Thursday, February 25, 2010

Isabel: Doing What You Love

Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Race

Well-meaning neighbors suggested she be put down. Since she was blind and would require assistance, it might be the kind thing to do. She'd been a sled dog, a member of a team, and it was assumed her disability automatically precluded the life she'd always known. At the advice of their veterinarian, her owners tried to make her the family pet, but she'd been a working dog and in its absence, eventually refused to eat or drink and became listless. Putting it in clinical terms, you'd say she was depressed.

Through a happy set of circumstances, it was discovered she was still interested in interacting with other dogs and eager to harness up with them. Her owners decided to give her a try and found she did quite well, following the other dogs' cues. Five years later, at age nine, she's retiring at last and it's anticipated she has another four or five good years left.

If you watched the Olympics last evening, you may have seen Mary Carillo's segment about Isabel, who's story proves once again, that disability often exists only in the eyes of the beholder. I'm mentioning this story today, not only because I'm a dog owner and lover, but because I think it says something about Olympic competition.

I've heard some suggest the Games ought to be considered a venue for the best of the best. As such, those individuals who have yet to prove themselves on the world stage ought to be excluded from participation. I have a problem with that, as you might imagine, and it stems from my belief that, while the Olympics are about excellence, they also go beyond it, raising athletes, coaches, and the rest of us to a higher plane.

What I mean is, we've gotten to the place where winning is measured in hundredths and thousandths of a second. In terms of performance, there is virtually no difference between athletes at this level of performance. Measured by the clock, yes, of course there is, but in terms of ability and training, how do you quantify it? Under these circumstances, there has to be something else to this kind of competition, something that gives significance to every effort, win or lose.

Athletes I've known (including at least one Olympic hopeful) tell me it's the awareness of having been a part of something that encompasses, and then transcends, personal interest. Maybe this is experienced especially by those who go home empty-handed, without a medal to validate all they've endeavored to accomplish. But like Isabel, they want to do what they love, giving everything they have. In some ways, that is as meaningful, if not more so, than any piece of metal they could hope to wear about their necks.

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