Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Modern Heroes

Like much of the world, I’ve been caught up in the excitement of the summer Olympics. When I was a child, I wanted to be Mary Lou Retton, springing off the vault to victorious gold. I also toyed with the idea of becoming an Olympic swimmer or diver, perhaps even a synchronized swimmer. Naturally, during the winter Olympics, figure skating was my dream event. Let’s forget for a moment that I hated P.E. and most of my recreational activities were…uh…reading.

Kirani James brings home Grenada's first ever gold medal.
Now that I have composted those dreams to nourish others, I find that I watch the competitions for different reasons. Rather than look at them as “how tos” or as tools of inspiration, I am most interested in the stories behind the athletes. Where did they come from? How did they get to the Olympics? What sacrifices were made? Are they realizing their dreams, or going home crushed? Why do they succeed at those events? What qualities and characters make them who they are, and what do we see in them that drives us to watch, to cheer them one, to feel genuine empathy when they lose?

The answers to those questions provide endless opportunities for writers. Commentators and critics, both professional and armchair, can pick away at body types or hair, but ultimately, those athletes are playing and performing their hearts out at the end of a long road that included hard, physical work, mental toughness, trying, failing, trying again, failing again, injury, dedication, determination, personal and financial obstacles, conditioning… and the list goes on.  

Gabby Douglas left her home and family to train in  Iowa.
If we look closely enough, we discover that their stories follow the classic hero’s journey. A talent discovered. An athlete mentored, trained as far as he or she can go, only to be forced to leave that mentor, and sometimes home and family, to take his or her skills to the next level. The athlete, like the hero, faces obstacles to be overcome; is tested, sometimes multiple times, and must face the consequences of failure before he or she can claim victory.

These are our modern heroes. Our warriors. They wear our colors and fight for our honor. In a world that is rather bleak at times, where so many are losing homes and jobs, scrounging pennies to put food on the table, the Olympic warriors still give us hope. Just like our sword or magic-wielding heroes in fantasy, they stand for what is good and right, and we can’t help but admire them. They shine a little light of peace into our tumultuous world, and show us that for many, the impossible can become possible.

South Africa's Oscar Pistorius.
As I prepare to outline the third book of my series at the end of this summer, I’m going to have many of these athletes and their stories on my mind, particularly the qualities and characteristics that drive them to accomplish amazing feats. Are they perfect? No. I’m sure some of them are assholes or kick puppies in their spare time. But for now, I’m going to admire their almost superhuman strength, endurance, and determination to overcome and pretend that the world is a little better this month for having the Olympics in it once again. And then I'm going to use their examples to flesh out my characters so that my heroes ring true to readers.

~Kim Vandervort


Terri-Lynne said...

South Africa's Oscar Pistorius astounds me well beyond all the other athletes, in any other sport. Not only what he has overcome, but how he excels beyond most of his peers as well. Watching him run made me all teary, not only because he's running on prosthetics, but because he ever dared to try in the first place. He could have done a quarter as well and still astounded everyone. But look at him. Just amazing.

Karin Rita Gastreich said...

This was a great post, Kim. I've been out of touch with the summer Olympics this year, mostly because of the timing (I've just had a lot of stuff going on in my life during these past 2 weeks, and didn't really have access to the necessary sports channels in Costa Rica...) But you're right, the games and their atheletes have historically been a source of much inspiration.

Speaking of inspiration -- third book for the series?! Woohoo! Can't wait to read it. :)