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Larry Young (photo credit unknown)

Are you watching the Olympics? I always do and I have been this week, as well. You get just about everything with the Olympics–drama, heartbreak, human trials and tribulations, joy, camaraderie, leadership, and mountains of inspiration. Yes, ma’am, if you ever need inspiration for any sort of endeavor, watching the Olympics is sure a great place to find it. Those athletes put their all into the games. Need a role model for dedication? Take your pick.

The year I turned fifty, a guy I knew told me I could enter the Senior Games, being held right here in Columbia MO. The only sport I was doing at the time was running, and I was a slow runner. I couldn’t really see myself competing in that. But I noticed something called “race walking” in the line-up of sports–a 1500m event on a track and a 5K road race. I happened to know the gal who was in charge of the Games, so I asked her how I could learn more about race walking. She said that Larry Young, a local sculptor whose monumental works have been placed all over the U.S. and the world, won bronze medals in race walking in both the 1968 and 1972 Olympics! He also won golds in the 50k race walks of the Pan American Games. In fact, he is the only American to win a medal in long distance (50km or roughly 31 miles) race walking. Wow! She felt certain he’d be happy to help me.

In 2015, Larry was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.

I called him up and he was very generous and quite willing to have me out to his home and studio to show me a few things. My sister remarked, “What are the odds that you would decide to take up race walking and an Olympic bronze medalist would live right in your town?” I shrugged. I guess it was pretty remarkable.

Out at his place, he watched my form and made some suggestions for improvement. And then he showed me his case full of medals and ribbons, the shoes he’d worn in one of the Olympic games, and other memorabilia. It was thrilling! He also played a tape of one of the finishes, pointing out how this guy’s form was not good (in the Olympics!) and so on. It was really wonderful. What a generous guy. I asked if he ever race walked anymore and he said he tends to go all in on whatever he’s doing, and at that time, it was sculpting.

Silver medal in the 2018 Senior Games

A few weeks later, I went off and competed in my first Senior Games, in both the 5K and the 1500m track event. That was in 2001. That year, I met the woman who, at 68, was the national champion in all age and gender groups the previous year. Very cool. I competed again in 2017 and 2018 in the 1500m, and she was still racing! Cooler still.

“Failure I can live with. Not trying is what I can’t handle.” — Sanya Richards-Ross, gold-medal track and field athlete

What might the Olympics inspire you to try?
If you’re looking for my cards or art, you’ll find all of that on my website. And if you enjoy these letters, feel free to forward this one to anyone you think might like it. Finally, you’ll find past letters and poems here.

Thanks for listening,

P.S. MerryThoughts is the name of my first book, out of print at the moment. The word is a British one, referring both to a wishbone and to the ritual of breaking the wishbone with the intention of either having a wish granted or being the one who marries first, thus the “merry thoughts.”
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