If I can see it, then I can do it
If I just believe it, there’s nothing to it
— R. Kelly, “I Believe I Can Fly”
*It is August 4th, and I am standing in the sun at London’s Olympic Stadium, at the starting line of the 10,000 meter race. For years, I have been running toward this very moment. I have seen it in my head during most of my waking hours. I have dreamed about it in my sleep.
And now here I stand, about to kneel onto the starting block, surrounded by other anxious, ambitious athletes, when truly, there is only me, the stadium’s roaring, capacity crowd and the long and winding road before me. And at its end, my goal. I know I can do this, and I will. Today. Right now….
Okay, that wasn’t really me. It was Mohamed “Mo” Farah, the British Somali international track and field athlete.
However, as I sat on the edge of my seat in front of my TV here in Los Angeles, I was right there with him. I was nervous. But ready. I hadn’t even heard of Farah before watching the segment NBC aired about him a few minutes before his race. But after viewing it–seeing his remarkable dedication–I was hooked and in his corner. I’ve had a lot of moments like that while tuned to the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Frankly, the summer games couldn’t have come soon enough for me. Lately, I’ve needed to be reminded of the personal strength–call it God force, Higher Power, the Universe, Superthought or simply The Power–that dwells within every one of us, often dormant and untapped, and there is no more dramatic, simplistic illustration of this power in action than the Olympic athletes who made the pilgrimage to London.
For the sheer glory of achievement, these young men and women routinely will their bodies to do seemingly superhuman feats that take years of training–a daunting regimen sparked by desire and fueled by an uncommon dedication, persistence and unshakable belief that they can do the impossible.
No matter their sport, what they all share, either formally or unwittingly, is a mighty and unbending faith in a certain energy.
Here we go, you say. For plenty of you, this sounds like hocus pocus or new age nonsense. However, the power I speak of is real, and it’s been around since the beginning of time. It is a cornerstone of all spiritual teachings, religious and otherwise, has been expounded on and presented in countless books, seminars and educational programs on the subject. It is the omnipresent power of positive thinking, the love of self and the aerodynamic verve of getting’ busy.
And besides painstaking preparation, it’s the thing Olympic athletes have in common. They migrate from all over the world and are the product of disparate cultures. Yet, during TV interviews, when asked what drives them, no matter their language or background, they’re saying the same thing. They speak passionately and matter-of-factly of a visualization of success; of simply telling themselves they can do this and believing.
Sixteen year old gymnast Gabby Douglas, the first African-American and first woman of color in Olympic history to win gold as the individual all-around champion, nonchalantly says that throughout her training, she simply saw herself on the podium wearing that medal.
I don’t know where bantamweight boxer Joseph Diaz, Jr. is in the competition; I haven’t seen him fight. But I know how the 19 year old from El Monte, California made it to London: “Everytime I have my eyes closed,” he said to a reporter, “I see houses and cars–all the things I’m going to get for my family.”
Joseph, Sr., Diaz’s father, knew zilch about boxing. But at the request of his then 11 year old son, he read books and watched YouTube videos on the subject, quit his job as a truck driver and became the young Diaz’s coach. Talk about “Just do it.”
There are other examples–how about South Africa’s Oscar Pastorius, the double amputee, running the 400 meters using what amounts to ingeniously bent metal for legs?–but you get the picture. These are ordinary people who have created extraordinary conditions for themselves.
The most exciting news here is that we all have the capacity to drink from that well. The power is inside us all. And it’s free. We simply have to call on it.
I’ve known all that for a while. But sometimes, I forget. Being human, I become complacent and neglectful of the fact that I–we–have the ability to do anything we want. By the Olympics opening ceremonies, I was in dire need of a tune up. And boy, am I getting it.
When Farah crossed that finish line, he fell to the ground and began to weep. At home, I wept with him. Farah was crying because he’d won the gold medal. I was crying because he’d reminded me that I’m a winner, too.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected]