Uncover the Gold Medal Olympian in You

Louis L. Constan, MD

Physician's Money Digest, September30 2004, Volume 11, Issue 18

Imagine yourself in a large arena. A crowd of thousandsis cheering wildly. There are ear-to-ear smileson every face. It is a celebration of your achievement.You've worked hard for years and are finallyreceiving the recognition you deserve.

Alas, I'm not talking about your life. A person onlyreceives this sort of recognition at that celebration of athleticprowess we call the Olympics. Your life could neverbe so exciting. But shouldn't the accomplishments inyour life, the results of your special intellectual ability,and your determination to work long hours for years becelebrated to some extent?

I decided to get the answer from a gold medal winner.With my meager budget, I couldn't go to Athens, butI did snatch an interview with a little-known Olympianwhom I caught between planes at Detroit MetroAirport. Massimo Phalanges, the gold medal winner inthe obscure Olympic sport of fingertip pushups, providedme with the answer.

Dr. Constan:

What motivates you to spend 10 yearstraining for this obscure sport?

Massimo:

We Olympic champions do not really do itfor the fame.

Dr. Constan:

Really? You seem to enjoy the adulationof the crowd.

Massimo:

Sure, but that adulation is fleeting. We allknow that after the games are over, no one will rememberwho we are. We realize that they only care about uswhile they're watching.

Dr. Constan:

But a gold medal Olympian is the mostfamous athlete on earth.

Massimo:

USA Today

Only for the duration of the Olympics arethey famous. After that, everyone forgets about them.Other than female gymnasts and figure skaters, can youname one gold medal winner from any Olympics heldduring the past 20 years? Can you name a ping-pong orpole vault champion? When was the last time you founda special section in about these sports whenthe Olympics weren't on TV?

Dr. Constan:

Okay, while you don't get all the gloryand fame, you certainly must look forward to gettingfinancial remuneration with all those endorsement contracts,lecture fees, and book sales.

Massimo:

So, if we don't get the glory, we at least getthe gold? That's wrong. The gold in those medals, ifmelted down, would scarcely pay for a trip to DisneyWorld. And less than 1% of Olympians sign an endorsementcontract. As for lectures and book sales, when wasthe last time you bought a book about an Olympic goldmedal winner?

Dr. Constan:

Okay, but if it's not for gold and glory,why do you do it?

Massimo:

We do it for ourselves; we want the challengeof proving our abilities. We do it because it's theright thing to do. Isn't that why you're a doctor? You dowhat you do and you don't depend on others'approbation.When we win that medal, we know we're good.And we remember this for the rest of our lives, even ifothers forget about us.

Dr. Constan:

I guess I can understand what you'resaying. As a physician, I don't do it for the gold or gloryeither. Heaven knows that the gold is getting mixed withmore lead every year. And our government seems tothink we're no better than crooks, using trickery toextract money from the public treasury. Meanwhile, ourpatients seem more interested in getting us to help themwork the system. It's as though they only like us for whatwe can do for them—a back-to-work note, a signedform, a prescription for antibiotics.

Massimo:

Now you understand. Doctors have a lotin common with Olympians. The public appreciates usfor what we do for them. We help them feel proud abouttheir country. You doctors are only as good as the helpyou provide to cure sick patients.

Dr. Constan:

I guess we aren't doing so badly. Mostof us actually make some money in our chosen "sport."But tell me, isn't it difficult to keep on training day in andday out when there's no recognition?

Massimo:

That's what your fellow athletes are for.They understand what you go through. Why do youthink all those Olympians hug their teammates whenthey win? It's because those teammates are the only oneswho truly understand what their fellow athletes gothrough. Last year I was doing pushups every day, 8 to10 hours a day. One day, I became discouraged and consideredgiving up my Olympic dream. But my buddyAchilles Metatarsal, who has one of the fastest times inshoe tying, dropped by and gave me a hug, commiseratedwith me, and encouraged me to press on. I hope yourdoctor-readers understand that when they get discouragedthey need to seek support from their fellow doctors.They'll never get the real support they need from thepublic or politicians.

Dr. Constan:

What was the worst day you experiencedin your pushup career?

Massimo:

(sigh)

After my 636th consecutive pushup at the1996 games, I accidentally touched my thumbs togetherand faulted. In fingertip events, you can gain an unfairadvantage by leaning your thumbs against each other. Sothe rules say that if you even touch your thumbs together,you get faulted. It was awful. Four years of trainingdown the drain. And was I ridiculed—the laughingstockof the US Olympic team. Don't you remember? Nevermind, of course you don't remember. It doesn't matter,though. I came back in 2000 and won the gold, remember?No, of course you don't .

Dr. Constan:

But certainly there are good times?How do you keep going year after year unless there aresome good times?

Massimo:

Why do you think we do the dance of joywhen we win? We do that dance whenever we have avictory, even if it is a small one. I did it when I firstcracked the 1000 fingertip pushup mark. Doctors shoulddo it whenever they save a person's life, convince apatient to have necessary surgery, persuade a sick patientto take their medicine, make a difficult diagnosis, andstay up all night taking care of a sick patient even thoughthey're dead tired. When you know your patients needyou and you don't let them down, you should rewardyourself with a dance of joy. You'd be surprised howgood it feels to jump up and down while yelling, screaming,and flailing your arms in the air.

Dr. Constan:

In summary, you would say that asOlympians and physicians, we need to do our jobs outof a sense of personal fulfillment and that we'll be happierif we recognize this fact instead of expecting a ficklepublic to appreciate and reward us for what we do.

Massimo:

Now you've got it—you've really got it.That calls for a dance. Grab my hand, I'll raise it high,and we can dance together down the hall.

a family practice physician in

Saginaw, Mich, is the editor of the Saginaw County

Medical Society Bulletin and Michigan Family

Practice. He welcomes questions or comments at

3350 Shattuck Road, Saginaw, MI 48603; 989-792-1899; or louisconstan@hotmail.com.

Louis L. Constan,