Dreaming of Gold

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By Tabi King

Didn't we all dream of Olympic Gold? I'll never forget watching four-time Olympic gold medalist Olga Korbut show us what gymnasts can really do. Other memorable moments were watching Nadia Comaneci define gymnastics with perfection; watching Carl Lewis run like the wind; and my favorite Olympic moment--the 1980 miracle on ice when the Americans beat the Russians in hockey, then went on to Olympic gold.

These were the moments that fueled my youth. I tried every sport possible. Track, gymnastics, softball, soccer, skiing. You name it, I played it. Not very well, mind you. I was the one that came out year after year, and I'm sure each time the coach would say to himself, "Oh, no, here she comes again." But, I knew if I worked hard enough and tried hard enough, one day I would go to the Olympics and win a gold medal.

I never did. It was not in the cards for me.

However, the value of teamwork, dedication, sacrifice, and focus are not lost on those that tried and never made it. For those are the lessons far more valuable than a gold medal--the ones you learn when you never give up, and you realize it's okay not to make the team or take on the responsibility of back up right wing on the soccer field. Sometimes the destination is the journey: the person you become when you give it everything you have.

It's worth more than a medal.

Platform for Dreams

The Paralympic Games represent so much more than the biggest disabled sporting event in the world. The Games are the platform where dreams are built--where a child who sits in a wheelchair or a boy missing both his legs can look to their role models and dream.

Rudy Garcia-Tolson is a role model for thousands of people around the world, disabled or not. He has that gift of letting you know you have a choice. Just because you're missing a couple of legs has no bearing on the fact that you can run a mile in 6:20 or win a Paralympic gold medal in swimming.

For Jake Frank, Rudy is Michael Jordan. Jake is five years old and lives in South Dakota. He also is missing both his legs. When he was born, his parents did not know what their options were. Aren't little boys supposed to run, climb trees, and play Little League? Then along came Rudy, who opened Jake's world and showed him that missing your legs has no bearing on what you can and cannot do.

Jake Frank just won first place in his weight category in wrestling. He plays on his Little League baseball team, and he swears that one day he will beat Rudy in swimming.

Does this story sound familiar?

Dreams Can Unfold

Sometimes all you need is something in front of you that lets you know it's possible. Each of the 205 US athletes who competed at the Paralympic Games overcame a challenge, had tremendous focus, unbreakable determination, paid a big sacrifice--and have incredible strength to get them to their dream. For the many who did not make it, that's okay. The dream you hold inside will take its form in a way you never expected.

There are many wonderful disabled sports organizations designed either to teach you a new sport or to groom the champions of tomorrow. It doesn't matter which way you go. It just matters if you go.

Congratulations to all the Paralympic athletes. And to those who didn't make it: keep trying, never give up, and let your Olympic gold unfold in its true form.

Some disabled sports organizations are the Challenged Athletes Foundation: www.challengedathletes.org; the US Paralympics: www.usparalympics.org; and Disabled Sports/USA: www.dsusa.org. A comprehensive directory of disabled sports organizations is available at the American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (AAPMR) website: www.aapmr.org/condtreat/athletes.htm

Tabi King is director of programs & development for the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) and has been working in disabled sports and the O&P industry for over 12 years.