An athlete's dedication

Young athletes and courage

Inspiration, desire, heart and courage

We all have "rock star" aspirations and dreams of making it in something we like. When we are young kids we all want to be happy, feel loved and prove ourselves. I can remember when I was a young kid playing in my little league baseball games I always dreamed of coming up with the opportunity to win the game in the bottom of the "ninth" with two outs and working the count to get my pitch and hitting the walk off home run to win the game and being surrounded by my teammates coming out of the dugout to celebrate our team victory and my winning accomplishment. For most of us this is a dream that we had as young kids whether it was in a baseball game, a teenage rock band, a dance recital or a school play. This is what we all wish for, our moment in the sun!

We have to always find things we enjoy and need to develop a discipline, a desire to achieve and a confidence that will help us to stay focused, work hard and hopefully enjoy the rewards of our efforts. When I see young and talented athletes perform in extremely high pressure situations I am amazed how mature and composed they seem and as spectators we only see them at their best but the road to that level of competition is long and very challenging. What I find truly amazing and inspiring is how young some of these athletes are. Some are as young as 12 and 13 years old and they started competing in their sports as young as 4 and 5 years old.

For most of these kids it is a major sacrifice for them and their families. If the kids truly wish to pursue their dreams and perform at the highest level they have to make a commitment and then they have to work harder than they could ever imagine and they need dedicated coaches who care and help guide them, coach them and teach them. They may have to travel far from home and they will have to practice every day before school and after school. They essentially have to dedicate themselves to their sport and give their all while going through childhood and trying to balance school, friendships, family and their sport endeavors and accomplishments.

These kids who compete put everything on the line and they try their best to keep their emotions in check. The hardest thing I find when I watch these amazing kid athletes competing are the heartbreaks they may encounter. One sport I love watching is the girl's figure skating and some of them are so young yet seem so poised and years beyond their true age that you are instantly a fan and caught up in all the emotion of the moment. In figure skating the scoring is very competitive and the tension is so evident you can almost feel it.

When I see a young athlete skate on to the ice after talking to their coach and they wave to the crowd before they stop to take their cue with the start of the song they choose to skate to for their routine I just wish they perform at their very best and shine. You know they put so much time and so many years of training and hard work into getting to this level that you want them to be as near perfect as they can possibly be. When I see a young skater fall it is crushing and your heart goes out to them but you realize when they get up and continue that they truly have courage and are showing their true spirit.

It is really inspiring watching young athletes perform and trying their absolute best. We all know that there can only be one winner of the gold but if you place in the medal contention round then you have accomplished something really special. I don't believe success should be measured by winning a medal though because only a select few win medals. I believe that if you always try your best and never get discouraged and you stick it out no matter how hard it gets then you are a winner no matter where you place. I also believe that a true winner is someone who stumbles but gets back up to finish their performance. They show heart and they make the moment magical with their courage.

I have always enjoyed watching and participating in athletic sports and I have vivid memories of both performing in and watching some memorable moments. One event I will never forget was the 1984 Olympic women's marathon where Joan Benoit won the gold medal. I thought she ran an incredible race and truly deserved to win. My sentimental favorite moment of that race however was one that truly tests one's heart and courage and brings a tear and a cheer to that enduring spirit of athletic competition. The woman's name was Gabrielle Andersen-Scheiss and what she did in her lap around the Los Angeles Coliseum brought tears to the eyes of many with her courage and her will to finish the race.

She tested her very limits and proved the true dedication, heart and triumph of the human spirit and I was so inspired by her as were all who watched her. Even the officials in the stadium who were concerned for her welfare stood a distance to allow her to cross the finish line before collapsing into the arms of nearby officials. She was the inspirational winner of that race and she won the hearts of all in attendance in the stadium and watching on the tv that day.

One thing all athletes have to face no matter what is injury and even the youngest athletes have to cope with injury and must exercise proper judgement in dealing with them so they don't jeopardize their athletic dreams by pushing too much. It is in their nature to push themselves no matter what but they have to be careful and know their true limits. Gymnasts, ice skaters, skiers, swimmers, divers, runners, bicyclists are all prone to injury and they must condition themselves and pay close attention to their bodies so they can do those special things that make them compete and bring smiles to so many.

We all have talents and if we find something we truly like then we should try to develop our interest and desire to do the best we can because there is something to be gained from accomplishment and knowing that you gave it your all. I teach this concept to my son as my parents taught it to me in hopes that he too will challenge himself in a good way and strive for worthwhile things while having fun.

I often wonder if these special young athletes who push themselves to perform always are really enjoying what they are doing sometimes. I believe you have to have a healthy balance and can not get caught up in the constant pressures of always performing at your peak. You have to have time to decompress and be away from the pressure too sometimes so you don't get discouraged or give up.

I will always have a special place in my heart for these athletes because I enjoy the human story, the drama and the performance. These athletes train and work very hard to do what they do and they also inspire their fans and they entertain so many with their grace, beauty and spirit. This is the wonder of athletic competition.

With intense competition and rigorous training regiments kids and the parents and coaches have to remember that there has to be some relaxation provided to the children athletes to give them a chance to get away from the pressure because with such demands placed on young kids at early ages there can be mental or physical tolls that can lead to tragedy. I am always reminded of this when I hear of tragic stories occurring at sporting events with regard to young athletes. In today's news I just heard of a 16 year old who won the game for his team leading them to an undefeated season. His teammates congratulated him and lifted him in celebration. Shortly after their joyous win he collapsed and died at the school as a result of an enlarged heart. It is so very sad to hear of these stories.

There are also stories of inspiration and one such story captured the amazing accomplishment of an autistic student-basketball player who sat on the bench his whole tenure at his high school until the final game and the coach put him in to play the final minutes and he shined scoring one three point shot after another. It was so amazing to see it unfold and in the end the whole gymnasium was abuzz being there to witness the miracle as the players lifted him up in sheer joy and celebration.

I was always a fan of the Wide World of Sports and the beginning montage with the famous quote which every now and then plays in my mind. I live for sports and always will because it makes us dream and try our best. This is dedicated to my son and to all those athletes who always try their best and never give up no matter what and for those who have died way too young.

The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition.

Edward D. Iannielli III

Shawn Johnson

Gabriella Andersen-Scheiss - Courage

Sarah Hughes

Mary Lou Retton

Wide World of Sports intro

Little League World Series Walk off home run

Autistic dreams - Basketball

Wes Leonard - HS basketball tragedy

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