by Bulbul Beri
Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash

The creed of the modern Olympic Games is a quote by the founding father of the modern Olympics – Baron de Coubertin: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

Being resilient is important so we can rise against our struggles and triumph over our adversities. This ability to persevere and overcome setbacks is a key component in helping Olympic champions achieve their goals and there are many beautiful stories of resilience, hope and determination in the Tokyo 2021 Olympics. Some inspiring stories are shared below:

  1. Emma McKeon
    Born and brought up in Wollongong, Emma McKeon went to school with Rahil and Nikhil (Reetu’s sons) and is now considered to be Australia’s most successful Olympian with five Olympic gold medals, the most in Australian history, tied with Ian Thorpe and eleven Olympic medals overall. Her medal tally at Tokyo 2021 is seven — the equal most by any woman in any sport in Olympic history. She has set new Olympic records in the heat, semi-final and final of the event. Her success is tribute to her hard work, consistency, resilience and ability to bounce back from her setbacks and the support behind her.
  2. Simone Biles
    Simone Bile has had many struggles to endure in her life. She was raised in and out of the foster care system, and experienced abuse and depression. Despite these circumstances, she won 4 gold medals in the Rio 2016 Olympics, and invented 4 complex original moves named after her. This current Olympics she was faced with more obstacles. After struggling to complete her first vault, she decided to put her mental health before her medal pursuit, withdrawing from some events. After taking space and time, she was able to reenter and go on to win a bronze on the balance beam, inspiring so many athletes and contributing to the changing dialogue around mental health and peak sports.
  3. Talha Talib
    21 year old Pakistan weightlifter Talha Talib held the gold medal spot until the final round before he failed his first clean and jerk lift and collapsed on stage. After medical staff rushed to his aid, he returned to lift twice more and finished fifth. Although Talha missed out on a rare Olympic medal for Pakistan, the fact that he has come so far without a coach, proper resources, facilities and quality equipment is a great testament to his resilience.
  4. Owen Wright
    Australian surfer Owen Wright’s story is one of true resilience. After sustaining a head injury during a practice session in 2015 that left him with brain trauma, he was unable to feed himself, walk or surf. With the help of others, he slowly rebuilt his mind and body and relearned how to talk, walk and then surf again, amazingly winning a bronze for Surfing at Tokyo 2021.
  5. Indian Women’s Hockey Team
    Almost all of India’s newest superstars have their own individual stories of triumph over adversity, including many of the Women’s Hockey Team. Most of them have humble beginnings, growing up in rural India where opportunities for girls to become elite athletes are almost non-existent. Many of their parents couldn’t afford to buy  equipment and the girls often had to start practising with broken hockey sticks. They had to convince coaches to train them, parents to let them play, and overcome local community prejudice against wearing short skirts and playing sport. To add to that, seven Indian players contracted COVID-19 in April, including captain Rani Rampal. Their defeat of the Australian team in the early heats of the Tokyo 2020 Games won the hearts of their country for their courageous efforts, despite losing the Bronze to great Britain.

The above stories highlight the Olympic creed that “the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

In games as well as life, the key to living our best life is by learning to be resilient in the face of adversity, by looking at the bigger picture and regularly practising resilience-building activities. Scientific studies have shown the following actions can help foster resilience and self-growth:

  1. Physical Resilience is built through movement and exercise. The more you work your body by using it by walking, swimming, dancing, sport, yoga, etc.. the stronger and more resilient it will become. Working from home and being in lockdown means we are spending a huge amount of time sitting watching some type of screen. We need to consciously make a habit to get up regularly and move, walk or stretch.
  2. Mental Resilience can be built by:
    • exercising grit and determination to finish something you started, even something small.
    • Additionally, reframing the story you tell yourself (about what is causing you stress), by shifting your perspective can help build mental resilience.
    • Having a purpose or finding meaning in your challenges can help build mental resilience. Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist, a survivor of three concentration camps during World War II, and author of “Man’s Search for Meaning,” experienced that those who survived the sufferings of the camps were able to find a way to make some meaning from their horrific circumstances.
    • Hiring a coach. Scientific studies suggest that one-on-one coaching is the most effective way to boost resilience.
  3. Emotional Resilience can be cultivated by looking for ways to experience positive emotions every day. According to Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, positivity researcher at the University of North Carolina and author of “Positivity”, higher positivity ratios are predictive of flourishing mental health and other beneficial outcomes. Quick ways to experience positive emotions include:
    • laughter – watch or read something funny
    • gratitude – focus on 3 specific things small or big that you are grateful for
    • feel good news – limit your consumption of the news to essential and instead focus on some inspiring stories like those listed below
    • social connections; reaching out to family, friends, neighbours and community
    • physical touch: eg) a hug, cuddling a pet, or if you are alone – self-massage

Playing games also helps with our mental and emotional toughness as scientific studies have shown that games help us tackle tough challenges with more creativity, determination and optimism, and we’re more likely to reach out to others for help. The below moving TED talk, game designer Jane McGonigal explains how a game can boost resilience — and promises to add 7.5 minutes to your life!