Tuesday, March 02, 2010

On passion

I watched the recent men's Olympic ice hockey finals with bated breath. How Americans and Canadians managed to get through it without a coronary is beyond me.

But I was tickled by the iconic status of the Canadian netminder (read goalkeeper) Roberto Luongo. Of course, he was a local boy, playing as he does for the Vancouver Canucks, but I doubt that that was the only explanation for the basso profundo roar of "LUUUUUU!!!" that went up every time he touched the puck. The commentators were at great pains to explain that the crowd wasn't booing, because it did sound rather like it.

The South African rugby team has a similar figure in the form of Tendai Mtawarira aka The Beast. Every time he touches the ball, the entire stand thrums as every supporter chants a throaty "BEEEEEEEEAST!!!!" As we watch him play, at a remove of several thousand kilometres, and sometimes several hours (or even days) my family does it, too. Four throats joining in with the many thousand in the stands.

These characters have inspired an astonishing level of devotion among their supporters. In an odd way, Kwame Nkrumah Acheampong had a similar effect. Apparently the crowd was still chanting "Ghana! Ghana!" an hour after his run. So we can tell that it isn't necessarily about superior skills.

I suspect that it is about passion. All these men (and I'm sure there are women like this, too) share an indomitability. They simply don't know when to quit. They. Will. Not. Be. Stopped. In this civilised age, I find it heartening that we are so ready to be won over by this level of passion. There is nothing civilised about the responses to the endeavours of these sportsmen.

In fact, let me tell you a little tale. Some years ago, I attended my sons' school sports day. All the parents were doing the usual thing of yelling their heads off for their kids and their friends' kids. Then up stepped a lad I'll call David Michaels. David had a particularly virulent form of muscular dystrophy and it was evident that this was the last year he would attend sports day on his own two feet. As the children lined up for the race, David was given a huge head start. Believe you me, there wasn't a dry eye in the place and, regardless of who they had come there to support, every child, every teacher and every parent present roared for David. Even with the head start, he wasn't able to win, but he did finish second, and the roar that went up was greater than for the rest of the events combined. David would not quit. In fact, the next year, he was back. This time in his wheelchair, being pushed by a willing volunteer.

I understand this level of passion. I'm a passionate person myself. As such, I know full well that these people have encountered naysayers, detractors and Job's comforters at every step along their journey. In order to get to where they are (even young David, who may well not even be alive any more), they will have had to refuse to buy into the 'good advice' that people have given them.

There are times when our battle on the learning front gets tiresome. There are days when we are tempted just to pack it in and go back to designing mind-numbing tunnels of back and next buttons. On those days, I reckon we could do worse than watch a brutal, uncivilised clash of sporting Titans to stir up the blood again. To remind ourselves that we might be fully clothed, erudite grown-ups on the outside, but every now and again, the inner savage needs a bit of legroom.

How's your inner savage today?


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