London 2012. It’s been an incredible year for the Olympics – amazing athletes, strong performances, incredible stories. After I covered Lopez Lomong in my last column, I received dozens of messages from people who were inspired by his life, by the hardship he overcame just to be there. And I’ve been reminded time and again that some of the strongest people have had to overcome the most daunting of obstacles.

For these remarkable individuals, hardship is only a starting point. It’s never the end of the story.

For Lopez Lomong, being kidnapped at the age of 6 in Sudan was the starting point for a life marked by forward thinking and incredible strength of spirit. Ten years in a refugee camp added momentum – not dead weight – to a young man of relentless optimism.

Four years ago Australia's Nathan Outteridge capsized only meters from victory in Beijing. The young man with a passion for sailing spent hours agonizing over what had proved to be the mostly costly mistake of his career.

But for Outteridge, losing wasn’t the end of the story and winning wasn’t everything.

Back in 2005, Outteridge had fallen asleep at the wheel and run into a tree. The accident left him in a body brace with a broken back, and doctors said he could have been confined to a wheelchair for life. Remarkably, he made a full recovery. And today, looking back on the accident gives him perspective on life.

Outteridge says that after recovering from the tragedy that nearly left him paralyzed, "Anything else is a bonus.''

For Gabby Douglas, falling off the balance beam in her final competition seemed like a less-than-optimum way to conclude her winning streak. But her flawless recovery revealed an inner strength, a determination to move forward after failure. "Coming into bar finals was a big challenge for me,” she said later. “I made a little mistake, but I'm human.”

In the Olympics – and often in life – it’s not always about a pristine performance. Sometimes it’s about picking yourself up after a painful defeat, or moving forward in spite of an initial failure. While we all love to see a clean performance, an error-free match, a perfect run … that’s not always life. That’s not always our lives.

As the Olympics draw to a close, it’s helpful to remember the power of recovery. That strength of spirit that comes from dusting yourself off when you tumble off the metaphorical balance beam of life. That moment when you decide that failure isn’t going to be the end, that pain isn’t going to finish you, that hardship is just the beginning. It’s moments like those that define us. We are more than the mistakes that we have made and the pain that we have endured. We can’t always win. But we can recover, we can move forward – and we can be stronger than ever.

Kristin Wright is a columnist and contributing writer at ReligionToday.com, where she focuses on global human rights and religious freedom issues. Kristin has covered topics such as bride trafficking in North Korea, honor killings in Pakistan, the persecution of members of minority faiths in Iran, and the plight of Syrian refugees. She has visited with religious minorities in Pakistan, worked with children at risk in Mumbai's “Red Light” district, and interviewed individuals on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kristin can be contacted via her website at kristinwright.net or email at kristin@kristinwright.net.

Publication date: August 10, 2012