A trip to the local rec center can bring more real-life inspiration than watching the Olympic Games.
A couple days ago, I recorded a podcast episode about my experience at the rec center called At Your Own Pace. Yesterday, I took another walk around the rec center track, and wanted to share some additional thoughts.
I noticed more about the people around me this time. Not just the people on the track, but the people played pickleball and basketball down below. The people lifting weights. The people on the stairmasters. The people on the treadmills. As I discussed in my podcast, there is huge variety in the people at the rec center. The track is pretty small, so I saw a number of these people over and over as I walked around.
My walk lasted 45 minutes, and early on, I noticed a guy running on a treadmill. I didn’t pay much attention to him at the time, but as I got close to the end of my walk I realized that he was still there. Still running. He was not particularly athletic. He was younger than I, around the same height, and a bit heavier. And he just kept running. I started to pay more attention as I made my rounds. His shirt was completely soaked with sweat—wet shoulders, wet chest, wet back. Just before I ended my walk, I saw him get off. I walked over to him, apologized for interrupting his solitude, and told him that he inspired me more than anyone else there. He was taken aback, and responded, “Me?” I confirmed and wished him a good day.
I shared that story because of how much it affected me. I felt some anxiety as I considered approaching him, but I felt strongly that he deserved to know what an impact he had on me. After talking to him, I felt a surge of positive emotion, and hope that he did as well. It is something I would like to feel more often.
Growing up, the Olympics were a huge deal in my family. I remember gathering around the TV and watching all sorts of events together. Whichever events and whichever athletes my dad cheered for became critically important to my young mind. I loved the experience of watching people who had trained so diligently perform otherworldly feats that I could only dream of. I was touched by the camaraderie I saw between people of all nationalities. The Olympics inspired me.
As I have grown up, I see more nuance with the Olympics. They still inspire me. But now I recognize more of what’s involved. As I watch TV specials about the athletes’ childhoods, I realize how much they and their families had to sacrifice in the service of my entertainment. Obviously there is much more at play than the few seconds of entertainment that is provided. But the utter absorption into their sports required by the athletes feels like a higher and higher cost.
As I walked around the rec center track, I realized that I was feeling inspiration similar to what I get watching the Olympics. But there was a huge difference. I was inspired by the people at the rec center, not to dream of accomplishing the impossible, but to make small and meaningful changes. I saw myself in the treadmill guy, with just a little bit of chunk hanging out over his shorts. I saw him doing something to improve his health and his life. I saw middle-aged women on the exercise bike who were never going to be Olympic athletes, but they are going to be healthier today than they were yesterday. I saw old men with canes out on the track getting passed by everyone and continuing to walk around.
I saw greatness in the rec center that day. And I wanted to be better myself.