I love the symbol of the Olympic flame. Lit by the rays of the sun in Greece several weeks before the opening ceremonies, the Olympic torch makes its way around the world by way of a relay to its final destination at the Olympic stadium in the new host city of either the summer or the winter Olympic Games. The flame remains lit through the entirety of the games and is extinguished during the closing ceremonies.
“Like the messengers who proclaimed the sacred Olympic truce, the runners who carry the Olympic flame carry a message of peace on their journey,” according to a fact sheet from the International Olympic Committee about the Olympic Torch Relay.
A fire that never burns out.
We have loved watching the Rio Olympic games as a family, cheering for team USA. But as inspiring and uplifting as the games are — as the games should be — I have been disgusted at the negativity and online criticism directed at some of these incredible athletes during these games.
Gabby Douglas, gold medal all-around gymnastics winner of the 2012 Olympic Games, came back to help her “Final Five” team get another gold. But she was unable to secure an individual medal for herself.
"You go from people's adoration to being the brunt of criticism and hatred," Douglas' mom, Natalie Hawkins said in an interview with CNN. "It is hard, because her nature is so giving and so kind."
Internet trolls started the catchphrase “crabby Gabby” when they thought Douglas wasn’t showing enough visual support for her teammates. There was also a huge outrage over Douglas not putting her hand over her heart during the medal ceremony.
"I tried to stay off the internet because there's just so much negativity," Douglas told ESPN. "Either it was about my hair or my hand not over my heart or I look depressed. ... It was hurtful. It was hurtful. It was. It's been kind of a lot to deal with.”
Douglas gave in to tears after she ended the interview with, "I've always said it was an honor to represent the U.S. You always do this for your country, and then, like people say, for yourself and other people."
But Gabby wasn’t the only athlete to receive criticism.
Shaunae Miller won the women’s 400-meter track event in a very unorthodox way by “diving” across the finish line, causing an outcry of whether or not her desperate move was “fair.”
“The only thing going through my mind was I have to get the gold medal,” the Bahamian native said in a USA Today article. “I don’t know kind of what happened. My mind went blank. The only thing I was thinking was the gold medal and the next thing I was on the ground.”
Even though laying out across the finish line is completely within the legal rules, many are saying it showed poor sportsmanship and set a bad example of what an Olympic athlete should look like.
Miller won and got criticism. Douglas lost and still got criticism. It seems there will always be people willing to douse another’s flame. What can we do to keep our personal fires of self-confidence burning bright?
I’m getting ready to send three of my four boys to school. And every parent knows your child doesn’t have to be an Olympic athlete to receive insults, or deal with nasty people who try to squash their light.
Throughout the day, I have noticed how many times I am ashamed to admit I am a “light squasher.”
“You are acting weird.” “You’re being dorky.” “You guys are so nerdy.” “Please stop, that’s annoying.” “I can’t believe you did that.” “Are you crazy?”
Weird. Dorky. Nerdy. Annoying. Crazy. These aren’t words to keep my boys' lights burning bright with confidence. I have been trying to make a conscious effort to choose my words much more carefully so as not to be another person to pour water on their precious, tender lights.
I like the analogy of teaching them to have an extra set of “matches” in their back pockets for times like those. Little reminders that will keep their fire burning as bright as the cauldron at the Olympic Games.
I need to remember to says things often such as: Remember I love you. Remember you are smart, capable, wonderful, unique and needed. Remember you can dream as big as you want. Remember you are of worth.
Don't let your fire burn out! Strike a reminder match when you feel you’re down to embers. Help light another’s flame.
Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.