September 3, 2004

First of Lasts

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Welcome to the first of many lasts. For the last time, I have started another year at Cornell. For the last time, I have written my first column of the year. For the last time, I have let opportunities slip through my fingers, forsaken fun and friends for work, worried about the future instead of relishing in the present. Though it’s taken three years for this revelation to hit me, it could not be more poignant, because, for me and every senior, all we do this year will be the last time we do it before graduation forces us out of Cornell and into the rest of our lives. But, regardless of whether you just arrived on North Campus or simply moved back in to your old house, there’s no better time than now to appreciate this place and take advantage of every opportunity it affords.

In part, the Olympics inspired me to this carpe diem approach, because, in sports, as in life, every second counts. Between the shot clock and the alarm clock, the first period or your first class, the 12th round and midnight, moments tick away and life unfolds. And, as the athletes competing in this year’s Games showed, those moments may come in the form of a hundredth of a second or mere tenths of a point, but they can result in lifetimes of wonder or pride.

All of the athletes in Athens recognize the significance of these small margins, which for them mean the difference between gold and fourth-place. Gymnast Paul Hamm took home a gold medal in the men’s all-around, while his South Korean competitor left with silver because a judging error reduced his score by fractions. Rulon Gardener, the defending Olympic heavyweight Greco-Roman wrestling champion, won some precious metal in August, but not the kind he left with four years ago. Bronze isn’t bad, but one point — one move in one five-minute match — made the difference between a repeat and his retirement.

Likewise, not one swimmer, diver, weightlifter, or walker takes for granted an inch of track or millimeter of balance beam. Whether in practice or the real deal, all give everything they have to win. But while the will to win joins these competitors across the board, one thing separates them harshly: time.

For some, the Athens games marked the start of brilliant careers; for others, the end of golden eras. For the first time, the tiny country of Kiribati sent competitors to the Games. For the first time, women wrestled for medals. And for the first time, swimmer Katie Hoff, and basketball players Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James performed with the world watching. But for five members of the U.S. women’s soccer team who have played together for 15 years, and five-time Olympic sprinter Gail Devers, these Olympics may be their last. The women’s booters ended their stint on top of the world — the best women’s players ever. ‘Melo and King James, on the other hand, didn’t bring home the championship, but at least they’ll have another chance. I’m not sure which option I prefer.

But, as is, I find myself left with only the former: one last shot to do it all and not much time to do it in. As new faces from North pour into Collegetown, we seniors will see the same friends we’ve had for four years. As the freshmen pick their classes, we will look for jobs and apply to grad school, with the day in May looming overhead. But, regardless of what happens, when one of my friends gets a job, we’ll hit the bars. And when one of them doesn’t, we’ll do the same, because this year really isn’t about results, it’s about time. Great times.

Maybe it takes a time like this to grasp the importance of a moment and finality of a period. And this year, as the moments on my Cornell shot clock dwindle, I know how I’m going to play the game: like it’s my last. And, come May, I may have exhausted every last ounce of energy I can muster, but, like Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly, Joy Fawcett, and Brandi Chastain, I will have left it all on the field and, hopefully, come away with a win.

Everett Hullverson is a Sun Assistant Sports Editor. Chew on This will appear every other Friday this semester.

Archived article by Everett Hullverson