Thursday, February 13, 2014


By Antoinette Rainone
     The Winter Olympics are upon us once again. I love watching so many extremely talented young people and hearing all the stories of dedication and the many sacrifices they have all endured to reach their Olympian dreams.
     To make it to the Olympics – what an amazing accomplishment!
     And yet, the general attitude surrounding the Olympics is all about “going for the Gold.” As if winning a Silver or a Bronze isn’t good enough. As if getting to the Olympics in the first place isn't amazing enough. Are you kidding?
      How about these amazing athletes who are competing extremely well – and doing their very best – who do not win a medal at all?
     Here’s a newsflash for every single athlete who has ever competed in the Olympics:
      “Olympian, you are amazing – medal or not!
      There is something scary about this drive for perfection – at all costs. That drive always comes at a cost. But you won't hear these stories broadcasted.
      These are the hidden stories.
      Stories of star athletes suffering from post-Olympics depression, and even suicide. 
      I got to thinking about these stories behind the glories we see on TV after I learned of a young woman named Maddie who recently committed suicide. 
      Maddie was not in the Olympics, but she was a local sports star who had achieved All-State honors for both soccer and track. Her intelligence matched her athletic prowess, and she had just begun to attend an Ivy League university as a triple major.  
      Maddie was living her dreams. 
      But, something snapped. Maddie had gotten a 3.5 average during her first semester. She was not pleased with that average or with herself. 
      Maddie was accustomed to acing everything. She strove for perfection in her studies and her sports. She felt she was not achieving what she should have been achieving. In her mind, she fell short. 
      One day last month, Maddie bought presents for her family and wrote them a letter. Then she jumped off a building, plunging to her death. 
      Living your dreams is not supposed to lead to suicide.
      I thought about all the Olympian athletes who constantly strive for perfection. I thought about the ones who don't get the Gold. I thought about the ones who come home empty-handed.
     A little research on Google lead me to find there are many Olympian athletes suffering from depression. And yes, there are those who commit suicide. 
    Rhadi Ferguson, a 2004 Olympian and four-time National Judo Champion, is talking about it.  
    "Look, the very real fact of the matter is that many of us were depressed after the Olympics," Ferguson wrote on his blog. "Some of us got help. Some of us didn't. Many of us were depressed and just passed it off as 'post Olympic blues'...but the fact of the matter is this -- we were depressed. ...We need to just keep it real and really talk about the Olympics, the sacrifices that we make and how it feels to go to the games and come back home, sometimes empty-handed."
     Ferguson went on to write about Elena Ivashchenko,a Judoka who committed suicide last June. "She fell into a depression after her poor performance at the 2012 Games in London."
     And another young woman.
     "A few years ago, Austrian Judoka Claudia Heill also committed suicide due to depression," writes Ferguson. "Claudia won a silver medal in 2004 and placed 5th in 2008 (which, in the sport of Judo, means she lost the bronze medal match in the finals)."
     Ferguson, who teaches Introduction to Sports Science at the University of Central Florida, summed up the sad phenomena:
     "When you push the envelope for high performance and expectation, monumental things can occur. Some of them great, and some of them disastrous. But the person is never, ever the same. Never."
     The purpose of my blog is to encourage all of us to live our dreams. But never at the expense of joy.  
     If your "passion in life" is ever making you sick or depressed, get help. Talk to someone you trust. It's OK to take a break from your passion. You need to put everything in your life in balance. 
     If your "passion in life" takes your joy out of life, leave it. It may be a temporary departure, or permanent. You will find out. You need to find yourself. And you don't need to be perfect.   
     Stay tuned for further posts where I will write about how to stay true to yourself. 
     Remember: Living your dreams means to be filled with joy. Living your dreams is not about being perfect. None of us will ever be perfect.

Find your wings ... at any age.

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