It’s my turn to join the long line of writers who’ve penned their thoughts about the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
The action-filled days since the Aug. 8 opening ceremony have delivered plenty of great performances. U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps, whose eight gold medals transformed him from driven athlete to international superstar, tops the list. There are also the memorable performances of U.S. gymnast Nastia Liukin, who won the overall gymnastics gold medal, and Jamaican runner Usain Bolt, who beat a 12-year-old world record and won the gold medal for his breathtaking 200-meter performance.
The list goes on. And beneath many of the stories of athletic perseverance and success lies a common denominator: philanthropy.
If you were paying attention, you learned of the sacrifice U.S. gymnast Shawn Johnson’s parents made to attend her meets and support the training regimen required to perform at her level. Whether you agree with their financing method – mortgaging their home three times – you must admire their sacrifices.
There’s also the story of Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova. When her parents concluded the tennis facilities in Russia were subpar, 7-year-old Sharapova and her dad moved to a tennis camp in Florida while her mom remained in Russia more than a year awaiting a visa.
U.S. runner Lopez Lomong, whose story was widely told before the Olympic games began, started running at 6 when his family fled Sudan and a rebel militia group. Separated from his parents and brothers, he ran for three days in the African wilderness and ended up in a Kenyan refugee camp run by Catholic missionaries. In 2001, a Catholic relief organization paired him with a foster family in New York, one of 3,800 Lost Boys of Sudan who eventually moved to the U.S.
Wow. Sort of makes the purchase I postponed last week to buy my son’s cross country shoes and daughter’s iPod a non-issue, doesn’t it? The weekends spent away from home on Scout overnights pale in comparison to the months of separation endured for the benefit of a child training for the Olympics.
Such stop-and-think moments should wake us up. Compared to most, we sacrifice little and consume much.
So what are we to do?
First, look around. Plenty of people in Eastern Jackson County are making real sacrifices for the benefit of others.
My neighbor, Gary Robinson, is breathing a sigh of relief this fall. It’s the first soccer season in many that he hasn’t simultaneously coached teams in three divisions – that’s right, three teams at once – at Blue Valley Activity Center.
I have no doubt Gary could have done many things with his evenings spent at practice and weekends devoted to games. But I’m even more convinced he’s impacted dozens of lives through his sacrifice.
Then take a good, hard look at yourself. Are you following the good examples of others?
I postponed a purchase to buy shoes and an MP3 player for my kids. Do I really need my thing? Perhaps I should give the $150 to a local homeless shelter or food pantry.
Businessdictionary.com calls philanthropy “an idea, event, or action that is done to better humanity and usually involves some sacrifice as opposed to being done for a profit motive.” The definition captures well the acts of philanthropy described above.
The 2008 Summer Olympics will end Sunday, but their impact can live on.
Matt Beem is president of Hartsook Companies, an international fundraising consulting firm. He lives in Independence.