Olympic athletes provide valuable life lessons to military

Vance Air Force Base, Okla. -- As I watched the Summer Olympics, I was amazed and inspired by the training, determination and sheer adrenaline the world's top athletes exhibited as they competed for Olympic medals. As a passionate runner and veteran of 12 marathons, my heart raced as I watched the women's marathon; a daunting 26.2 miles on a hilly course under hot and humid conditions. After leading the race for nearly two hours, Britain's Paula Radcliffe dropped out with less than five miles remaining in the race. My heart sank, and along with her fellow countrymen, I yelled at her to get back in there and finish. Despite my disappointment, I continued to watch the race to see Deena Kastor, the American runner, courageously make her way from 18th to third place, winning the bronze medal.
With running an important part of our fitness program, I believe these two women, and marathon running in particular, provide some valuable lessons we can take away and apply to our own lives.
First of all, it takes a lot of planning, preparation and training to run a marathon. These incredible athletes didn't start running yesterday; they began like most of us, running one mile at a time.
Likewise, we can and need to plan for our future by setting long-term professional and personal goals and using every available training opportunity to help us grow. Basic training, technical school and on-the-job training provide us our initial skills for entry into the Air Force. Mentorship from more experienced leaders can further improve our skills and give us the motivation to "run" more than one mile at a time.
Next, like all good athletes, we need to analyze the mission. Marathon runners are notorious for driving or running part or all of a marathon course to understand the terrain and the challenges ahead of them. Similarly, we need to understand the requirements, demands and expectations of our jobs, bosses and co-workers. Through mission statements and unit goals, as well as peer and supervisor feedback, we can understand what is expected of us, how we can improve and where we fit into the overall scheme of things.
Finally, envision the future. Many marathoners envision the finish line, and in the case of the Olympics, a gold, silver or bronze medal. Paula Radcliffe may have envisioned the gold medal slipping away as she drained her energy trying to stay in the lead; Deena Kastor's vision of a top-three finish may have propelled her to the bronze; both performances are applicable to our lives and the challenges we face. These women teach us the value of setting goals, pacing ourselves, knowing our strengths and weaknesses, learning from experience and moving forward to improve ourselves while accomplishing the mission.
Like running a marathon, or even a mile and a half, we must adapt, overcome and meet life's challenges head on. Someone once said "it takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power."
So next time you lace up your shoes to go for a run, remember these important lessons. Strive to improve your mile and a half, challenge yourself to run a marathon and continue to rise up to the opportunities our great Air Force has to offer. Run on Team Vance!