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posted Feb 21, 2010, 5:51 PM by Dan Dunbar   [ updated Feb 22, 2010, 2:30 PM ]
Do you know who J.R. Celski is? I had never heard of him until I watched a feature on him during the coverage of short track speed skating at the Vancouver Olympic Games. The feature showed him at the U.S. Olympic time trials with a huge gash in his thigh, the result of a crash on the ice where his own right skate blade gashed open his left thigh all the way to the bone, just missing his femoral artery. Even though he qualified for the U.S. Olympic team that day, his injury looked like it would keep him from competing. After getting 60 stitches to sew up three layers of muscle and his skin, J.R. consulted former Olympian, Dr. Eric Heiden, and was told that he could rehabilitate his thigh and possibly be ready to race if he was willing to undergo therapy six hours a day, six days a week. In his online journal, Celski said that he was thankful for his injury, that he viewed it as a test of his dedication to his sport, and that, although he knew the odds were stacked against him, he was hungrier than ever to compete. I was intrigued by this young man's story, so I Googled him and found he had a website. 

J.R. started skating at age 3 when he got a pair of Playskool plastic inline skates. He competed in inline skating until age 12 and then switched to speed skating after he saw that Olympian Apolo Ohno converted from inline to speed skating. As a freshman in high school, J.R. moved from Federal Way, Washington to Long Beach, California with his college age brother so that he could train there with a world class coach. This was known in Celski circles as "The Family Plan" since it involved sacrifice on the part of both parents, his brothers, and J.R. himself. At one point, the plan got to be too much for J.R - he was homesick, he had a back injury, and the balancing act of school and rigorous training had taken their toll, so he moved back home and quit skating for sixteen months. But, with the encouragement of his family, J.R. returned to Long Beach, this time with his father as his guardian, where he grew as a competitive skater and graduated high school as a merit scholar.

When Pastor Schaller came to our teacher workshop last week, he mentioned how he would like to see young people get as motivated in their lives as Olympic athletes are to achieve their goals in life. I had just seen J.R. Celski win a bronze medal in a short track speed skating race, five months after sustaining his serious injury, so his story came to mind, and I have been thinking about how to write about this ever since.Where does motivation come from?

In J.R. Celski's case, he started off, as many little boys do, trying to keep up with his dad and two older brothers who were into inline skating. He wanted to be like them. He wanted to race like his older brothers. I think that part of motivation can be the desire to be like another. (I also think that motivation can be just the opposite - the desire to be different from others.) When J.R. began to win, he must have realized that he had the potential to take his efforts to another level. Part of motivation comes from inside yourself, believing there is a possibility for you to achieve on a higher level. Part of motivation comes from outside yourself, as when J.R.'s family encouraged him and even made sacrifices to make it possible for him train with an excellent coach. 

Motivation comes from vision - you seeing yourself and others seeing you as capable of achieving beyond wherever you are now. Motivation makes a person persevere in the face of hardship, suffer present loss to achieve future gain, and view whatever happens as just another step closer to victory. Motivation gets you back on your feet even after you have decided to quit. As Christians, we know that the greatest motivator is the love of God, and that vision is vitally important to the people of God. We are not all in training for Olympic competition, but we are in training to do great exploits for the kingdom of God in our everyday lives. School is part of that training, and, if we get our eyes fixed on a goal, we will be motivated to do our very best to prepare for the future God has for us. 

I think that one lesson that I have learned from the example of J.R. Celski is the importance of beginning to invest in children at a young age and noticing and encouraging potential at a young age. I know that there were things in my life that I could not see for myself until someone pointed them out to me and gave me some encouragement to pursue them. I never would have acted in plays unless someone had seen something in me and given me a nudge in the right direction. I was too introverted to think of myself on stage. Sometimes people can say things to us to make us see ourselves in a positive light, and it makes all the difference in the world.

Another lesson I learned from the Celski family is that the economic principle of opportunity cost holds true for those who are motivated to pursue their goals. Opportunity cost is the value of the next best choice that one must give up when making a decision. For J.R. to become a world class speed skater, he had to give up the choice he could have made to stay with his family and friends in Washington and enjoy a life free from grueling practices, injuries, homesickness, and little time to make or spend time with friends in a new school. He could have had it easier, but to become the caliber of skater he wanted to be, he had to forgo the more comfortable life. He couldn't have both. I think these are other lessons to teach children at a young age - that hard work is good, that not everything comes easy (so don't be discouraged when the going gets tough), and that you cannot have everything.

To finish this rather long blog entry, I also wanted to bring up the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team which accomplished what people had thought impossible and miraculous - defeating the indomitable Soviet team and then going on to win the gold medal. Today is the 30th anniversary of this accomplishment, and when I saw three of the players and announcer Al Michaels reminiscing about this feat on television, I was amazed by the story of the late coach, Herb Brooks, who took the young squad of Olympic hopefuls and made them into a winning team. The players did not understand his coaching and training methods at the time, but they came to trust him, and now, thirty years later, they can see that he had a vision he was following. I got misty-eyed when I thought of how he never deviated from his plan and how his vision and determination motivated his players to accomplish so much that they could not have done on their own.

I, like Pastor Schaller, have a desire to see our young people become passionate about something worthwhile in their lives, something God can use to further the Gospel here on planet earth. It is always such a blessing to hear believers in all walks of life give glory to God for their successes. Yes, they worked hard and sacrificed much to accomplish what they have, but God endowed them with the gifts and talents they have used, and God was there watching over and protecting them all the way, opening and closing doors, working all things to the good, helping them find favor in the eyes of others as He did with Joseph and Daniel. It is my hope that God will use each of us to reveal to others their amazing potentials and to encourage them to become the best they can be, by God's grace, so that their years of study and struggle are purpose-filled and productive.

I am so exercised by this thought that I cannot write any more. I am overcome. Excuse this abrupt ending.