The 2018 Winter Olympics are over. We were entertained by athletes who showed great conditioning, composure under pressure, ability to think quickly during an event, and graciousness in surprising moments of defeat. Generally I’m appalled by all the money spent (wasted?) on sports when there are so many needs in the world. But valuable lessons about priorities, motivation and perseverance can be gleaned from the stories of Olympic athletes.

Every time I watch an Olympics, I marvel at the athletes’ singular focus and the adversities many overcome to pursue their dreams. They train hours a day, sometimes for one-third of their lives. Even one injury - not to mention the strenuous training - would be enough to make me quit! Yet to Olympic-class athletes, injuries and problems are considered temporary setbacks on the road to a gold medal.

Some athletes in PyeongChang competed with broken bones in a hand or foot; one skater’s mother had died recently. I’ve heard of a Paralympic athlete who was missing part of her arm, and had the rest of the arm amputated so she could ski better. Why did they persevere? Because for years they were focused on accomplishing a certain goal.

Olympic-level determination can be found in other endeavors. Medical professionals give up good incomes to bring medical care to struggling countries around the world. Many young people have given a few years each to work for good through the Peace Corps. I know people, working outside of any organization, who help the homeless in our community.

But when you consider that most churches, groups working with our youth, and other philanthropic organizations have perpetual lists of volunteer positions waiting to be filled, we must conclude that many of us aren’t willing to devote even a portion of the time and effort to making our world better that Olympic athletes devote to sport.

Frequently I hear people complain about political or social issues, but they won’t take the time to write their government representatives to make their views known. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” and we’ve allowed the loudest voices to be lobbyists with personal/organizational agendas often out of sync with the common good. The lobbyists are motivated to persevere in their efforts at change; why aren’t we common folk?

My husband and I recently visited family in another state. Homelessness there continues to increase and most citizens are demanding the government get the homeless out of their neighborhoods. The current “solution” is establishing permanent homeless camps. That may help all parties temporarily, but doesn’t address the causes of homelessness. Unlike Olympians, no one wants to devote the necessary time and effort to reaching the long-term goal of eliminating homelessness.

We talk about solving problems, but don’t care enough to do the necessary work. Just think of the change that could occur if each of us gave just a little Olympic determination and effort to the problems in our communities!

I’m as bad as anyone about focusing on my own life and comfort. I feel like a sloth when I see physically challenged athletes compete in the Paralympics. I complain if the temperature is colder than I’d like when I need to do yard work — and why did the wind break that branch off the tree anyway? Watching the Olympics and Paralympics helps me recognize how much more work and self-discipline I’m capable of.

There are many activities that don’t require the time commitment of an Olympian to bring benefits. Volunteering an hour each month at the soup kitchen, your church, or your children’s (or grandchildren’s) school can make a difference. “Sacrifice” one latte, candy bar or restaurant meal each week, and donate the money saved in the course of a year to hunger relief, cancer research or a favorite charity.

We can combat evils that burden people by writing state and federal legislators about poverty, human trafficking and homelessness. Register to vote, and vote for candidates who run their political race with integrity. (Yes, I know that can be difficult!)

Making specific time for those activities can be part of a “training regimen”. As we get more experience, strength and self-discipline we can move on to tougher “events”. You’ll be encouraged if you find like-minded individuals and work together.

Government can’t save us. It will take an Olympic-sized effort from her citizens to make America great again. Having just been inspired by the Olympics Games, it’s a great time to determine our goals and priorities, refocus and get to work.

Suzan Loda specialized in the Sofa Snacking event during the Olympics. She can be reached at suzan-uncommonsense@outlook.com.