On Sunday the Olympic flame will come through our little town. Now, I am not particularly a sport lover, I usually watch Wimbledon and the Cup Final, but I must admit that the attraction of field, track and beach volleyball rather passes me by. So why am I bothering to rearrange my weekend so that I can go and see the Olympic torch going past?
Well, for one thing, it is quite something that someone bothered to send it this way – Newport, Pembs, is by any standard at the very edge of the UK, one more step and you’d be in the Irish Sea! But the allure of the torch is more than just the novelty factor, more than some weird sense of national pride (or dismay that we are hosting this ridiculously expensive event at a time of horrendous recession.) I think it is more something to do with the spirit of the Olympic athletes themselves, that grit and determination, that sense of people striving to the very limit of their endurance, the effort, the dedication, the incredible personal and physical sacrifices they make to get to the peak of their ability.
So why do they do it? It can’t just be about winning a gold medal. For most of them the chances of winning a medal is actually pretty slight. But like Mount Everest or the world’s oceans, the Olympics exist and are therefore a challenge. And the one thing the human race can’t resist is a challenge. (Even the term ‘human race’ gives the game away.)
Whether it be to swim the length of the River Thames, to trek to the North Pole, to bungee jump off a bridge, to turn some wilderness into a garden, to learn a language, to start a business, to care for an elderly parent or to write a novel, there is nothing we humans like more than pitting ourselves against adversity. (You don’t often find dogs voluntarily putting bones to one side in order to lose 10 pounds!)
Some challenges are clearly more extreme than others, but they all require determination and courage, they often involve some kind of sacrifice, at the very least a few sleepless nights. And is the putative reward actually worth the effort? Is it worth giving up years of your life to come tenth in the pole vault or to write a book that languishes at the bottom of the Kindle lists?
Well, as my readers know, I am a bit of a sucker for courage – in one way or another it forms the basic theme of all my novels – so I would say ‘yes’, even just taking the initial decision to ‘have a go’ is a significant achievement in itself.
So I will be out there on Sunday, cheering as the torch goes by, and reminding myself that I have often intended to have a go at synchronised swimming …