Bargell: Celebrating that tenacious spirit

by Cindy Bargell

Across the country this week, from Omaha, Nebraska, to Eugene, Oregon, athletes young and old are vying for spots on the US Olympic team. Every two years, the Olympics capture our hearts and imagination as we marvel at the likes of local Missy Franklin, a 17-year-old Coloradan trying to join the ranks of Natalie Coughlin or Dara Torres, the seasoned veterans whose names we recall from Olympics gone by. Our family, too, started Olympic training last week, readying ourselves for the games that open July 27, by taking in the Olympic hopefuls nightly on the televised Olympic trials. It’s TV time we don’t begrudge the girls on a summer evening, in part because their swim coach has encouraged them to watch and learn, but mostly because we’re all so drawn to the individual stories.

The fact there are people who willingly dive off a 30 meter platform (three stories, really?) in itself is pretty amazing. That the women’s 30-meter platform champion, Brittany Viola, made her first Olympic team ever on Sunday, eight years after her initial try in 2004 and narrow miss in 2008, made her accomplishment even more poignant. It doesn’t really matter much which sport we decide to watch, each have personalities of their own. We are equally amazed at the 31-year-old high jumper who can still clear 7 feet plus, and the 70-year-old equestrian with his mount – a horse catching up with him in age, closing in on 62 years (at least in horse-year equivalents).

In a far different venue, just up the road at The Next Page in Frisco last Saturday, national best-selling author Eleanor Brown captivated the 30-plus readers and writers who gathered to hear the story behind her best-selling story, “The Weird Sisters.” Brown’s down-to-earth demeanor and sometimes self-effacing humor made her immediately likeable. But, it was after she shared the fact her path to success was paved by four fully written – still unpublished “really bad” (her words) novels – that I found myself really liking the lady. Although she clearly is talented, evidenced by the way her reading quieted the listening crowd, the fact she willingly devoted seven years of her life to seeing the book through to publication seemed in itself an Olympian effort. She joked that at the end of the process what she really wanted to do was kill off all of the fictitious sisters. This is one fan who’s glad she didn’t.

There are books, blogs and scientific studies devoted to the topic of why we love seeing the underdog succeed, and our fascination with triumph over tragedy. The explanations offered in the sites devoted to the topic, however, were not altogether satisfying when I was considering the parallels between the Olympic athletes on TV and the nice novelist in the neighboring town. True, the surprise of having someone come from behind can be exhilarating. And there’s probably some truth to the notion we more readily identify with the success of someone who overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles – after all, maybe we could as well. Still, it doesn’t explain why the accomplishments of other human beings can cause us to cheer out loud, and sometimes to shed a tear or two.

What really strikes me about these feats is not the individuals’ raw talent or the hard work (neither in short supply), but instead their tenacious spirit. Their ability to hold on so tightly to an idea or dream that years, or even decades, pass while they work to make it a reality. In a society where we regularly vilify instant gratification, and demonize our decreasing attention spans, these individuals provide real-life lessons on what it means to hang on, sometimes only by the tips of their toes. Thank goodness for the people, from athletes to authors, who willingly share their stories of the time, and tenacity, it takes to make dreams come true.

Cindy Bargell lives outside of Silverthorne with her husband and two daughters. She welcomes your comments at

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