We often see these athletes perform for our pleasure and when they fail to meet our subjective opinions of greatness we are quick to chastise and burn them, the social media now the favoured choice of crucifixion.
Our hunger for success at all costs is clouded by many factors, one being technology and its increasing ability to keep us at bay from the humanity of the athletes. In fact we are so attuned it is not unusual that many of us see these athletes as personal game boys, allowing us to figuratively control them, ready to throw them to the curb when they fail to win. Technology has exceeded our humanity.
We must never forget that after the glare of sportsmanship we all go back to our normal lives, and so too the athletes. We move on to the next distraction, and the athletes go back to their reality. It is that reality they face with their own human insecurities, often alone and without the rah rah of spectators.
We are victims of evil customs and it is a crime against the athletes’ humanity when we demand God like status of them to perform. Athletes are only humans attempting to perform feats that most of us consider unimaginable. Does that make them super human? Maybe, maybe not. But beyond the technology lies a human who like all of us, suffer real tragedies, real joys and real aspirations. Our humanity is all bound up in each other, for we can only be human together.
This is Novelene’s human story.
Recently we all watched the Jamaican female 4x400m team storm past the favourites, USA, to claim gold at the World Athletics Championships in Beijing. And anchored home by Novlene Williams-Mills.
In 2012, Novlene was diagnosed with breast cancer. She told no-one apart from her husband of five years, Jameel, family and friends. She finished fifth in the 400m at London 2012 and won a bronze medal in the 4 x 400m relay.
Three days after the Games surgeons removed a small lump in her breast. She then had a double mastectomy, a further operation to cut out the remaining cancerous cells and reconstructive surgery. Her final operation was on January 18.
Until this stage, Novelene had told nobody outside her close circle about her devastating illness. She did not want any sympathy; she just wanted to concentrate on winning the most difficult race of her life.
At the time, she was 31 years old, a five-time world and three-time Olympic medallist. ‘It feels like your own body has betrayed you, like I’ve been stabbed,’ she said. ‘I’m an athlete. I work out, I train. It can’t be possible.’
‘It’s a very high-risk, aggressive cancer and I had to approach it aggressively. Like Angelina Jolie, my chance of having it was way high. But I had choices to make. A lot of people don’t.’
‘The mastectomy was scary because this is what makes me a lady. What am I going to look like? It was very difficult. I want to have kids one day and you see all those mothers out there nursing and I’m not going to be able to do that.
‘There were days I didn’t know if I could make it. I was in so much pain. I cried because they tell me that tears are a language that God understands. I hoped my husband still loved me the same. We met when I was like this and now he’s seeing a whole different person. But I didn’t have to worry about him. He was my nurse, my rock.”.
Blessings forever Novlene.
By Neo Makeba