Note: This post originally appeared on the MaRS Innovation website. It has been reposted here with permission from the author.
Olympians from all over the world are gathering in London, England for the Games of the XXX Olympiad.
For the thousands of athletes set to enter the stadium behind their countries’ flags, the Olympics represent the pinnacle of their athletic careers.
But the two-week competition will also be the beginning of a legacy that continues throughout their lives, returning to touch them in ways both expected and surprising.
Just ask Jackie Terry.
Terry, MaRS Innovation’s program administrator for the Proof of Principle fund, competed for Canada in the Air Rifle competition at the Los Angeles Summer Games in 1984.
“The opening ceremonies of course are very special,” says Terry, who was introduced to the sport when studying Chemistry at McMaster University. “There’s nothing like hearing that crowd and seeing the flame. It’s a rush, but I actually enjoyed the Closing Ceremonies even more. All the stress of competition was gone and I could mingle with friends and people I’d met, relax and enjoy the celebration.”
A former Champion of the Americas who was at one time ranked fifth in the world in the smallbore prone position, Terry was the Canadian women’s champion in air rifle when she went to L.A.
She knew the competition would be tough. “My best position was prone, but that wasn’t an Olympic event in ‘84,” she says. “There weren’t a lot of women in shooting in those days; in my early competitions, I often shot against men. My results were consistently strong enough that my coach requested funding to create a national women’s team.”
In L.A., the field was deep enough to keep Terry off the podium. “Olympic competition really is different,” she says. “The adrenaline can be overwhelming, and while you tell yourself to keep cool and that it’s just another event, it truly isn’t.
“In other competitions, my training allowed me to keep my heart rate below 30 beats a minute and breaking my shot on the downbeat,” Terry explains. “But in shooting, you compete in what can become an increasingly uncomfortable position. Sometimes the pain gets too distracting and you have to step back and regroup, even though you may not be in exactly the same position when you go back.
“You perform at your best and you can only control and influence your own outcome. Success comes to the athlete with the best focus and accuracy that day. You can’t influence someone else’s result.”
Shooting is among the first Olympic events to conclude. Following the competition, Terry attended competitions for equestrian, swimming, 4 x 100m relay, water polo and volleyball.
“I knew L. A. was going to be my last event,” she says. “I was determined to take it all in and experience as much as I could.”
Terry had experienced some trouble with her back—standing, kneeling or even lying prone with a rifle puts tremendous strain on a shooter’s body. Some athletes don’t know when they’ve reached their last competition, but Terry chose to see that knowledge as a gift.
“I worked full-time when I was competing,” she says. “My boss was great about giving me time off—like 12 weeks for the Olympic year—but I had other endeavours I wanted to experience as well as continuing my career and having a family. Retiring left an initial void, but I knew it was something I would look back on with so much pride.”
What she didn’t know was how the Olympics would continue to touch her life down the road.
For example, Terry was recently inducted into the Owen Sound Sports Hall of Fame in her home town. During the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, she and other former Olympians living in Burlington were invited to participate in a local ceremony with the Torch Relay.
She will be watching this year’s competition. “It’s always emotional for me,” she says. “You know what a rewarding experience they’re having, no matter how they finish. You’re in the moment for every competition and, in shooting, you have prepared yourself to make every single shot a 10.
“It’ll be fun to watch the 2012 athletes create part of their own personal legacies.”