Last Friday thanks to our good friends and community partner, the Manuel Lujan Agency, a few of us had the chance to listen to Phil Mahre share his life story. For those of you under the age of 40, Phil is one of the greatest American skiers of our time, winning silver and gold medals at the Olympic Games in the 1980’s at Lake Placid and Sarajevo. Even more amazing, he won three consecutive Overall World Cup Championships. If you remember Phil, you also remember his twin brother Steve, who also won a silver medal. They were fearless competitors and fun to watch.
Phil’s presentation to the group was emotional, honest, and incredibly real. He spoke from his heart, which in my opinion, is the best place to speak from.
When he was finished, Phil fielded questions from the audience. One person wanted his opinion of the recent Olympic Winter Games. In so many words, he said this: “The Olympic Games used to be about the Games and all of the athletes – not just the superstars. I remember being at one of the longer cross-country skiing events. The athlete who won the Gold stayed at the finish line after he was done racing and congratulated every athlete as they crossed the line.” Phil went on to say that he recalled the words of one of the last place athletes- “My country did not send me here to win the Gold – they sent me here to finish the race.”
I left Phil’s presentation not only inspired by his words but in deeper thought about the Special Olympics movement and the responsibility we all have of protecting our philosophy. Special Olympics honors the dignity of each competitor regardless of their ability level. We cheer even harder for the athlete who finishes last, and “we” more than most “get” what it means to celebrate finishing, because for our athletes and families, the race is a life-long journey. As the modern Olympics movement continues to evolve, let us not ever forget our Olympics will only remain “special” if we keep our focus on every single athlete who comes to us.