Without question, the athlete I most admire is the legendary Czech runner Emil Zatopek, who remains the only Olympian to win gold medals in the 5K, 10K, and marathon…AT THE SAME OLYMPIAD (Helsinki in 1952). Two things made this feat even more remarkable:
- He not only won gold medals in all three events – he set Olympics records in all three events, which is incredible when you consider…
- He had never run a marathon but decided to enter it at the last minute after winning his 5K and 10K gold medals.
Yet the real reason Zatopek is my hero is that he was recognized universally as being an even better human being than he was a runner. And that’s saying something, given his phenomenal athletic accomplishments.
Perhaps the best, and most well-known, example of his tremendous humanity and humility occurred after the 1968 Games in Mexico City. Throughout the 1960s, Australian runner Ronald Clarke dominated the world of running, breaking 17 world records as a middle- and long-distance runner. Unfortunately, his success did not carry over into the Olympics, where his failures to win a single gold medal in four different Olympics prompted critics to unfairly label him, “the bloke who choked.”
After Clarke’s final disappointment in Mexico City, when altitude sickness forced him to drop out of the 10K race, he stopped in Prague to visit the legendary runner. The two had never met before, but they had a warm visit by all accounts. When it came time to leave, Zatopek handed Clarke a small package and said, “Because you deserve it.”
Years later, Clarke admitted that he was terrified that Zatopek was attempting to smuggle something to the West. At the time of their meeting, Zatopek basically was under house arrest for defying the Russians who had invaded the then Czechoslovakia earlier in the year.
But when Clarke finally had the courage to open the package on the plane, he found Zatopek’s 10K gold medal from the 1952 Games. Years afterwards, Clarke recounted sitting there in stunned silence as he remembered Zatopek’s parting words: “Because you deserve it.”
If Emil Zatopek could give away one of his cherished Olympic gold medals to cheer up someone, I certainly can give away my marathon, half-marathon, ultramarathon, and triathlon medals to do the same. I’m going to do this in three ways, the last of which I will need your help with:
- I will give some of the medals to friends and family, along with a note explaining why I chose that particular medal for them. (In fact, some of you reading this post will be receiving them over the next few years.) It will be my way of recognizing how wonderful I think these folks are. Also, I hope it transfers to them some of the dynamic and powerful human energy I both expended and absorbed during that particular race.
- Also, I will be working with Medals4Mettle, a nonprofit that collects marathon and other endurance event medals and donates them to individuals (especially children) battling illnesses or dealing with severe disabilities that prevent them from running in these events. Because these folks have to demonstrate mettle every minute of every day, this Indianapolis-based nonprofit makes sure they get the medals they so richly deserve. As it says on their web site: “Medals4Mettle celebrates our collective human courage, and our innate desire to reward and support each other as we all face life’s challenges.” One of the coolest things about this organization is that they will not accept “leftover” medals from races – each medal they award has to have been earned by a fellow human. How awesome is THAT?
- Finally, although Medals4Mettle is great, I’d also like to give medals to folks who deserve a medal for the marathon they’re battling – but who are not part of this wonderful organization. And that’s where YOU all come in. I am asking you to nominate someone you may know who fits any of the following criteria:
B. They have a severe disability that prevents them from participating in athletics.
C. They are a caretaker for someone dealing with the challenges I mentioned above in A or B.
D. They simply are facing a significant life challenge and desperately need someone to believe in them.
If you have a nomination, please shoot me a PM on Facebook – or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org – with this person’s story. If I select this person – and let’s face it, I have a LOT of marathon, half-marathon, ultramarathon, and triathlon medals to give away – I’ll ask for their mailing address so that I can send the medal and a personal note to them.
Thanks in advance for your help in this endeavor. Collectively, let’s counter all the negative human actions in the world right now by offering at least a few deserving individuals some much-needed support. Hugs!
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