Written by Coach Cathy Barry - Head Coach of the Eclipse Track & Field Club
When it comes to Inspiration, we have so many role models we can look to. From the political game changers, highest paid Athletes to those who rose from the ashes. But for most of us, looking onto a role model such as a Kobe Bryant or Michelle Obama is not really the same as being inspired each and every day by those who touch our lives. We can’t really quantify the importance of everyday role models that cross our paths.
Recently my daughter asked me who my female role model was. You probably would assume that I was able to name many different women who have inspired me over the years. My daughter threw out names like, Serena Williams, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman to name a few. To be honest (TBH), while I have had a few role models that have inspired me in my life, I had to finally decide on one "role model" in particular who struck a chord with me when I was a child - Oprah Winfrey.
“Why Oprah?” my daughter asked me? “Is it because she's worth $3,746.680,000 ???”. While that's quite an impressive resume and a lot of money, the real reason why I looked up to Oprah was simply because she was someone who started from the bottom, encountered an implausible challenging childhood and ultimately persevered and overcame.
Oprah grew up in poverty in Mississippi, the daughter to a single mother. At the tender age of 14, Oprah faced horrible personal circumstances that most of us could never imagine. No matter her circumstances and their labels on her life, Oprah persevered and in her early 20s became a
co-anchor for the local evening news. Her often emotionally charged delivery and honest talk led her to enter the Day Time Talk Show arena against some of the greats such as Phil Donahue. In time, Oprah became the Queen of Day Time Talk Shows. She created her own production company and in 1986 became syndicated internationally. This meant that her show was now available all over the world. Oprah's influence and reach in today's media cannot be denied. She has been an advocate for taboo topics, overcoming adversity and a huge benefactor to many. She has helped many to overcome and she continues her good works even today.
What strikes me as the most influential part of Oprah’s influence over me as a child, was overcoming her own adversity and turning it into a dream and helping millions of others with her words and actions. Oprah is now ranked as the greatest black philanthropist in American history and one of the most influential women in the world. While I will probably never get to physically meet Oprah (well you never know), what I take away from her journey is her story and I use it to propel my own dreams.
I also grew up poor and with my own childhood trials. I could have easily fallen prey to a life of mediocracy but having watched Oprah, I remembered her journey and that of many others and became determined to follow my own dreams not matter what my circumstances. Oprah was never afraid to challenge the status quo. It became okay to talk about the challenges people faced, the negative labels that have been placed on us and to help people achieve. I remembered watching Oprah who would cry alongside with her guests, she showed true genuine emotion and care for the people she touched. That was someone who could really empathize with others and their pain. She wasn’t just a TV host, she was larger than life.
Oprah despite her earlier setbacks, set her mind to do whatever she wanted and she didn't let the past dictate her future. Past mistakes and judgements were not going to determine who she was. Her destiny was greater than anyone's ideas of what she should be. Oprah shed the negative labels placed on her by others - too poor, not good enough, not intelligent enough, not determined enough, a woman, a woman of colour, too emotional...etc. Oprah embraced who she was, her weakness and her God given strengths and became determined to be a greater version of herself. Today Oprah has been dubbed as "Queen of All Media" and one of the richest and most influential women in the world.
What I take away from this as a coach is the following:
As athletes in any sport, be it Track & Field, Soccer, Baseball, Hockey, Lacrosse, Swimming, etc... we are often told either at a young age or throughout our sporting careers that we are too small, not quick enough, too tall, not strong enough, not good enough, not smart enough, not fast enough. We are labeled in a negative way. Our confidence and self-esteem suffer and we start to doubt ourselves and our abilities. We no longer want to try new things, we feel defeated and we actually start to believe we just can't do it. This is where our Inspirational Role models come in. They allow us to see the adversity, the fight, the challenges, the failures and the successes. They help motivate us, inspire us to be better, to believe in ourselves. They help solidify our belief in our goals, of not giving up no matter what anyone else says. It doesn't mean that we will all become Olympians or NHL Players, but how we go through our journey in life is what ultimately matters. How we persevere, how we accept who we are, how we let go of the past and move forward. There's no benefit to holding on to past mistakes, the judgment, the negativity, the hurt. You have to be able to forgive yourself and move forward in order to inspire others. Shed the negative labels put on you by others.
Inspiration often doesn't come from those we see on TV or read about. More often than not, they are our teachers, our coaches, our mothers, our fathers, our siblings, our friends or even a stranger who touches our lives. If you've been inspired by someone who touched your life, thank them and aspire to be the change for inspiration for those you touch in your life.
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