How an Olympic Champ Became my Gandalf

How an Olympic Champ Became my Gandalf

It was Moscow Russia in the Summer of 2013. I remember the moment as clear as day. The official gathered all of us throwers together. Fifteen or so GIANT humans surrounding him.

“Alright Gentlemen here is the order of competition. Alekna, Rose..” Holy shit. I assume he kept talking, but I can’t say for sure, because time slowed down and reality hit me like a fucking freight train. I was throwing directly after Virgilijus Alekna. The two-time Olympic Champion Alekna. The two-time World Champion Alekna. The Alekna whose large Lithuanian frame popped up in my 2008 “discus” Google search, when I first learned that discus throwing was a thing, and maybe a thing that I would like to try out.

In that moment I realized that I was indeed throwing at the World Championships, and I had the chance to make history. A jolt of adrenaline spiked my focus. I was ready. I could do this.

Alekna walks into the ring and throws nearly 62 meters. One of the furthest throws I had ever seen in my life at that point. He walks out disappointed, and strolls past me as I chalk up my discus. They call my name, and I walk into the ring. Mustering all of my strength, I spring out of the back, hit a few “key” positions, and BOOM. 56 meters. Pretty good throw for me at the time! But not enough to place me any higher than 29th place(out of 30 competitors). There was only one problem with my plan to make HISTORY for Samoa… I wasn’t very good at discus.

You might be asking yourself how I was even allowed into the World Championships if I was bad at discus. Great question!

  1. Bad is relative. I was very good in the Mid-American Conference in college. I was okay on a NCAA DI collegiate level. I was bad compared to professional track and field athletes. Very bad. Especially compared to Alekna. A good comparison would be an NCAA All-Conference basketball player trying to guard literally Lebron James.
  2. The year prior I began competing for Samoa- the nation where my father was born and raised, thus granting me dual citizenship. Since Samoa had no qualified athletes in 2013(an athlete that has hit the mark, or “standard” that has been set by the world athletics governing body), they were allowed to choose one athlete to compete in the Championships. I was technically the highest ranked track athlete competing for Samoa at the time. Voila! My first undeserved World-Championship berth.

Back to Moscow!

I sat there after my third throw, not improving on my 56 meter toss. That was it. My Russian tour was over. I was not an elite athlete, just a 22 year old kid playing as one. I sat down in disappointment and glanced at Alekna sitting two places to my left. His head was hanging low. The forty-year-old giant was staring into the ground defeated. While his 61.91 throw was one of the best throws I had personally witnessed, it was only enough to place him 16th in the qualifying round. He would not advance to the final for the first time in fourteen years. Fourteen years’ of meets where the word “Alekna” would strike fear into the hearts of competitors. Seven Medals between the Olympics and World Championships, four of them gold. I still wonder what thoughts were going through his head in those moments. Have I done enough? Is that the last throw I will ever take? What do I do now? How will I be remembered?

Alekna raised his eyes to the field and gave a solemn nod. He retired the following season.

Brooks Miller, at Earth Fed Muscle, challenged me to think about the “Hero’s Journey”, and what that journey means to me. He emailed me a cryptic chart of sorts that looks straight out of Homer’s sketchpad. One of the phrases on the chart that immediately caught my attention was Call To Adventure.

The internet tells me the following, “The hero begins in a situation of normality from which some information is received that acts as a call to head off into the unknown.” .

My trip to Moscow was not as exciting as Odysseus setting out to sea. I did not discover hidden magical powers, and Morpheus did not offer me any pills. But after that competition I was changed. I wanted to be great. And I wanted it badly. I was the Samoan Frodo and Alekna was my enormous, potato-dumpling-eating Gandalf. Although Alekna and I technically never spoke to each other...

This moment has stuck with me for years and years. I probably think of it every week. The moment where I see the embodiment of greatness and achievement. I close my eyes and I can still see him there thinking, thinking, thinking… This was the end of his adventure. An inspirational career surely full of hardship and triumph. I wanted that more than anything- and in Moscow I realized that. This was my Call to Adventure.

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