With the Olympics in full swing, I’m virtually overdosing on inspiration. Each night I find myself absolutely glued to the TV, wide-eyed, and even sometimes teary-eyed, as I watch the amazing triumphs, near-misses, true grit and immeasurable passion unfold on the screen. When I finally go to bed — way too late — I dream I myself am immersed in the Olympic glory. I wake up to realize it was only a dream, and then head out to go chase that dream, more inspired than ever.
But amidst all of the incredible feats being achieved by so many at these Games, I’ve realized there are certain athletes who, for me, truly emerge as different from the rest. They stand out as extraordinary, and it’s not because of their medal count. So, what is it that makes these special few stand out? What makes them so inspiring? For me, the best athletes — and the ones whom I consider true idols — are also the best people.
Watching these Olympic athletes and their different characteristics and composure has me thinking hard about what an “idol” is to me, and why it’s so important to have one. In my mind, an athletic idol is someone you can look up to as both an athlete and a person; someone you aspire to be like on every level. It’s someone who makes you proud not just because of their accomplishments as an athlete, but because of the integrity of their character, and all they have done — and who they’ve been — along the way.
While there are many extraordinary athletes out there, I have found my idol right here in Truckee. At the moment, though, she’s in London, preparing for her fourth Olympic debut. She is Katerina Nash, a longtime Truckee resident who will compete in the Olympic mountain bike event on Aug. 11. Katerina has competed in three Olympics before, once in mountain biking and twice in cross country skiing, representing her home country of the Czech Republic. This season, she heads into London’s mountain bike event having just clinched third overall in the World Cup standings.
Needless to say, Katerina is an incredible athlete. But you would never know this if you sat down to chat with her, because it’s just not the type of thing Katerina would bring up. Instead, she’d ask about how you are doing, and how your family is doing. She’d chat about her dogs, or a recent outing she took in Truckee, the community she loves so much. The last thing she’d talk about is her own achievements. Because that’s just who Katerina is: humble to the core.
Katerina is everything I believe an idol should be. Not just a world-class athlete, but truly a world-class human being. She represents her sport, and our community of Truckee, in the best way possible by being a positive, passionate ambassador of what athletics are really all about. Despite the longevity of her success, Katerina continues to compete and train purely because it’s what she loves to do. She races for herself, and not for anyone else. She races because it is her passion. And in that effort, she invests her whole heart. Day in and day out, she pushes her limits in order to excel, and she does it with a rare balance of grit and grace, always with a smile on her face and a sense of gratitude.
Katerina is a fierce and exceptional competitor. But ultimately it’s who she is off the bike that makes her so special. She’s a remarkably down-to-earth, genuine person with a heart of gold. Anyone who has spent just a few minutes with her could attest to that. She radiates positive energy, and is the type of person you just can’t help but want to be around. And whether it’s by riding with fellow locals, donating her time as a guest coach for a local junior program, or even just hanging out at Music in the Park with friends, Katerina invests herself in her community; in our community. We are so lucky to have her, and I am so proud to call her an idol and friend. She is the type of athlete and person that I strive to be someday.
Thank you, Katerina, for reminding us what sport is really about. For knowing how to keep it in perspective and remember what’s truly important. For making us all so proud of the extraordinary person you are. Thank you for being a role model in a time when they seem so hard to come by. And when you take to your bike on Aug. 11, we as a community will be here rooting for you, standing behind you. Because there’s no doubt you’d be doing the same for any of us.
— Kara LaPoint is an elite amateur triathlete competing for LUNA bar, and working up to the pro ranks. She has earned numerous overall amateur podium finishes and age-group wins across distances from Olympic to Ironman, and finished the 2011 season ranked as an All-American nationally among her age group (25-29). Read more about her racing and training at www.karalapoint.wordpress.com. She may be reached at email@example.com.