The Olympic spirit in a troubling time

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By Donna Teresa Monterey Herald

The Winter Olympics in Vancouver begin in a few weeks, and they will be a welcome sight.

People throughout the world are experiencing so much loss, sacrifice, suffering and hardship; one can only breathe a sigh of relief. I’m grateful for the spirit of friendship and peace that the Olympics encourages and that is so very much needed.

Countries join together, forget their differences, and share a unity that I wish would exist every day. As I watch citizens from all over the world join to help with the humanitarian efforts to help the people of Haiti during this devastating time, I truly believe that we should not have to depend on the Olympics to bring the world together.

I see it everyday, locally, nationally — people reaching out and giving out of the kindness of their hearts. We depend on each other for this world to work in a humane and peaceful way.

The Winter Olympic Games have not been without their share of controversy, protests, boycotts and the increased commercialization. However, they still remain a part of our popular culture and world history.

Whether we are there to witness it in person or join with others watching on television, it is a time we spend united with the world. The games were interrupted during World War I and World War II, but continued soon after.

I am proud to say that America supports the Winter Paralympic Games, which also will be held in Vancouver in March. These elite events are held the same year as the

Olympic Winter and Summer Games. The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) Paralympic Military Program has been instrumental in providing essential rehabilitation and mentoring to injured veterans. Some of the veterans who have been helped have suffered spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, amputations, strokes, blindness or visual impairments.

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Many of these veterans have gone on to participate as Olympians in these games and will again this winter. The USOC has generously provided sport camps, clinics and numerous sports opportunities for our veterans.

I have so many memories of the Winter Games through the years. What a thrill to watch the skill and grace of these athletes. You feel the excitement and awe of their victory and the agony of their defeat with them. However, I believe there's no greater honor then having that chance to represent your nation and walk behind your country's flag.

Each country’s flag has its own history of sacrifice, survival and pride. I hope that when these athletes walk behind their flag, they realize the significance of that honor. So many men and women have given their lives for others to have that chance. I hope that thought crosses their mind when they participate. A medal won is an achievement indeed, but the greatest honor is representing your country and passing on that Olympic spirit and hope to a world in need.

To the American troops who once again have answered the call in a time of crisis and are helping the people of Haiti, our gratitude. To our veterans who are participating in the Olympic Games this winter, I know that standing behind the flag means just a bit more to you. It's a special time for the world. A time to appreciate that friendship, peace and understanding are possible for all of us.

Donna Teresa can be reached at [email protected].

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