So what's the big deal about the Olympic Games anyways, you might ask? Strangely enough, as a three-time Olympian I have never actually asked myself this question because I was hooked from such a young age.
From the age of nine when I picked up a magazine filled with images of Olympic athletes, I was mesmerized. At the time, the only thing I knew about the Games beyond those photos was that there were cute mascots named Heidi and Howdy from Calgary that I had seen during the 1988 Olympic Games.
Obviously, at nine I couldn't explain why I was so drawn to the Olympic Games. I loved that determination and focus in the athlete's eyes, I treasured the way their bodies carved through space. I hadn't yet pinpointed the word to explain my attraction. But I didn't need a word. I understood. I was inspired.
Today, I think the word that best describes what I saw in those photos was excellence. But I'm not even sure that completely encapsulates my initial feelings.
My own feelings towards the Olympic Games have evolved. Things became more complex in the lead up to Vancouver as I got ready to compete on day one and kick-off the medal hopes of my country. My earlier successes increased the challenges tenfold. The stakes were higher. The pressure at times was crushing. Everything was so amped up, including my emotions and especially my fears.
But I realized the game hadn't changed. The requirements for success were larger than ever. But as the size of the challenge grew, so too did everything I loved about the Olympics: the necessity of dedication, the joy of the effort, and the need to redefine my limits each day.
Despite at times my physical, mental and emotional exhaustion in the lead up to Vancouver I never ceased to be inspired by the Olympics.
To me, what draws me towards the spirit of the Games is the requirement to face oneself and the fears that threaten to drag us down. Standing at the start line I spoke to my fears and told them "oh no you don't, not tonight my friend, not tonight."
The Olympic Games provided me with a gold medal and a silver medal, but more importantly they showed me that there is absolutely nothing more important, especially when the stakes are high, to face those fears and to find the courage to put it all on the line.
Regardless of if we are in a swimming pool, on a ski hill, or in any walk of life there is always an opportunity to face the limiting factors and find a way to go beyond. The satisfaction of doing so is great. Nothing illustrates that more concretely than the Olympic Games.
Get ready to be inspired, as the 2012 London Olympic Games begin!
Jennifer Heil represented Canada in freestyle skiing at three Olympic Games, winning a gold medal in Turin and a silver in Vancouver.