Today is the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Engalnd. This year the United States has 539 athletes competing in 36 event categories. Watching the TV coverage leading up to the games got me thinking about the different athletes and what it took to get them there.  I started searching the library shelves and found a few memoirs from past and present Olympians.

 During the 2008 Beijing games, the U.S. brought home 110 medals including 36 gold. 8 of those gold medals came from one of the best swimmers in the history of the sport.

 
No Limits: The Will to Succeed by Michael Phelps

 “When I’m focused, there is not one single thing, person, anything that can stand in the way of my doing something. There is not. If I want something bad enough, I feel I’m gonna get there.”

Michael Phelps is one of the greatest competitors the world has ever seen. From teen sensation in Sydney to bona fide phenom in Athens, he is now — after the Beijing Games — a living Olympic legend. With an unprecedented eight gold medals and world-record times in seven events, his performance at the 2008 Games set a new standard for success. He ranks among the most elite athletes in the world, and is both an inspiration and a role model to millions. The incredible focus he exhibits in practice and during competition propels him forward to his unrivaled excellence. In No Limits, Michael Phelps reveals the secrets to his remarkable success, from his training regimen to his mental preparation and, finally, to his performance in the pool.

Behind Phelps’s tally of Olympic gold medals lies a consistent approach to competition, a determination to win, and a straightforward passion for his sport. Like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, he has learned to filter out distractions and deliver stellar performance under pressure. The road has not always been easy; from the very beginning, Phelps had to overcome physical setbacks and emotional trials. When he was younger, he was diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder; other kids bullied him; even a teacher said he would never be successful. Later, he had to work through injuries that jeopardized his career. In this book, Phelps talks for the first time about how he has overcome these and other challenges – about how to develop the mental attitude needed to persevere, not just in athletic competition but in life.

His success is imbued with the perspective of overcoming the obstacles that come your way and believing in yourself no matter the odds.

No Limits explores the hard work, commitment, and sacrifice that go into reaching any goal. Whether it is on the starting block during an Olympic swim meet or in the weight room on a typical day, Phelps’s dedication has led him to unparalleled excellence. Filled with anecdotes from family members, friends, teammates, and his coach, No Limits gives a behind-the-scenes look at the makings of a real champion. One of Phelps’s mottos is “Performance Is Reality,” and it typifies his attitude toward achieving his goals. It’s easy to get bogged down by doubt or to lose focus when a challenge seems out of reach, but Phelps believes that you can accomplish anything if you fully commit yourself to it. Using the eight final swims of the Beijing Olympics as a model, No Limits is a step-by-step guide to realizing one’s dream.

 

Vivian Stringer is a Basketball Hall of Fame coach that has brought 3 different women’s programs to the NCAA Final Four, and is behind only Pat Summit and Jody Conradt for women’s basketball coaches with the most wins. She has overcome prejudice early in her life and tragedy during the height of her career. Stringer was the assistant coach for the 2004 women’s U.S. Olympic team that brought home a gold medal.

 

Standing Tall by C. Vivian Stringer

“Lots of people have dreams, but C. Vivian Stringer is the dream—a coalminer’s daughter who believed when her Poppa told her there was no obstacle she could not surmount. And she lives that dream, teaching others to rise up to meet challenges, turning underdogs into champions again and again—on and off the court. This is the quintessential American story, of a woman and of a family pulling together against the odds. Standing Tall offers an important message of hope to so many.”
—John Chaney, Hall of Fame college basketball coachAt a time when heroes are too rare, C. Vivian Stringer sets a shining example. She has time and again shown character, fortitude, and heart, both on and off the hardwood, and in the face of unbearable loss. In Standing Tall, she shares her remarkable life story, inspiring us to find this fortitude within ourselves.“Work hard, and don’t look for excuses,” Stringer’s parents told her, “and you can achieve anything.” But her faith and perseverance would be tested many times. A gifted athlete, she had to fight for a place on an all-white cheerleading squad in the sixties. In 1981, just as her coaching career was taking off, her fourteen-month-old daughter, Nina, was stricken with spinal meningitis. Nina would never walk or talk again. Still grieving, Stringer brought a small, poor, historically black college to the national championships—a triumph hailed as “Hoosiers with an all-female cast.” In 1991, her husband, Bill—her staunchest supporter, the father of her children, and the love of her life—fell dead of a sudden heart attack, but that same year, she led yet another young team to the Final Four. Through these dark times and others—including her bout with cancer, shared here for the first time—Stringer has carried her burdens with grace. Given her history, it was no surprise that she led her team to respond to Don Imus’s slurs with dignity and courage.

Standing Tall is a story of quiet strength in the face of punishing odds. Above all, it is an extraordinary love story—love for the game, for the players she has coached, for her close-knit family, and for the husband she lost far too soon. It will resonate long after the last page.

 

Jim Abbott was born September 1967 in Flint, Michigan without his right hand. He prevailed over his disability and was the pitcher for the gold medal 1988 U.S. Olympic baseball team.

 

Imperfect: An Improbably Life by Jim Abbott

Born without a right hand, Jim Abbott as a boy dreamed of being a great athlete. Raised in Flint, Michigan, by parents who saw in his condition not a disability but an extraordinary opportunity, Jim became a two-sport standout in high school, then an ace pitcher for the University of Michigan.
 
But his journey was only beginning.
 
As a nineteen-year-old, Jim beat the vaunted Cuban National Team. By twenty-one, he’d won the gold medal game at the 1988 Olympics and—without spending a day in the minor leagues—cracked the starting rotation of the California Angels. In 1991, he would finish third in the voting for the Cy Young Award. Two years later, he would don Yankee pinstripes and deliver a one-of-a-kind no-hitter.
 
It wouldn’t always be so good. After a season full of difficult losses—some of them by football scores—Jim was released, cut off from the game he loved. Unable to say good-bye so soon, Jim tried to come back, pushing himself to the limit—and through one of the loneliest experiences an athlete can have.
 
But always, even then, there were children and their parents waiting for him outside the clubhouse doors, many of them with disabilities like his, seeking consolation and advice. These obligations became Jim’s greatest honor.
 
In this honest and insightful memoir, Jim Abbott reveals the insecurities of a life spent as the different one, how he habitually hid his disability in his right front pocket, and why he chose an occupation in which the uniform provided no front pockets. With a riveting pitch-by-pitch account of his no-hitter providing the ideal frame for his story, this unique athlete offers readers an extraordinary and unforgettable memoir.

 

One moment in sports that I’ll never forget is the 2001 US Open quarterfinals between longtime rivals, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. It was 5 sets of flawless tennis ending with a forehand from Agassi into the net. He writes about the match, and the rivalry with Sampras, in his 2009 bestselling autobiography. Andre Agassi is the winner of 8 Grand Slam championships and the gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

 

Open by Andre Agassi

 

From Andre Agassi, one of the most beloved athletes in history and one of the most gifted men ever to step onto a tennis court, a beautiful, haunting autobiography.Agassi’s incredibly rigorous training begins when he is just a child. By the age of thirteen, he is banished to a Florida tennis camp that feels like a prison camp. Lonely, scared, a ninth-grade dropout, he rebels in ways that will soon make him a 1980s icon. He dyes his hair, pierces his ears, dresses like a punk rocker. By the time he turns pro at sixteen, his new look promises to change tennis forever, as does his lightning-fast return.And yet, despite his raw talent, he struggles early on. We feel his confusion as he loses to the world’s best, his greater confusion as he starts to win. After stumbling in three Grand Slam finals, Agassi shocks the world, and himself, by capturing the 1992 Wimbledon. Overnight he becomes a fan favorite and a media target.

Agassi brings a near-photographic memory to every pivotal match and every relationship. Never before has the inner game of tennis and the outer game of fame been so precisely limned. Alongside vivid portraits of rivals from several generations—Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer—Agassi gives unstinting accounts of his brief time with Barbra Streisand and his doomed marriage to Brooke Shields. He reveals a shattering loss of confidence. And he recounts his spectacular resurrection, a comeback climaxing with his epic run at the 1999 French Open and his march to become the oldest man ever ranked number one.

In clear, taut prose, Agassi evokes his loyal brother, his wise coach, his gentle trainer, all the people who help him regain his balance and find love at last with Stefanie Graf. Inspired by her quiet strength, he fights through crippling pain from a deteriorating spine to remain a dangerous opponent in the twenty-first and final year of his career. Entering his last tournament in 2006, he’s hailed for completing a stunning metamorphosis, from nonconformist to elder statesman, from dropout to education advocate. And still he’s not done. At a U.S. Open for the ages, he makes a courageous last stand, then delivers one of the most stirring farewells ever heard in a sporting arena.

With its breakneck tempo and raw candor, Open will be read and cherished for years. A treat for ardent fans, it will also captivate readers who know nothing about tennis. Like Agassi’s game, it sets a new standard for grace, style, speed, and power.

 

 

Lisa

*All book descriptions come from www.amazon.com
 

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