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The Pursuit of Excellence

  • Cliff Young Contributing Writer
  • Published Jul 31, 2012
The Pursuit of Excellence

I developed an interest and a fascination for the Olympic Games when I was young.  I found myself captivated by those three short hours of television coverage each night on ABC’s Wide World of Sports (the precursor to today’s around-the-clock ESPN network).  

Even though the Games were only available in the evenings (after homework was complete) and often tape-delayed, the stories and images I followed taught me so much about desire, challenges, overcoming obstacles, the human will and world politics.

What left the most lasting impression on me were the “Up Close and Personal” narratives highlighting an athlete and their pursuit of the Olympic dream.  I was riveted and often moved to tears by stories of a family sending their child away to some far-off government-run facility to be taught, trained, and groomed to be an “Olympic hopeful,” or parents moving to a new city, sacrificing all they had so their child could develop in their gifted sport, or an athlete who overcame injury, handicaps and incredible odds to compete at an elite level.

No matter what country they were representing, the language they spoke, how they were raised, or what class of income they came from, every Olympic athlete shared one common thread - the pursuit of excellence.

Their “excellence” was not limited to only winning a gold medal, being the best in the world or doing something no one else has ever achieved, but also pushing themselves to perform at their highest possible level on the biggest stage in the world.

According to some reports, only 0.00005% of the populace is considered a professional athlete, so we can surmise a minute fraction of that number are probably Olympians.  Therefore, it would be safe to say most of us will never reach that pinnacle of athletic competition.

Nevertheless, that fact does not give us an excuse to live a lackluster, uninspiring, or purposeless life.  Just because our efforts and feats are not documented and transmitted for the world to see does not mean our “stage” or pursuits are any less important, quite the contrary.

1 Peter 4:11

As Christians, our endeavors are viewed by and represent Him.

I do not run like a man running aimlessly. 1 Corinthians 1:26

Even though some of us try to disguise it, oftentimes we, unlike Paul, do run aimlessly - following someone else’s lead, listening to what others say we “should” do, making the same mistakes over and over or tragically not doing anything at all.

Each of us has received God-given unique gifts in the person we are, different from every other individual.  We are positioned in our own special circumstance for a unique purpose for a precise time within a certain season of our life. 

How we may “feel” about the role we are presently in should not affect how we execute or perform in our situation.  With the limited amount of time we have on earth, we must strive towards our own personal excellence in all we do - whatever that may be and however it may look.

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body....Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor…so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  1 Corinthians 12:12

Although society has a strange way of determining and placing emphasis on certain roles and skill sets, the Bible makes it clear each of us has an important and vital function in the body of Christ, one no better than the other.  Whatever your purpose, don’t regard it as any less honorable or less important than anyone else’s.  Pursue it with all of your heart.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize.  1 Corinthians 1:24

For the past couple of years, I have run alongside thirty thousand other “athletes” in a local race to help raise thousands of dollars for a number of charities.  While most of us realize we don’t have a chance to win the race, many of us find other ways to run in such a way as to get the prize. 

Some run to be the best in their age-group, others for their gender, several for a team score, many for a “personal best” time, while a number consider completing the eight-plus mile course an achievement in and of itself.  Each is a pursuit of excellence.

In doing so, we are all part of something bigger than ourselves, and in the process we are also encouraging others to give more, work harder, run faster and persevere longer.

Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.  Hebrews 10:24

Scott Hamilton, American figure skater and Olympic gold medalist, was asked, “How did you end up becoming an Olympic skater?”  His response was, “I was always underachieving until my mother passed away.  It was in my grief that I decided to be the skater, and person, that she always thought I could be.  If I felt like backing off a training day, I would think of my mother and it prodded me to rise above my weakness that day.  To become an Olympian, you have to do whatever it takes to get better each day and work harder than your competitors.”

What gifts and passion has God blessed you with?  

Discover what pushes you to get out of bed each morning, what you can’t wait to take on and what you know you were created for.

Determine who or what will motivate you when you feel like quitting and use it in those difficult times when you feel like you can’t go on.

The pursuit of excellence is not easy. Olympians dedicate and sacrifice their whole life to being the best in the world by not accepting ‘no’ for an answer, pushing beyond the pain, sacrificing many things we know as commonplace, and striving to always get better.

Is this is what you do each and every day with your life?

You may never receive a gold medal nor be recognized on the street for your accomplishments, but you can run in such a way as to get the prize. 

Cliff Young is a contributing writer to Sandlot Stories (arose books), as well as the monthly column, "he said-she said," in's Singles Channel.  An architect and former youth worker, he now works with Christian musicians and consults for a number of Christian ministries. Got feedback?  Send your comments and questions to

Publication date: July 31, 2012