Like most of you, I rejoiced in the thrill of victory of so many U.S. athletes at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. I had a lump in my throat as I saw our champions on the medal stand, gold medals draped around their necks and tears in their eyes, as our national anthem played.
Most U.S. Olympians were obviously moved by the opportunity to represent America. Their love of country, along with their dedication and perseverance in the pursuit of excellence, brought to mind the Olympic motto -- "Faster, Higher, Stronger" -- and inspired all of us to redouble our efforts and lengthen our stride to achieve our own lofty goals.
Those aspirations were reinforced recently as I had the opportunity to listen to former U.S. Olympian Jim Shea speak at my annual Utah Conference for Seniors. At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Shea slid his way to gold and into American hearts when, after his winning run in the men's skeleton, he hoisted a picture in the air of his grandfather, Jack Shea, who had been killed 17 days earlier by a drunk driver..
Jack, who won two speed-skating gold medals at the 1964 Winter Games, was one of Jim's biggest boosters and inspirations and would have been in Park City to watch his grandson if his life had not been cut short. So it was fitting for Jim Shea to pay tribute to his grandfather after winning a gold medal of his own.
As Shea spoke to Utah seniors about his 2002 Olympic experience, he briefly recounted what it took to get there -- sleeping in cars all over the U.S. and Europe to save money, sledding with second-rate equipment and trying to persuade company executives to sponsor him so he could continue training for an Olympic medal in a sport that was, at the time, not part of the Olympics.
Talk about a tough sell.
Fortunately, he was able to talk Mitt Romney, head of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, into making the skeleton an Olympic event. And when the 2002 Winter Games came to Utah, he was ready and up to the challenge.
While all that speaks to the character of Jim Shea, nothing he related at the conference impressed me more than when he reminisced about 9/11. Training in Calgary, Canada, at that time, Shea listened to some of his fellow American athletes talk about possibly competing in uniforms without any USA insignia on them. They were worried that being identified as American athletes would make them a target for terrorists.
As he listened, Shea became angry. And the more he heard, the angrier he became -- and he did something about it. He took all his clothing and gear and had "USA" emblazoned on them in extra-large letters. His red, white and blue helmet also sported our national symbol, the American bald eagle.
"I wanted to make a statement that I was proud to be an American, to represent our country and stand up for the USA. I wasn't worried about my personal safety," Shea said.
And I couldn't be any prouder of Jim Shea.
Not only did he make a stand, but his example serves as a clarion call for us to stand with him. We may not all be U.S. Olympians hurtling 80 mph down a track on a sled, but as American citizens we all represent our country -- at home, work and in everything we do.
Therefore, it is incumbent for each of us to represent our great nation the very best that we can -- with distinction, dignity and honor. May we all strive to ensure that our actions bring credit to America and attest to our worthiness to be called an American.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah