Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Magic of the Olympics in Fort McMurray

I have admitted in this blog - often - that I am not really an athletic type. I'm not all that knowledgeable about the world of sports, as my expertise lies more in the areas of classic authors and shoe manufacturers. One of the things I have come to understand over my life, though, is the intrinsic link between sport and community, and nowhere is this link more profound and visible than the one that ties us to the Olympics.

The Olympics have this way of turning even non-athletic types into both viewers and fans. There is simply something about those athletes striving for the podium that is inspiring. There is something about learning about their battles with illness and injury to achieve excellence in their sport, and something about their pure and sincere drive to excel. It isn't just about beating their competition but about beating themselves, about putting in their best performance and shining on an international stage. The Olympics are, in a word, inspiring.

And in a country where we experience so many months of snow and darkness the Winter Olympics take on deep significance. Most of us - even me - grew up playing or enjoying some sort of winter sport. From hockey to skating to sledding (which, adding some skinsuits and removing some safety gear, becomes bobsledding, luge, and skeleton) we embrace winter sports and recreation, and while we grumble about the short days and long nights and cold temperatures the phrase "we are winter" sums it up rather eloquently.

The Winter Olympics pulls together the best athletes in the world, participating in sports we as Canadians know well (and often consider our own, like curling and hockey, sports we clutch tight to as part of our heritage and birthright), and it does something else with deep impact. The Winter Olympics brings us together as a community.

This past week I have witnessed it in the main concourse of the Suncor Community Leisure Centre. Walking through on my way to meetings I see crowds gathered in front of the screen set up in the main lobby showing Winter Olympics events. Sometimes there are just a few people there watching, and sometimes there are dozens. Sometimes it is families, and sometimes it is a collection of strangers, gathered together watching as athletes from our country - and around the world - take years of training and experience and pain and hard work and belief and commitment and compete against each other to stand on that podium.

The resounding cheers when the Canadian Women's Hockey took the gold rang through the entire building. It was the sound of dozens of people cheering together for people they don't know, will likely never meet, and yet have such incredible pride in. It was the sound of joy. It was, in fact, the sound of community.

We have a desire as humans, I think, to celebrate together. We are not solitary creatures, and we seek out the company of others to share our moments of both joy and sorrow, because we know then that we are not alone. Every emotion we feel is somehow amplified - better - when we share it with others, and so we gather together to collectively hold our breath, shout our encouragements, and cheer.

On Sunday of this weekend the Suncor Community Leisure Centre will open its doors two hours early at 5 AM so people can gather to watch the Canadian Men's Hockey Team go for gold. It's very early, and it will probably still be dark outside. Many will choose to watch from their homes but some individuals will choose to watch together, side by side with family, friends and strangers to cheer on the athletes in whom we have such pride, and such hope. It will be early but it will also undoubtedly be magic, and even I, who am not an athletic type, am planning to be there, because those magic moments aren't just about sports. They are about togetherness, and shared experience, and community. And so perhaps at the end of the day - or in this case very early on a Sunday morning - I am a little bit of an athletic type after all.

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