Last night, Katie Ledecky won her 4th gold and 5th medal of this Olympics, setting a new world record in the 800 m freestyle. By 11.38 seconds. That's twenty times the margin of many races, or more. Here is her photo from the news:
After the heartbreaking defeat of the US women's football team, this was happy news indeed. But one has to wonder, how do you sift through the best swimmers all over the world and come up with an individual who is THAT MUCH better than her contemporaries, and 80 seconds faster than the comparable Olympic races of my childhood? How do human beings keep breaking records? Is there a limit to human speed and strength?
I don't know, but I am speculating that Ledecky's performance rests on a long historical foundation that enables athletes to push the margin just a bit further in each generation. A culture of valuing sports and achievements for women. Earlier and more consistent training, and pool access. Coaching techniques improve. Swimwear improves. Nutrition improves. Someone finesses the art of the turn. I don't know, but the proverbial wheel doesn't have to be reinvented from scratch for each generation, and that must help in some way, because the Olympics remind us that people keep achieving beyond our dreams.
The Lubwisi trip reminded us of that too. Rich and Alie B spent so many years on that orthography, which enabled the Tabbs and subsequently Charles and Hannington to translate the New Testament. We were there with D.H., who was doing village visits for community health for years before we arrived, so we could start new programs and significantly expand medical outreach. P.L. was there too, who had supervised clearing land and laying a foundation for our house before we arrived, so our house construction progressed to liveable in only 4 months, and we later had the energy for innovations like a flush toilet and improvised solar hot water. In probably any sector where we can think of our own work, we can acknowledge that we stood on broad shoulders of those who enabled us. People who came and lived in tents to negotiate the sites of initial housing, teams who invested in those buildings, who figured out how to import vehicles, who preached the Gospel and made friends. We didn't have to start from scratch, so we could go a little further. And so it goes for wave after wave of missionaries. Today's group might come to an established hospital or school, to houses that might need repair but are standing, to church denominations with 2nd or 3rd generation leaders, to accessible education and medicine and electricity and clean water. Which doesn't mean the work is any easier. What it means is that instead of laboring to collect rain water in a gutter, they can be consulting on a massive water purification system to serve tens of thousands. Instead of hours trimming the pesky kerosene fridge wick to slight coolness, they can plug in a humming electric unit and spend their energy on more important things. In the next decade, they will far surpass all that has gone before, and we will cheer.
So we celebrate Ms. Katie Ledecky, and her coaches, her team, her family, her relentless hard work, her discipline, her achievement. And as record after record falls, we celebrate not only the current tip-of-the-pyramid athlete but the historical mountain of people whose work brought them to this pinnacle. Our community stretches across cultures and through generations; our blessings flow from the sacrifices of others. And we pray that our little pushes in 2016, our small losses and sufferings, bear an eternal weight of glory for those that follow.