Thought for the week

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THE OTHER day there was a television programme on about athletes who were already in training for the next Olympic Games in 2012.

Their fierce dedication was almost frightening for someone like myself whose idea of sport is watching the annual Oxford and Cambridge boat race on the ‘box’ or an unhurried game of table tennis. But some of the stories behind the Olympics and those who take part are interesting and inspiring in themselves.

Even I have heard of Eric Liddel. But how many people in this country have heard of Bill Havers, an American who was remembered for his absence rather than his performance?

For serious athletes, competing in the Olympic Games is a lifelong dream and Bill Havers looked forward to fulfilling his own dream as one of the four-man American canoe racing team in Paris in 1924, the year when canoe racing was introduced to the Games.

But as the time for the Games approached, it seemed likely that Bill’s wife, who was pregnant, might give birth to their first child at home in America, and Bill was faced with a dilemma.

Should he go to Paris and risk missing the birth or give up his dream and withdraw? In 1924 there were no jet air liners from Paris to the United States, only slow ocean going ships.

His wife insisted that he go to Paris. She knew how much it meant to him, but Bill felt conflicted and after much soul searching and prayer he decided to withdraw and remain at home where he could support his wife when the child arrived.

But, as it happened, he need not have done because she was late in giving birth to their child, the team he had dreamed of joining won the gold medal in Paris and Bill could have competed and still returned home in time to be there for her.

People’s hearts went out to him and it can’t have been easy for him. But he was happy for the team and their victory for their country, he loved his wife and their new son and was so proud of them that he meant it when he claimed for the rest of his life that he had made the right decision.

Bill had the strength to say ‘No’ to something he truly longed for in order to say ‘Yes’ to something which truly mattered. It was the only way to peace for him and he truly had no regrets.

The baby was a boy and they called him Frank. He inherited his father’s love of canoe racing which they often enjoyed together. Twenty-eight years after his birth, Bill received a cablegram from Frank who was in Helsinki where the 1952 Olympics were held. It said, “Dad. I won! I’m bringing home the gold medal you lost while waiting for me to be born!”

Frank Havers had won the Gold medal for the United States in the canoe racing event, a medal his father had dreamed of winning but didn’t, about which Bill had no wasted regrets.

Thomas Kinkade said most beautifully: “When we learn to say a deep, passionate ‘Yes’ to the things that really matter, then peace begins to settle onto our lives like golden sunlight sifting to a forest floor.”

Bill Havers learned to say ‘No’ in order to say ‘Yes’ and he found that peace. A useful thought for Lent!

Jennifer Humphrey

St Margaret’s