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We have
been among the countries with the highest medal count at the last two Olympic Games
(11th and 13th out of some 80 participants who won any
medals). Also, at the recent Paraolympics in London we have come in fourth.

There are
some very good athletes living among us.

instance, we have two big dudes who have been controlling the heavyweight
division in professional boxing for years. And we have one little dude who can
do 4,000 pushups in two hours at the age of seven.

We also have
some of the best football players, although this may not say much because we
often are disappointed in them – in their game and in their political choices.  

But, all in
all, we are a nation of great sportsmen.
And it often bewildered me why….

When it
comes to sports we can finally be achievers.

So what is
it? The Cossack blood? Could the gene of the restless and brave ancestors has
lasted in us this long?.. Then why are there so many inglorious, conniving,
lying, fearful, vile, weak and despicable men out there? Just look at Verkhovna
Rada… But then, again, they are no athletes. In parliamentary brawls they go
for the throat and hit the weakest colleagues hardest. 

sportsmanship there.

Yes, the
ancestry is one explanation for our achievements in sports, but there is one
more. One singular factor that towers over the rest, like having a good trainer,
good genetics, supportive family, and the government who tells you to do sports
and not drugs.

That factor
is this: how well the athlete deals with pain.

That’s it.

Enduring those
invariable hurts and aches that your body is signaling back to you when you try
to overwork it is key. Knowing how to overcome pain or even put it to your
advantage is very important.  

The success
of our paraolympians in London is especially telling in this respect. Disabled
people who bravely compete in sports at this level have to endure double the

thankfully, most Ukrainians are no strangers to it.

There are
few nations in the world with a less tortured history.

It is often
said that Ukrainian essence is acquiescence.

Before God,
before parents, before tradition and even before one’s own cantankerous wife. Ukrainians
are survivors a lot more than anarchists no matter the mutinous traits
instilled in their character by the free and endless steppes. They know how to
keep the mutiny in check till more opportune times come, how to endure. As Rilke
once wrote, “Who speaks of victory? To endure is everything.”

That must
be about us.

And to be a
survivor one has to know pain.

Our folks do
know a thing or two about it. They even know how to live with pain, because
they have learned how to befriend it.

When I hit 40,
I decided to pick up running. Like they say you should when are over the hill
already. Zhenia, my buddy from the old weightlifting years in Kyiv, suggested
longer distances. |Тhis
way you can run away a lot farther from whatever it is you are running away from.”

He pointed
to a higher dune I could barely see along the Atlantic shore we vacationed at with
our families.


It took us
an hour to reach the dune. Zhenia arrived there with his immutable enthusiasm
of an athlete; I, with pain and whining. I had never run this far before.

My buddy
laughed at me and said that pain was a good thing. And that I should know it.

“Just ask Leopold
von Sacher-Masoch,” he said. “A native of Lviv.”

Opanasiuk is a freelance writer in Kyiv.


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