In just over a year, the world will descend on Vancouver for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. All of Canada will enjoy a month of excitement, while a generation of children will experience the thrill of seeing our athletes compete on home soil. For many of these children, the Games will provide a lifetime of inspiration.
The Olympic and Paralympic Games are celebrations of humanity. Every four years athletes, coaches, media and spectators gather together to share their best, their culture, and their friendship. The Games are, by their very nature, events that inspire.
Growing up in the Ottawa area during the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games, I was consumed by the excitement that summer. Though the Games were held in August, I vividly remember crowding into the gymnasium with the rest of the school to watch the film footage the next school year. It was a pretty rudimentary form of Olympic education, but it transformed my life.
As a child, my self-esteem was quite low. I was shorter than most in my school. Everyone else was a “big kid,” and I felt like the runt of the litter. Sports were not something that I enjoyed, as I lacked the coordination of my peers. In fact, I was the kid who ran for the outfield when our phys-ed class played softball, knowing that none of the others could hit the ball that far and that I therefore had a lower risk of embarrassment. I also had a speech problem with Rs and Ws that made my words sound much like Elmer Fudd. School work was difficult for me and I felt, frankly, stupid.
But sitting on the hard, cold gym floor, I dreamt of being an Olympian. There had to be some sort of sport at which I could beat the “big kids.” There had to be a sport in which, if I worked really hard, I could excel and be an Olympian.
The summer before Grade 7, I discovered distance running. I quickly learned that I could outlast the larger kids. I was inspired by the great Olympic marathoners and this newfound passion changed my life. I wonder now if the teacher who organized the film showing had any idea of the profound impact that it would have on my future.
It would be decades before the dream ignited by the 1976 Games was fulfilled, but eventually I did represent Canada in the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games. I competed in the marathon. The journey completely transformed me. I gained confidence, character and the courage to overcome my speech problems.
The message I learned from the Olympians I saw on the screen in elementary school was simple: dream big and work hard. It is this simple message that speaks so profoundly to children. At an age when adults are instructing them that they can “grow up to be anything they want to be,” the Olympic Games serve as an apt demonstration. This idea is plainly true.
The stories of Olympians and Paralympians overcoming injuries, injustices, disabilities, hardships and tragedies challenge our thinking of excellence, leadership, respect and fair play. We are shown, through living examples, that perseverance pays.
It is this message and many more like it that I am now able to bring to classrooms across Canada. Having left my days as a teacher, I now manage the Canadian Olympic School Program. The program provides free Olympic-themed resources to teachers (www.olympicschool.ca).
Part of my role is to oversee the development of learning resources that tell the stories of Olympians and inspire students towards their dreams. For many, this will be the encouragement they need to become great musicians, academics, leaders, athletes, thinkers or teachers.
Teaching about the Olympic and Paralympic Games has come a long way since the days of playing a movie in the gym. The Canadian Olympic Committee, the Canadian Paralympic Committee and the Vancouver Organizing Committee have produced excellent education resources. Teachers can easily integrate Olympic and Paralympic lessons into their day, while meeting provincial learning outcomes.
This means that classrooms across Canada can participate in the excitement of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Educators will have incredible opportunities to encourage our students to dream. Together we will have the chance to light the fire within them that will lead to a generation of citizens that are not afraid to dream big and work hard.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s January 2009 issue.