How fast do things change? 25 years ago, if Odessa Swarts had turned on the news in 1991 she would have watched the US troops in Kuwait at the start of the Gulf War. Gorbachev was in power in the USSR, and F.W. de Klerk was President of South Africa under the rule of Apartheid.
Odessa was a sprinter but could not compete Internationally, as the World’s anti-Apartheid measures included banning South African Athletes from competition, including the Olympics.
That was despite her having the 100m and 200m sprint records in South Africa at provincial and national level. As she remembers, “I was known to be a very fast runner. They used to call me ‘the girl that runs like a horse’.”
From her reality in 1991, how much could change within 25 years? Within the year, Odessa gave birth to her son, Wayde. He was born premature and doctors said he could end up being disabled.
Odessa had different ideas, joking he was “fast from the start”. Wayde van Niekerk grew up in his mom’s fast footsteps, and also became a sprinter. And as he picked up speed, everything around the two of them that had held Odessa back fell away:
Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa. Apartheid ended. The USSR dissolved. A small piece of news that most missed in 1991 – Tim Berners-Lee announcing on Aug 6 1991 the first ‘website’ on something he created called ‘the World Wide Web’ – started a chain reaction that 25 years later has directly connected over half the world’s population on the Internet.
Odessa’s son could compete in the way she never could and this week, 24 year old Wayde van Niekerk smashed Michael Johnson’s 17 year world record in the 400m in 43.03 – and became the 1st South African to win an Olympic track Gold medal since 1928.
Odessa said “It’s just an emotion you really can’t explain to anyone… It was just crazy. For a few seconds there my voice was gone. I was cheering since the moment I heard the gun go, and when I saw him in the last 100m again I think that’s when everything came back.. because I was screaming and nothing was coming out”.
On the win and his life leading up to it, Wayde said “I believed I could get the world record. I’ve dreamed of this medal forever.”
In just 24 years it will be Olympics 2050. The politics and media of today will be a distant memory. Everything will again have changed. Athletes yet to be born will be winning Olympic medals and breaking records. What today might look impossible could easily become possible.
So in the midst of this change, are you focusing at today’s news – which isn’t what’s new, it’s what’s past – or are you focusing on the future you want to create?
Sprinters have no need for rear view mirrors as they are far more focused at where they’re going than where they’ve been.
And in today’s fast changing world, we’re all now sprinters.
So with Odessa and Wayde as inspiration, now’s a good time to ignore all the distractions and ask what future you want to create for both you and your family. Then get on the track, and enjoy the run.
A big congrats to Wayde van Niekerk and Odessa Swarts