The Summer Catching His Breath Became Cool   


DURING A LEISURELY SUNSET WALK with my son earlier this week, Carl kicked off his red Crocs to sprint what he figured to be 100 meters barefooted.

Then, just before the sidewalk’s straightaway curved east, he lifted his arms and dropped his speed to finish the dash with a victor’s smile.

As he huffed and puffed to catch his breath, I caught up to him thankful for the fairy dust the Olympians in Rio scattered to the ends of the Earth.

Because of them and the hours was as a family spent on the couch watching their televised competitions, Carl, 10, now appreciates the concept of sweat equity a bit more tangibly.

This is the summer that catching his breath — just like the elite athletes in oxygen debt — became cool.

Organizers in the sports world want to tap that enthusiasm by connecting kids, some of whom could become future Olympians, to local training centers via

The very best in the world began this way. They found their athletic talent and built their skills out of public view as children or youth — even Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, the sprinter who earned his seventh Olympic gold medal running the men’s 100-meter final in 9.81 seconds.

He left the starting block in that race second to last, but kept his head the whole time.

“I just said (to myself), ‘Take your time, and chip away,’” Bolt told reporters afterward.

He got faster by the second, and Carl watched him go, go, go — something ironically more impressive in slow motion because my boy could see the athlete’s tremendous give to that goal.

Now, Carl likes to ape “the Bolt” — a pose the track star does after winning races by pulling his right arm back like an archer and straightening his left arm to point upwards as a stylized lightning bolt.

We mean to call Kemarly,  Carl’s Jamaican friend who attends another school this year, to congratulate him on his countryman’s Olympic successes and swap impressions of the man’s races at Rio.

But for all the spectacular photo finishes and the timers that can slice a second more exquisitely than any of us can measure beyond the blink of an eye, one athlete’s discouragement made just as much of an impression on me.

Allyson Felix of Team USA won a silver medal in the women’s 400-meter race after Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas dived across the finish line for the gold medal.

Only 0.07 seconds separated them.

Felix spent the next 20 minutes catching her breath and processing the controversial defeat by lying on the track on her back with an elbow slung over her forehead.

As they waited to interview her, NBC commentators shared more background about Felix — the world champion of that race and the most decorated U.S. female track athlete of all time with seven Olympic medals then, four of them gold.

When the disheartened athlete rose from the track to talk with the interviewer, she delivered lines I hold tightly in spite of her disappointment:

“It was tough,” she said. “I was trying to dig deep and find another gear.”

The fluke at the finish line — Miller’s dive that caused her chest to cross the line first — make it seem like Felix failed to find that gear.

In reality, the strategy served her so well.

She surged on the final stretch and caught Miller neck-and-neck, and that success translates to every hard race the rest of us face.

At work or school. In marriages and families. In the midst of addiction recovery or a jail sentence. After a cancer or HIV diagnosis.

That’s why we need the Olympics every four years, not only to show kids like Carl and adults like me the will to win, but to show us the will to try.

Pam Mellskog can be reached at or at 303-746-0942.

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