I’ve always believed long after the games have ended, Olympic athletes have the potential to continue inspiring. Some continue to inspire from the history books, their achievements becoming legendary. Others use their experiences to become valuable contributing members of society, giving back to their sport, their community, or their country. Jeff Blatnick did both. The former Olympic wrestler died last week following complications from heart surgery at the age of 55.
Outside of wrestling circles, Jeff Blatnick isn’t a household name. Yet in today’s world, where athletes are heralded and then plummet from grace, his death serves as a reminder to us that there are many athletes out there worthy of admiration.
In 1980 Blatnick was one of several hundred Olympic hopefuls whose dreams were squashed with the boycott. As he continued to train and work following the 1980 Games, the wrestler was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1982. Following grueling treatment which included surgery and radiation therapy, Blatnick finally got the chance to become an Olympian in 1984, an achievement itself worthy of a medal. Yet he did more than just compete. He, along with teammate Steve Fraser, was the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling. Any future Olympic competition was foregone when his cancer returned and chemotherapy was necessary. He was again triumphant, defeating cancer for the second time.
He could have used his experiences to sell energy drinks, wrist bands, and perhaps star in a reality TV show. Instead, he did television commentary, helped develop the sport of mixed-martial arts (MMA), and gave tirelessly to both his hometown and surrounding communities. At the time of his death, Blatnick volunteered as the wrestling coach at his children’s high school. Over the years he had served as a motivational speaker and donated his time to several cancer organizations.
Jeff Blatnick understood what it means to give back. That same spirit and determination which helped him overcome obstacles continued serving him. He was eager to get the most out of life, and much of what he viewed as rewards were from his own acts of kindness and generosity.
In several of the obituaries released last week, this quote from the former Olympian was included: “If you can win in adversity, you can win anywhere.”
Faster, Higher, Stronger.