MY maternal grandmother, Magdalena “Nena” Lagdameo-Penson, passed away last Saturday at 97.
I’m neither a professional athlete nor have I ever competed through the pain of losing a loved one. For mere mortals like me, it’s not hard to grieve and reminisce on the memories of having experienced my late grandmother because I don’t have to compete and play in a crucial contest the following day.
In a Washington Post article written by Kevin B. Blackistone on April 24, 2017, “The general public is expected to take time off to grieve,” Stephany Coakley, a Washington-based sports psychologist who coaches athletes in mental toughness, reminded me last week. “Almost all employers provide bereavement leave. The expectation is that athletes can play and perform through the pain. The expectation probably exists because so many athletes have done so in the past.”
“When athletes perform at a high level while in the initial stages of grief, it reinforces societies belief that athletes have something special,” Coakley said. “But what many elite athletes have is mental toughness, resilience, discipline and support not only from family, but their teammates, the organization and, yes, us in the adoring general public.”
Allow me to cite a few athletes who’ve managed to rise above personal tragedy to perform at a very high level.
From the same article, “In the middle of the 2104 Stanley Cup playoffs, Martin St. Louis, then starring for the New York Rangers, learned that his mother, Frances, suffered a fatal heart attack. Three days later, on Mother’s Day, he suited up in Madison Square Garden and scored the first goal of the game.
“On the eve of a Monday Night Football game just before Christmas 2003, quarterback Brett Favre found out that his father, Irv, suddenly died. Favre turned out on national TV, nonetheless. He threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns to lead his Packers over Oakland.”
I remember most vividly Joannie Rochette, a Canadian figure skater at the 2010 Winter Olympics in her home country. Three days before her short program, Rochette’s mother, Therese, who introduced her to skating and shepherded at every point through her career, suffered a massive heart attack and died just hours after landing in Vancouver, the site of the games.
Rochette decided to skate.
As Rochette skated onto the ice, alone, for her program, such a hush enveloped the arena that it seemed you could hear the breathing of others if you held your own breath. A few minutes later, as Rochette finished skating to the Uruguayan tango, La Cumparsita, whose lyrics begin, “The little parade of endless miseries,” she dropped her head and melted into tears as a standing ovation drowned out thousands of witnesses sniffling with tears.
Rochette was awarded bronze.
As witnesses to their feats of brilliance, strength, speed, and athleticism, we put professional athletes on a pedestal thinking they’re impervious to emotional pain, but they also grieve just like the rest of us upon the passing away of a loved one.
When they reach the crescendo of their victory despite the loss of a loved one, it only adds to their legend status and makes admirers out of the rest of us.