Today, I want to share two examples of the very best of the human spirit. Two people from Olympic Games eight years apart who showed what perseverance is, and who were determined never to give up. For me, both these moments give goose bumps even after all these years.
LOS ANGELES 1984, BARCELONA 1992: YOU CAN’T MEASURE COURAGE
One of the enduring images of the 1984 Olympic Games was not from a Gold Medal winner, but from someone who managed to finish her race.
39-year-old Gaby Andersen-Schiess was one of 50 competitors in the first women’s marathon at an Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984.
She was a good marathon runner. She was Swiss national champion in the 10,000m and marathon. In the preceding six months, she had won events in Sacramento and Minneapolis, but she knew she was nowhere near the leading runners (and eventual medalists) such as Joan Benoit, Grete Waitz and Rosa Mota.
But more memorable than who the winner and minor medalists were in that first women’s marathon are Andersen-Schiess’ determination and courage in making the finish line.
Twenty minutes after Joan Benoit had won, Andersen-Schiess shocked the crowd as she staggered into the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Andersen-Schiess looked as if she was on her last legs, literally. One leg could not bend at the knee. One arm was flailing by her side. Her body was twisted. She limped and lurched her away around track, occasionally stopping and holding her head, occasionally zig-zagging across the track before heading forward.
Medical officials rushed to her aid, but she waved them away. She later said that she was thinking to herself: ‘I’m in the Olympics, I’m going to finish. Try to keep running, try to stay upright.’
It took her almost six minutes to complete the 400 metres, but she did so much to the amazed admiration of the 70,000 strong crowd and some of the other competitors who gave a sustained standing ovation. She finished 37th out of 44 runners who completed the race. She was 24 minutes behind Benoit, and 15 minutes slower than her personal best.
Gaby fell into the waiting arms of three medical staff members as she finished – dehydrated, exhausted but happy that she had finished saying she didn’t care if she felt bad for a week.
Many criticised Olympic officials for allowing her to finish but the supervising doctor who walked with her around the inside of the track said he let her continue because she knew where she was going and she was still sweating.
The doctor was right. Andersen-Schiess had been severely hydrated. She had missed the last drink station which was when the effects of the Los Angeles heat and humidity had kicked-in. Two hours after treatment, Andersen-Schiess was allowed back to the Olympic Village.
Andersen-Schiess said she wanted to be part of history in the first women’s Olympic marathon. Her courage and determination have made that so.
Briton Derek Redmond was in fine form leading into the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
In the previous Olympics in Seoul in 1988, he was forced to pull out of the 400m due to an Achilles tendon injury just 90 seconds before the race started. He was determined it wouldn’t happen again.
He was the British record holder and had won medals at the world championships and Commonwealth Games. He was a medal expectation and a Gold Medal prospect. He won the first round in the fastest time, and won the quarter-final.
However, 150m into the semi-final, he tore his hamstring. He knew it straight away. He hobbled to a halt and fell to the ground.
Stretcher-bearers were quick on the scene to assist him, but Redmond waved them away. He wanted to finish the race. So he got back up on his feet and started hobbling painfully, slowly, along the track.
If you’re a parent, you’ll understand what happened next.
Seeing his son in agony, and crying, his dad, Jim, jumped the fence and shrugged security aside. Jim Edmond tried to convince Derek to stop but the son indicated he wanted to finish, because he wanted to be able to tell his unborn children that he finished an Olympic race. Jim supported him through that decision also. For me, this also says so much about a father’s love.
As the two of them crossed the finish line, the crowd of 65,000 rose as one to give Derek Redmond a standing ovation.
Because Redmond was assisted he was officially disqualified with Olympic records showing he ‘did not finish’.
Redmond’s injury was worse than first thought and he had another seven operations on his hamstring. It was the end of his athletics career, but he recovered sufficiently to play basketball for England, and almost make the Rugby 7s national team.
In 2009, President Barack Obama recounted Redmond’s courage as one of his personal favourite inspiring moments of the Olympic Games. President Obama said:
“Derek Redmond bravely making it through with little help, moments of euphoria after years of hard work. Moments when the human spirit triumphs over injury that should have been impossible to overcome.”
You can’t measure courage.
Watch these two videos and be in awe of Derek Redmond and Gabriella Andersen-Schweiss.