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You've Got the Power

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For most of us, the obstacles that we struggle to overcome in our lives are very private. We often donâ??t even let our hardships register on our faces as we go about our daily work routines. Most likely they donâ??t get splashed across newspaper headlines or television screens, either.

Adversity is a normal part of being alive. But you've already got what it takes to overcome it. Olympian power Silken Laumann can inspire you to meet the chalenge.

For most of us, the obstacles that we struggle to overcome in our lives are very private. We often don’t even let our hardships register on our faces as we go about our daily work routines. Most likely they don’t get splashed across newspaper headlines or television screens, either.

But have you ever been in a room full of people and wondered what they might be going through in their personal lives? Has somebody ever bumped into you on the street and scowled at you as you walked past? Before you let that person get under your skin, stop and think a moment–there may be much more going on than what appears on the surface, says rower and three-time Olympic medallist Silken Laumann. "That person may have just found out their mother has breast cancer. That person may have just found out that her husband is leaving her. That person has an adversity that’s not written all over them, that doesn’t make a headline, and yet it’s an adversity just the same."

This lady with the clear blue eyes and tanned, muscular arms knows of what she speaks. She has faced adversity and has learned how to triumph over it. Though no longer rowing competitively, she is now on the cross-Canada lecture circuit, sharing her story of inspiration and perseverance to help others overcome obstacles and meet their full potential as human beings.

In 1992, Silken was rammed by another boat in Essen, Germany, just 10 weeks before the Barcelona Olympics, where she was to race as the gold-medal favourite in the women’s single scull event and perhaps even break a world record. The injury to her leg was so great that it required five operations and a skin graft to repair the damage. The doctors told her that she would not be able to compete in the Olympics. She needed to be realistic, they said. Maybe sometime in the future she could row recreationally.

Understandably, she was in shock, and even felt sorry for herself for a few days. After all, these doctors were saying that her Olympic dream was over–the same dream that began when she was 12 years old, watching gymnast Nadia Comaneci score perfect 10s at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. From the moment she saw Nadia–spectacular, poised, at the top of her sport–she knew she wanted to be in the Olympics, too. Of course, at five feet 11 inches, Silken knew she was not destined to become a gymnast. "But it was the first time that I really began to experience my own power. And the power came through having a dream. I think all of us in our lives at some point have experienced what that power really is, to have a dream."

Yet she’d worked so long and hard to get to Olympic gold, and one moment had taken it all away.

Or maybe not. "After that initial shock, I began to feel that I could do something, that I could be in control of what was happening." The accident was out of her control, but she could do other things to strengthen herself and improve her chances of recovery, such as do some exercises in bed to work her upper body. And, as a way of getting some control back, she focused as much positive energy as possible into helping her leg to heal. Despite the odds, Silken came back to win the bronze that year–a much greater victory than even the gold medal. Among her many other awards, Silken is now a member of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame for her excellence in the sport of women’s rowing.

The sporting world is a gold mine–not just of medals and trophies, but of stories of personal power and courage to overcome obstacles. Who could forget Saku Koivu of the Montreal Canadians, who successfully completed his cancer treatment in time to help his team make it to the hockey playoffs earlier this year? How about back in 1982, when triathlete Julie Moss crossed the finish line on her hands and knees to win the Hawaii Ironman? Or the young Nadia Comaneci, who overcame the struggle of poverty in Romania and went on to score those perfect 10s?

Sports stories ignite our passion and excitement because they highlight human drama at its finest: the agony of defeat and the thrill of victory. We all cheer when an athlete’s hard work, sweat and dedication pay off as they strive to live their dreams.

Whether your goal is to win the race or your battle with cancer, you too can find the true power of the human spirit. You don’t have to be a famous athlete to be inspired by that.

Overcome Your Fear

In their book The Complete Athlete (alive Books, 1997), John Winterdyk, PhD, and Karen Jensen, ND, write: “Fear of failure (anxiety about not being able to meet an objective) and fear of success (anxiety about achieving a goal) are the largest barriers to active living. You can choose to give in to these fears or you can use them to your advantage. You must believe in yourself in order to be truly healthy and achieve your goals.” Following are some of their suggestions for overcoming obstacles and living your dreams.

Discover your passion. What have you always wanted to do?

Develop your goal and find your own way of achieving it. Don’t listen to people who say the word “can’t.”

Take small, manageable steps towards your goal. If you’ve always wanted to be a marathon runner, start by jogging every morning.

Keep positive. Failure is merely a learning experience to help you become your best the next time.

Be open. If things turn out differently from what you expect, adapt to the change and readjust your goal–just as Silken Laumann did.

Have faith in yourself. You can do it!

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