories about Olympic athletes, I stumbled upon the following examples of men and women who, by keeping their eyes to the future, were able to make their wildest dreams a reality! Take a look at their stories and some of the lessons we can learn from them:
1. Lisa Leslie: As a child, U.S. basketball star Lisa Leslie was tormented for her height. She used all 6 feet and 5 inches to reach the net and her goals, winning four consecutive gold medals and being named WNBA’s MVP three times.
What can Leslie teach us? Use your talents to your advantage, and never let others determine your worth. The special talents or characteristics that you have may be what make you different from everyone else, but they are what make you unique. Don’t be embarrassed! Turn that unique “thing” into a vehicle to reach your dreams.
2. Derek Redmond: In Barcelona in 1992, Britain’s runner Derek Redmond was expected to compete in the 400 meters but pulled a hamstring and fell to the ground. Rather than giving in and giving up, he stood up, and hobbled the remaining 200 meters with his father’s assistance.
Life is unpredictable. No matter how much we prepare for our future, we can never predict the unexpected speed bumps along the way. Never let the times you fall keep you from pursuing the finish line. Redmond also teaches us that sometimes, we simply can’t do it alone. Accepting help is nothing to be ashamed of.
3. Dara Jones: Dara Jones competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, bringing her total of Olympic medals to twelve, including four gold. She swam in the 2008 games, however, at the age of 41, making her the oldest swimmer to ever compete in the Olympics.
This athlete may seem more difficult to relate to because of her age, but her example teaches us something very important: It’s never too late to pursue a goal, to learn something, or to be successful. Whether it is that instrument you’ve been wanting to learn how to play since fourth grade, the dance class you want to try even though you’ve never danced before, or the math that you’re still struggling with, if it’s something you care about, age shouldn’t matter one bit!
4. Sadaf Rahimi: Because of oppressive laws, women couldn’t compete for Afghanistan until 2004. In 2012, as a 17-year-old Afghani woman, Sadaf Rahimi boxed her way to the Olympic ring, the first real boxing ring in which she ever competed. Sadaf trained in makeshift gyms that used to hold public executions but was determined to make it to the Olympics.
This young woman stands for more than her right to compete. Her determination gives voice to the struggles of many women in her country as she represents the need for justice. She teaches us that reaching our goal might require creativity and ingenuity – like training in makeshift gyms – but that the goal is still attainable. Our goals, as Rahimi shows us, can even give voice to the dreams of others.
As we begin to watch the 2014 Olympic Games, we may be overwhelmed by the beauty of the opening ceremony and the athleticism of the men and women from all over the globe. We should not forget, however, that these athletes are not only making history, they are pursuing their dreams. Whether your talents are on the field, the stage, in the choir, in the kitchen, or in the classroom, watch the Olympics with the idea that each and every one of us has something special to share and that each one of us has a dream. And that dream is beautiful, unique, and attainable! May the flame of your dream always burn in your heart.
Sarah Fuller is a college freshman at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania majoring in Early Childhood Education & Special Education. Originally from Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, Sarah was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Pennsylvania for 2013. Learn more about Sarah here!