Happiness is…

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It’s been over a month now since I’ve blogged, and I’m sorry for that, but in-between seasons I believe its important to take a break from thinking, reading, living and breathing the sport of running 24/7. However, to say I’ve completely escaped from the running world for the last four weeks would be a lie, and in fact its back to the point now where I need to force myself not to obsess over Flotrack, Let’s run, Facebook and Twitter, especially with the Olympics beginning. I love reading and watching all of these personal interest stories on the athletes. Hearing about all of the adversity they have faced, their years of dedication and sacrifice, and finally reaching the pinnacle stage of success, can be very inspiring. Lately however, I also happen to have stumbled upon a different side of the coin. A side where athlete’s are sharing thier stories of grief, depression, self-worthlessness, envy, and failure. Words that don’t seem to belong besides the title “Olympian” and much less, Gold-Medalist. Yet, I can think of countless stories I’ve seen or read in the last week that share a similar theme: Does reaching the Olympics, the lifelong dream of millions, really bring true happiness?  
I’ll start with the basic question of the meaning of life, a question that could take novels to answer, but I’ll sum it up in a few words. The meaning of life is whatever you center your life around. My belief is that God is the center of all life. God is creator, Jesus is our saviour, and the purpose of life is to serve Him, love Him, and live by His word. This means God comes first, even before ourselves. Now, for some, the center of their life may not be God. It may be, for example; sport.
Take a look at the ads on TV right now, they sum up the Olympic athlete something like this: “She started at 3 years old, Went to bed by 9pm, Hasn’t had dessert in years, Missed her H.S. Prom, Hasn’t watched TV in months…”The list goes on. The point is, to be an Olympian takes serious dedication and sacrifices. Many people believe that to reach the highest level in sport, sport itself must be placed before everything else, and in the end, that Gold medal will be worth it. But is it really worth more than anything else? I myself cannot say how it feels to stand on that podium with my National Anthem playing while biting into a solid-gold medal, as tears roll down my face whilst trillions of people are watching. But interestingly enough, there are a lot of articles of athletes who do
know how this feels, and the stories some of them tell now, are quite surprising.

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Take the recent interviews with Michael Phelps. After winning eight gold medals in Beijing, Phelps admits he entered the lowest point in his career, struggled with depression, and seemed to lose his interest in swimming. When Phelps was suspended from swimming for 3 months he said, “I would do nothing, just wake up at 11…wouldn’t leave the house, sit around and play video games. I was so lazy.” It seemed that reaching such a high point in his career meant that he had nowhere to go but downhill. 
A recent article on Suzy Favor Hamilton, a 1500m finalist in the 2000 Olympics, has a similar tone. She admits that throughout the “glorious” years of her running, she actually suffered with “anxiety, self-doubt, an eating disorder, and eventually, depression.” These were among the things that admittedly led to her collapse at the 2000 games shy of her Olympic medal dream. She had focused all her life and energy on one race, and admits that the pressure was overwhelming. “I wanted that gold so bad,” she said. “I thought that was the only way to true happiness in my life. It was unbelievable how I let my brain get so out of perspective.”
Another interesting read was a recent blog post from runner, Lauren Fleshman. Lauren was a 5x NCAA Champion, USA champion, and member of several World Championship teams. However, one accomplishment Lauren has not achieved is making the Olympic team. This year, however, amazingly enough, Lauren was an inspiration for all as she made it through to the final of the 5k at the Olympic Trials after only training 11miles a week due to injury. Despite such an amazing accomplishment there, she still admits to feelings of dissatisfaction in her latest blog entry. Like most of us who aren’t in Olympic village at the moment, she can’t help but feel a bit of jealousy. 
“Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to life, I have a great one,” Lauren says,  “And making the Olympics wouldn’t have changed my life. People on the outside often think it does, but it doesn’t. I’ve seen enough of my friends make teams to know that most people who go to the Olympics perform average or poorly, and leave unsatisfied with a bunch of great photos and new Ralph Lauren outfits that, like Hawaiian shell necklaces, don’t seem to look as good outside of their native habitat.”

As Fleshman goes on to say, learning to deal with watching the Games from the sideline has been hard, But in the end you can either ignore the whole thing or “Suck it up and deal with it like and adult.” Because reality is, life goes on. The stories from athletes like Phelps, Favor-Hamilton and Fleshman shed light on an important fact; even gold medals don’t bring true happiness. For Phelps, even countless gold medals weren’t enough to bring true joy and satisfaction. It was months later when he began looking beyond his gold, volunteered his time teaching children to swim, and went back to train hard for London, despite the fact that eight more gold’s is unlikely. For Favor Hamilton, happiness was realized when she finally gained the strength to talk openly about her depression, how she got help, and now how she helps others with their battle. Working as a real estate agent and motivational speaker, she admits “I’m happier than I’ve ever been.” For Fleshman, although her Olympic dream may never have come true, she can still admit to having a great life, with many great opportunities still ahead. Although I cannot personally speak on behalf of these athletes’ spiritual journey’s or where they stand, I will say that for me, I know the Bible tells us that true happiness actually does not come from anywhere other than God Himself. Its really crazy because I started typing up this blog last night, and in Church this morning the pastor actually spoke on exactly what I’ve just written. The fact is, God really does want us to be happy, but in order to reach that point, we can only get there through Him. Genuine happiness comes from having a real and personal relationship with God. And with that, we can be happy no matter what circumstances life brings. No Olympic crown can match the crown of victory over evil, life everlasting, and true happiness which is promised through Jesus Christ. By keeping him the center of our lives, we compete in a bigger race, just as 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 explains,

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.  No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Crazy how the Bible says it right there, “They do it to get a crown that will not last.” No, this is not just talking about a gold medal and crown of leaves, whether we are Olympic medalists, hopefuls, or simply fans, we all must realize that sport is not the end of the rainbow. As the Pastor put it this morning, “Genuine happiness is only found in the Lord, Gold medals won’t do it.”So what does this all mean? Is it bad to dream BIG, put down hours of hard work on the track, in the weightroom, at the desk, in the pool? Should we be spending 24 hours in a church? Certainly not the message I am trying to send at all. Instead, I think a better way of looking at this all is ask yourself a simple question, “What is the center of my life? And will that bring me true happiness?” I know all of my followers on this blog may not be believers, but at least take some time and think about what is really going to matter in the long run. It doesn’t mean you can’t train like an Olympian, or work 12 hours a day, you just have to know what comes first. In fact, I’ll leave you with a more positive article that takes the mindset of an Olympians determination and relates it to the life of a Christian. You can read it here at http://nymensministry.com/ In actuality, the dedication of an athlete is much like that of a good Christian; it takes sacrifice, a different kind of mindset contradicting to the life stlye of society, but most importantly it takes focus on one thing above all others.

Throughout the next few weeks, I will be following the Games, wishing my former teammates and friends the best of luck at achieving their dream! I don’t mean to sound negative about the sport or the Games themselves. I know there are many athletes there with a mature outlook on life. I was approached today with the question as to whether or not I would ever want to compete at the Olympics. My answer seemed like a no-brainer, “Of course!” And I really do hope that dream of mine can come true. But I also hope if it ever did, I can cross that finish-line and say that through all of the journey, I put God first, because living for Him is true-happiness. 

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