Olympic overcoming

  • Published
  • By Col. Chris Crawford
  • 21st Space Wing commander
A popular mantra in our front office these days seems to be, "This falls in the 'can't make this stuff up' category." Sometimes this is made in reference to a silly error, but lately it seems to be in reference to challenges we've worked through. As a wing and a base, we have had an extremely "overcoming" year, and I am continually amazed at the capacity of our team to overcome adversity regularly.

I'd like to encourage you in whatever challenge you are facing. With college football still a few months away (Roll Tide), I thought I'd reflect on the 2012 Olympic Games for some stories of a few individuals who overcame adversity in their respective fields.

LoLo Jones grew up in poverty in Iowa with her mother, where she attended eight schools in eight years and resorted to shoplifting to feed her family. When she discovered running, she redirected her energy and became the first woman to earn back-to-back victories in the 60-meter hurdles at the NCAA Championships from 2003-2004. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Jones stumbled on the second-to-last hurdle in the 100 meter race, falling from first to seventh place. Doctors discovered she had hit the hurdle because she had no feeling in her feet and diagnosed her with a tethered spinal cord.

In 2011, Jones had spinal surgery and one year later, she qualified for the 2012 London Olympics. She placed fourth in the 100 meter hurdles, 23 hundredths of a second behind the Australian gold medalist. She has said she will be back for the 2016 Games.

Then there's Kieran Behan, an Irish gymnast who was confined to a wheelchair at the age of 10 but miraculously returned to training. Less than a year later, Kieran fell off the high bar and severely damaged his inner ear and brain. Doctors didn't expect him to walk again.

Two years and hundreds of hours of physical therapy later, he proved them wrong. With the goal to make it to the Olympics, his family held fundraisers and he swept the gym floor to pay for training. Battling injuries - he also broke his arm, fractured his wrist and tore both anterior cruciate knee ligaments before London - he wept through his final practices because of the pain.

He became the solo Irish gymnast in the 2012 Summer Olympics, making him just the second Irish gymnast in history to qualify for the Olympic Games. Kieran had every excuse to give up, but something inside of him put expectations aside as he made a decision to persevere, no matter what the obstacle.

Im Dong-hyun has 20 and 30 percent of his vision in each eye. He has two Olympic gold medals in archery and has to ask his teammates to find out whether his arrow hit the mark. In 2012, he set the first world record of the games by earning a 669 out of 720 score in the individual event. He uses his blindness as a way to not overthink his aim.

I don't pretend to have all the answers to why a spinal surgery doesn't seem to stop a hurdler, what makes a 5'3" Irishman think that pursuing Olympic gymnastics after being confined to a wheelchair is a good career move or the advantages of shooting blindly. Heart, love of the game, intense focus and grit...yes, all good traits that these individuals surely possess. What I do understand is that we have that same type of person here in the 21st Space Wing.

Whether it's certifying a Priority Level One alarm system in 52 weeks instead of seven years, laying foundation for 54 dorm rooms in 92 days in Pituffik, Greenland, or helping your daughter through heart surgery, we have some amazing Knights who overcome adversity every day. I don't have a prescription for you to follow their exact steps, but just a word of encouragement that just as they did it, so will you when the time comes.

I know the road is tough, but you are not alone. Know that I am right here with you, making choices and decisions every day to do the best I can to support the Wing's needs. And I am rooting for you.

There are times when I feel like I've faced enough challenges for the rest of my life. Yet when I look back, it seems these were the trials that grew me as a person and prepared me for events later in life. As James Corbett, American professional heavyweight boxer, once said, "You become a champion by fighting one more round. When things are tough, you fight one more round." I know each of you are facing and overcoming adversity as well, and sometimes the road gets tough. Whatever your hardship, know that I am rooting for you.