Moments of solitude in a cold, harshly lit rink, pushing your body and mind to the breaking every hour of every day— this is how newly named U.S. Department of State Sports Envoy, 2010 Olympic Gold medalist and my long-time friend Evan Lysacek described his true Olympic moment in men’s figure skating.
Evan began his inaugural journey as an official Sports Envoy by performing pro bono with Stockholm Ice over Easter weekend. The show held at the state-of-the-art Globe Arena was a dynamic display of international champions that left one breathless. Evan’s performance to the tango from Moulin Rouge electrified the crowd, but it was his humble and fun demeanor as he signed scores of autographs and related with children that stole the evening.
The following day we packed into a car headed for Södertälje—a city outside of Stockholm known for its richly diverse immigrant population from countries such as Syria, Turkey and Iraq. Here, the Embassy teamed up with Admir Lukacevic—a young, fiercely dedicated youth organizer who was born in Bosnia— and the organization he founded, “Sports Without Borders”. As a young, immigrant boy growing up in southern Sweden, Admir had two choices: become a pizza delivery boy or a thief. He chose a third option, and worked tirelessly to educate himself and start a program for more than 4,000 youth that uses sports as a vehicle to build confidence and community, and to inspire dreams.
Standing at center ice with his gleaming black skates on, Evan delivered an inspiring speech emphasizing his many setbacks and the fact that he was never the most naturally talented athlete, but always the one who worked the hardest. Admittedly, I had tears in my eyes remembering all the 4 am wake-up calls I endured as a young skater and watching the beauty of the graceful movements by Evan and the tiny skaters.
With that, we all hit the ice and spent almost an hour skating, laughing and connecting with each other. Nothing was more liberating and fun than skating hand-in-hand with my husband around the rink and realizing that I still had it in me to do a few single jumps and spins!
After a fascinating tour of the city hall and lunch with the Mayor of Södertälje, the day was capped off by a visit to the Embassy where Evan was able to tell his Olympic story and connect with the dedicated staff on national pride and serving one’s country.
For Evan, it was not about the glory of standing on the podium with a shining gold medal around his neck and hearing the crowds shout “U-S-A”, but about the years of early mornings and late nights, the missed birthdays and Christmases with family, the stress fractures and the broken, bloody toes that he envisions when he thinks of winning the gold medal.
In this way, we are all defined by the sacrifices we make for our dreams and our families each day. Whether we are athletes, single mothers, Foreign Service Officers or young Marines it is the tough obstacles and the fight in us to never give up in life that defines greatness.
It took me many years to overcome a biting sadness and sense of failure at not being able to fulfill my Olympic dreams of ice skating and essentially sacrificing my childhood to a goal I never reached. But being able to bring Evan here and have him inspire so many people brought me full circle and showed me that we all make our personal contribution to the world every day by the sacrifices we make for others. For me, it has always been the failures and the hard falls that shaped me most of all.