#TBT "Going for the Gold"

Tomorrow is the beginning of the Summer games in Rio. Many of us will watch athletes from across the globe compete and cheer for the home team. 1996 was also a year for the Summer games. The XXVI Games of the XXVI were held in Atlanta that year. For today's Throwback, we have an article Nancy wrote about that year's games.

I'm a sports enthusiast, but I don't normally watch whitewater events or target shooting or even boxing. But this is different. This is the Olympics. And every four years, the entire world watches, as if in a trance, while athletes compete and go for the gold.

What is it about the Olympics that captivates us? Is it national pride that causes us to become instant sports fans? Or does the competition itself transcend the normal geographical and cultural boundaries? My theory is that what we really love abut the Olympics are the stories. The stories of triumph. The stories of defeat. That gold medal symbolizes the best we can be, and, sometimes, symbolizes the unattainable. The sport is simply the means to the end. After all, is it really that exciting to watch people running in circles or swimming in laps in a pool or rowing down a river? And how many times has Mary Lou Retton used her somersaulting skill since leaving gymnastics? The exciting moment comes when that athlete, that person from Hometown, U.S.A., or Hometown, Ethiopia, or Hometown, Argentina, steps up to go for that gold. We know their names. We are told their stories. We see their families. Many times, we get glimpses of their grueling training sessions. Practice, practice, practice...that's not exciting. But going for the gold. Now, that's exciting.

Budgeting, managing your finances, even investing...these are not exciting to most people. But money touches every area of our lives. And how we manage our money, in many ways, determines our stories. And in the game of money management, it is the stories that I love.

The story of the young couple just starting out...

They decide to start a savings program. They open an account with a stock mutual fund, and they contribute to it monthly through a bank draft. They open a money market account to handle emergencies. They pay off their credit card debt and resolve to pay it off each month. Not very exciting, huh? But their gold medals come in the form of a new house and a new baby. Now, that's exciting!

The story of an older couple facing failing health and continuous nurse care...

They have lived their whole lives preparing for this moment. They have lived on a budget, always putting aside some each month for that rainy day. And, little by little, they have, over a lifetime, accumulated more than most of us will ever see. They didn't do it by striking oil in the backyard or by getting a large inheritance from a long lost aunt. But when it came to fiscal responsibility, they just practiced, practiced, practiced. But that's not exciting. What is exciting is that they now have enough to cover whatever happens in their final years.

The story of a single woman and family...

She watches her pennies and her investments like a hawk. She looks for the best bargains in laundry detergent as well as in insurance. She tries to understand the financial markets and searches for investments that "grow" her money. Being wise about money has allowed her to raise her children, start her own business and travel at will. Talk about exciting!

The story of a single woman in mid-life...

She has done what most of us do, consumed her income and then some. She has neglected her retirement. She has used her credit cards too freely. She has not saved for emergencies. In short, she is not prepared for the games. There will be no gold medal for her. At best, all she can hope for is to be able to finish the race. That's not exciting.

The story of a small company...

The owners have a wonderful idea for a business, but they don't do their homework. They don't know if anyone wants their product. They don't know how to market their business. They don't know how to get the money to finance their ideas. They don't make projections for income and expenses. Again, they are not prepared, and they wonder what when wrong when they declare bankruptcy. This kind of excitement knocks you out of the games.

What a thrill it is to watch those athletes standing on the podium as their anthems are played and their flags uplifted! But these people did not get to this point overnight. Remember the stories--the story of Kerrie Strug who made that final vault even though she was hurt. The story of the woman from Ethiopia who crossed the finish line, winning first in the women's marathon and looking like she could run another 26 miles. The story of Mary Ellen Clark who overcame vertigo to compete again in platform diving. The story of the Greek gymnast who captured the first gold medal for his country in this century.

These are stories of grit, determination, and sacrifice. These are stories of people who committed themselves to a way of life that required practice and hard work. Not very exciting, huh?

And what of your own story? What is your gold medal? And do you have what it takes to stand on the podium? Will you understand that your money and how you manage it is just a means to the end? Will you have the discipline to save and invest and make the short-term sacrifice for the long-term goal? Or will your financial muscles be too weak to carry you the entire race?

Years of unexciting drudgery for one moment of glory. That's what the Olympics are really all about life. Sports imitates life.

Go for the gold!

-- Mississippi Business Journal August 5, 1996

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