Losing and finding the trail: an Olympic lesson

Outdoors educators advise lost hikers to stay put, make a shelter, and wait for help, instead of striking out in a new direction and risk getting even more lost. If you stay put you might be safe and not get more lost. But staying put will only help if someone comes to find you and leads you home. There are no guarantees you will be found. Sometimes you have no choice but to walk yourself back to where you began, or at least to where you lost your way.

A series of television commercials from the 2014 Sochi Olympics consider the value of looking back, or more precisely, walking, running, jumping, skiing –  backward, and back to your earliest beginnings.

Noelle Pikus Pace (Photo: Kevin Jairaj, USA TODAY Sports)

Noelle Pikus Pace
(Photo: Kevin Jairaj, USA TODAY Sports)

TD Ameritrade presents a series of ads that begin with images of an olympian on the podium in gold medal position. Than, we see a montage of that athlete’s life in reverse, with video, in one example, of olympian skeleton slider Noelle Pikus-Pace sliding backward, running backward, sliding backward up a water slide, with additional images of of Noelle as a child, than as a toddler and finally sliding backward up a sliding board as an infant. The screen goes black with a tagline that says: Behind every big moment there are lots of small ones.

Of course, we are the sum or our total experiences, as this commercial emphasizes. But those life experiences are rooted in our childhood. William Wordsworth (1770-1850) made that point in seven words in his poem, The Rainbow:

The Rainbow

by William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth. (c) The Wordsworth Trust; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

William Wordsworth.
(c) The Wordsworth Trust; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

My heart leaps up when I behold

A rainbow in the sky:

So was it when my life began:

So is it now I am a man;

So be it when I shall grow old,

or let me die!

The Child is father of the Man;

I could wish my days to be

Bound each to each by natural piety.

“The child is father of the man” is a frequent theme among people hoping to make sense of their lives. Where did the happy child go? What happened to hopes, dreams and aspirations?Psychologists walk patients back to their childhood to try and help then understand who they were and in so doing help them understand who, what and why they are what they are now.

Teachers understand the importance of rallying around a child’s natural talents and ambitions. The wise King Solomon wrote in his Book of Proverbs: Educate the child according to his ways. So when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). And this advice has become a mantra for educators  who need to teach different children differently, whether a child is a visual or auditory learner, to cite just two examples.

But the TD Ameritrade commercials portray not only the importance of rallying around our children to help them make their dreams come true. The television spots capture other qualities that are rare yet necessary for an olympic caliber athlete: passion. And not even the most supportive of parents can create passion in a child. Yet, since passion breeds perseverance, it is an important prerequisite for success.

Pikus-Pace wins silver at Sochi 2014 (NBCnews.com)

Pikus-Pace wins silver at Sochi 2014 (NBCnews.com)

Even the non-olympians among us should note the path to greatness these athletes exhibit and we could learn a lesson from these vignettes. To walk ahead with determination and resolve starts by knowing one’s self at the start of the journey. True, not everyone has the passion of an olympian, nor the skill. But everyone is on a journey, and, if you lose the path, than what?

Noelle Pikus-Pace left her sport after the 2010 Olympics. But after a miscarriage last year left her feeling lost she walked herself back to where she started and with the support of her husband returned to the skeleton track. I would suggest that when lost in the forest, real or metaphorical, you at least attempt to find that point where you lost your way. Then, if nothing in the woods seems familiar, stay put and wait for help. But in your mind continue to walk yourself backward.  Try and understand  how and where you became so lost. Once you answer those questions, you can start to find your way back home again.


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