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Posted on 6. February 2014

Drawing Inspiration from the Winter Games

By Annaben Kazemi

I have to admit I am a Winter Olympics nut! I get so into the Winter Games, and I especially love watching the skiing, snowboarding and skating events. Seeing Grete Eliassen soar in the air on skis or Julia Mancuso speeding down the mountain totally inspires me. Every Olympics, athletes pull off truly amazing feats (remember Shaun White’s Double McTwist? or Brian Boitano landing the triple axel?) I am sure the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi will be no exception.  I feel the Olympics are special because of the athletes — people with journeys that inspire and incredible stories about dedication and perseverance and what it takes to win Olympic gold. 

As I look forward to the games, I am reminded of how that same type of dedication and perseverance is seen throughout our primary immunodeficiency (PIDD) community. For an Olympian in training, failure is often the name of the game. This is too often also true for patients when trying to get a medical diagnosis for a rare disease or insurance coverage for treatment of a chronic condition. Both Olympic athletes and chronically ill patients must demonstrate unlimited  perseverance in order to reach their goals. 

American speed skater Dan Jansen is a great example of how persistence can pay off.  After failed attempts to win an Olympic medal in Calgary, the devastating loss of his sister, stumbling in his races at the Olympics in France and winning nothing, he came back and competed at the Olympic games in Norway. He stumbled again, but in his final race he not only won gold, but he set a world record. For patients who’ve had their fair share of failure, Jansen’s story is an inspiring reminder that even in the face of seemly insurmountable odds, perseverance and determination really can pay off. And, just because it isn’t coming together now doesn’t mean it won’t … so hang in there and never give up!

But, I don’t think Olympic athletes have to win gold to inspire. Their stories of sacrifice and hard work give reason to persevere in life. For instance, at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, the Jamaican bobsled team won respect and admiration from their peers. Hailing from a snowless country, they still managed to put together a legitimate bobsled team, and reminded everyone that the Olympics aren't just about sheer athleticism, they’re about drive, determination, and heart … three qualities I see in patients every day who are overcoming great obstacles despite their illnesses.

It is an Olympic athlete’s relentless ability to fight back from disappointment, heartbreak and physical pain that reminds me of so many courageous patients I’ve met. I see this fighting spirit in Gretchen Bleiler, 2006 snowboarding Olympic silver medalist in Italy. She was practicing a double backflip maneuver on a trampoline when she over-rotated, sending her knee bouncing off the springy surface and into her face. She shattered her right eye socket, broke her nose, split open her eyebrow and suffered a serious concussion. Doctors have said her double vision may never fully go away. And, while “The Crippler” might sound like the accident she survived, it’s actually her signature move (an inverted backside 540) for Sochi. She is an example of not allowing her physical circumstances to cripple her and of going after her dreams full force. 

Few are blessed with athletic talent, but the courage exhibited by extraordinary athletes at the Winter Games can inspire all of us to be brave when facing our own challenges. And isn’t that what the games are about?

Do you have an Olympic moment that motivates you? Or, do you know a PIDD patient who inspires you?  Share your story with the rest of us.

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