The Olympics often provide us with examples of good character. Back in 2012, I shared Paula Findlay’s story with students. Findlay was representing Canada in the triathlon and was expected to be a medal contender, but she struggled with injuries and ended up finishing last. At one point in the run portion of the event, demoralized and in considerable pain, Findlay stopped running and was ready to quit the event, but the team doctor told her she’d feel better about herself if she kept going, which she did. It was later discovered that Findlay was suffering from an iron deficiency. I reminded students that her decision is a great example of perseverance, as things do not always go our way or as planned, but we need to persist and try our best.
Three other great examples of character emerged from the Rio Olympics held this past summer. 16 year-old Penny Oleksiak became Canada’s winningest Summer Olympian by capturing gold and silver medals, as well as two bronze medals in a variety of swimming events. Despite her success and the related media exposure, upon her return to Toronto, Oleksiak was most looking forward to hanging out with friends and being a volleyball scorekeeper at her school, Monarch Park Collegiate. Oleksiak’s story is a wonderful example of great things coming from hard work, and serves to remind us of how success can be tempered with humility.
Evan Dunfee’s and Nikki Hamblin’s actions at Rio serve as good models of fair play. Dunfee represented Canada in the 50-kilometer race walk. Towards the end of the race Dunfee and the Japanese competitor attempted to pass one another and in doing so, Dunfee was thrown off stride and the Japanese athlete finished ahead of him in third place. Dunfee successfully appealed the result and was elevated to third place and a bronze medal; however, the Japanese team appealed this decision and it was overturned. On learning he was once again out of the medals, Dunfee said “contact is part of our event, whether written or unwritten and is quite common… Even if an appeal to a higher governing body were successful I would not have been able to receive that medal with a clear conscience and it isn’t something I would have been proud of.”
The final example involves New Zealand athlete Nikki Hamblin and U.S. athlete Abbey D’Agostino, who collided on the fourth lap of a 5,000 meter semi-final race, causing Hamblin to fall. Rather than keep running, D’Agostino stopped to help Hamblin to her feet. Both athletes resumed the race, but shortly after D’Agostino collapsed, as she had injured her knee in the initial collision. Upon seeing her fall, Hamblin then helped D’Agostino back on her feet and helped her finish the race. The Olympic Committee awarded Hamblin the Fair Play Award in recognition of an exemplary act of selflessness and sportsmanship.