Van Ens: Show Olympic spirit by going an extra mile (column) |

Van Ens: Show Olympic spirit by going an extra mile (column)

Jack Van Ens

What motivates Olympians to go the second mile?

Aren’t you thrilled to watch Olympians’ immense sense of purpose drive their performances? Finding their hearts’ desires, these athletes act on huge challenges, train exhausting hours and bounce between failure and victory.

Purposeful actions occur after Olympians fail to achieve initial goals. After Mikaela Shiffrin earned the gold medal in giant slalom, she was considered a shoo-in to win her strongest event the next day, the slalom. But top form eluded her. Shiffrin placed fourth in her specialty alpine skiing race.

In a figurative sense, harsh winds blew her off course. At first, she wasn’t scheduled for back-to-back races. Gusty winds shredded this original racing schedule. Mikaela’s prone to up-chucking before big races and “hurl” she did before the first run. She thrives on sleep. Bedtime before races is 8:30 p.m. But Olympic protocol had this gold medal winner attending a formal presentation ceremony at 10 p.m. the evening before her slalom race.

This world-class skier felt listless, lacked stamina and was riddled with anxiety on race day. When interviewed after her shocking loss, Shiffrin looked to renew her purpose and go the second mile in winning future races.

“Every single loss that I’ve ever had, I remember that feeling so thoroughly, it’s like a piece of my heart breaks off, and I can never get it back,” she said. “Today is no different than that. But someday I’ll be able to understand that it’s part of life.”

Her “someday” occurred after this interview. Mikaela’s coaching team rallied around her. She focused on the next race. Miscues became springboards for trying again.

Olympians persistently practice focused activity. Isn’t it exhilarating to witness their hearts mending, wounded but not broken?

Jesus spoke about showing heart when shadows stalk us. Marching Roman centurions detested lugging heavy gear. Military rules allowed them to recruit traveling Jews to carry their baggage for the first mile.

Jesus refreshed heavy Jewish hearts. He told them to take mental control of the situation. Surprise these centurions. “If anyone forces you to go one mile,” Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:41).

Hall of Fame Chicago Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks displayed purpose that carried him through slumps. In the 1950s, major leaguers played Sunday double-headers. Wrigley Field baked like an oven in July. The dog days of a long season beset the Cubs. Still, Banks was famous for asking his teammates, even when they lost Sunday’s first game, “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame. … Let’s play two.”

That’s the response of an athlete with a bruised heart whose purpose in playing baseball isn’t diminished by a defeat. It’s Mikaela Shiffrin admitting it’s tough to brush off defeats when fans expect slam-dunk wins.

Win or lose, Olympians motivate us because they dream big, gamble big, sometimes win big and other times lose big. They dare go a second mile.

“The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream,” observed writer James Allen. “The oak sleeps in the acorn, the bird waits in the egg. … Dreams are seedlings of realities.”

After heeding Ernie Banks’ call and sensing steel in Mikaela’s Shiffrin’s wounded heart, are you ready to go the second mile and pursue your dreams?

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (, which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.

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