Conversations by Candlelight: Reflecting on Several Types of Heroes

Age is a funny thing. It seems there is neither an age limit nor age minimum for amazing these days. The youngest Olympic athlete at the games this year is 15, while the oldest is 51. I’m pretty sure I was still awkwardly chubby from my youth, eating Girl Scout cookies, and pretending to know how to do any sort of physical activity at 15. I hope that when I am 51, I will be doing the same.

Fifteen is an extremely young age to be fronting the Olympic hopes of a nation, even if you are a phenomenon. The sophomoric 15-year-old me would not be able to handle the fanfare, the cameras, or the knowledge that back home there were hundreds of people judging me while eating Doritos on the couch. I needed more time to learn that people are the worst. At 51, I hope to give exactly zero damns about what people think of me.

But this is true throughout a lot of the sports world. People compete and peak at astounding ages when compared to their counterparts. For example, the average age in the NFL is 26.6, putting the average NFL player somewhere in the second year of an average medical student’s education.

That is only four years out of Colorado College! I know people years out of college who haven’t landed a job, much less peaking in a career that pays millions.

Students face the same situation, feeling a hilarious amount of pressure at young ages. The recruiting cycle has front-loaded beyond reasonable imagination. The youngest commit in the women’s lacrosse world was in sixth grade. I know for a fact that I had yet to shed my baby fat in sixth grade.

There are kids no older than a CC student who become heroes through sports; immortalized. Of course, Izzy Atkin ’21 is a wonderful example, being that she is both an Olympic medalist and a first-year CC student. It really makes you think.

I’m not writing a self-help column, but if I were, here’s where I would say: age shouldn’t be a crutch to lean on to avoid achieving something awesome. But like I said, I’m not here to motivate you—I’m here to remind you that, instead, it is also okay to eat your Fruity Pebbles and judge when an Olympian fails at something we are nowhere near performing.

I don’t write self-help, and I don’t write politics, though some days I wish I did so I could discuss something with a little more weight than sports. The extraordinary things that people can accomplish at a young age are worth celebrating. But while a 15-year-old was competing in South Korea, another died in a school shooting in Florida.

Sports can make heroes out of teenagers, but that all pales in comparison to the heroism of Peter Wang, who died holding open a door to allow others to escape during this event. He died alongside 16 other people, with their ages in almost the same range as Olympians, though most were younger than even the youngest athlete this year. Heroes were revealed that day. Stories were cut short that day. People who could have gone on to achieve great things at 16, 20, or in their twilight years will never have the chance to do so. I suppose age is just funny that way, and twisted, and unrelenting, and cold that way. The number of years you have been on the earth does not determine the limits of your ambition, but it also cannot keep you from the depths of the world’s cruelty.

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