Sports stories have a huge popular following. Millions of fans follow football, baseball, or hockey games every week. Yet more millions stay glued to their television sets every four years as an Olympiad rolls on by. What is it that we find so incredibly compelling and inspiring about athletic pursuits and success stories? Why do we keep watching and listening? Athletics are a smaller version of human struggling, a microcosm our lives. In a game, a race, or a ring we watch a bit of history unfold. We watch individuals struggle against others and against themselves. We watch them struggle with the weight of expectations and the weight of what others have accomplished before. And inevitably we watch as someone overcomes obstacles and fears to become a champion and hero.
Sports as Life
We love success stories in sports because they remind us about certain facts of life success. The game is always hard. The game is never over until the end, and no winner was born a winner. The win is in the training, in the practice. Just trust Muhammad Ali, who gave us this gem among his numerous inspirational quotes: "I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'" When we watch feats of athletic excellence, we watch the culmination of suffering and the birth of a champion.
Success as Personal
Some of the greatest sports stories remind us that we can be our own biggest opponents. Rudy Ruettiger has been made famous through the film Rudy. He was a short, dyslexic kid in a huge family. His dream was to play on Notre Dame's Fighting Irish football team. First though, he had to get into Notre Dame itself by taking two years of credits from a local college.
In 1974, on his fourth try, Ruettiger was accepted. Standing 5 feet, 6 inches tall, Ruettiger was too small to be a football player. Through his dedication and persistence, however, he was accepted onto the scout team, a junior varsity squad used to train the varsity athletes. His drive and energy were so enormous, however, that Ruettiger eventually got some field time; he played 3 games for the Fighting Irish in 1975-76. At the end of one game, he was carried off the field by his teammates: the first Notre Dame football player to receive that honor. His story of persistence inspired the 1993 film Rudy. Ruettiger is not the most accomplished athlete who's ever walked the earth. He didn't win any medals or international awards. He did, however, accomplish his dream and inspire those around him. His unswerving dedication and unshakeable will power, in spite of failure and obscurity, make Ruettiger the success story that we remember today. We remember Rudy Ruettiger because he has what so many of us lack: the strength and patience to weather the odds. So often we're tempted to quit, believing that it's not meant to be, that we aren't good enough. Ruettiger's story should remind us to be persistent and to trust in ourselves.