Olympic Spirit: Paying It Forward with Random Acts of Love

Kindness seemed to rear its lovely head in a big way over the last week, both here in the good ole’ US of A and afar in Russia. From medal-worthy sportsmanship in Sochi to random acts of love and pledges to pay it forward, the world’s cup runneth over with kindness. It was too difficult to pick just one person who put positivity out into the universe so, I am going to highlight all the heavy hitters who left the world a little better than they found it this week. Prepare to be inspired.

Shaun White Wins Hearts

Shaun White had a tough week when it came to bringing home the gold in the Olympic halfpipe competition, but he certainly made Ben Hughes and Katie Lyle feel like champions. After laying down an epic run in Tuesday’s qualifier, White went about his interview routine with the mass media. However, when he found himself near the area where two of his biggest fans stood, he turned his attention away from the throngs of interviewers, hopped the waist-high fence and greeted a boy and a girl who had flown all the way to Russia solely to watch him compete.

10-year-old Hughes and 19-year-old Lyle remember seeing him compete in the 2010 Vancouver games, but not in person and under very different circumstances; four years ago they were each fighting their own battle with pediatric cancer. Now cancer free, they had the opportunity to attend the Sochi games thanks to the Make-A-Wish foundation. It was a dream come true for both superfans to simply get to see White “shred the gnar” on the biggest stage in sports, neither imagining they would actually get to meet him. But meet him they did as White took time out of his Olympic competition day to greet two very loyal and overjoyed spectators. While a podium appearance didn’t end up being in the cards for White, his kindness helped make two special Olympic dreams come true.

Canadian Coach To The Rescue

I couldn’t tell you how many gold, silver or bronze medals Canada has won thus far in Sochi, but I can tell you that the sportsmanship medal goes to their cross-country ski coach, Justin Wadsworth. Hands down. In a display of what can only be described as true Olympic spirit, Wadsworth came to the rescue of a stranded Russian skier during the cross-country sprint semi-final on Tuesday. Nearing the finish, Anton Gafarov took a nasty fall down a hill, a spill that would leave him barely able to get back up. Determined to finish the race, he peeled himself off the snow and forged ahead. Unfortunately, Gafarov’s determination was no match for a ski that had completely broken in half when he took the tumble. Just as it looked like he may not be able to finish, Wadsworth came running down the hill, replacing Gafarov’s broken ski with a reserve ski he had been holding for one of his own racers, sending him on his way to complete his Olympic race. Despite clocking a time that left him well behind the competition, Gafarov crossed the finish line to roaring cheers from the Russian crowd. While Wadsworth was truly “surprised that anyone would care” or even notice his act of kindness, the world has recognized his willingness to jump to the aid of a competitor as the perfect representation of what the Olympics is all about. Bravo to Gafarov for having the tenacity to finish the race and to Wadsworth for helping an Olympian reach the finish line he deserved to cross.

Freestyle Skier Saves Sochi Strays

Gus Kenworthy is one-third of the USA podium sweeping men’s ski team, taking silver in the first ever ski slopestyle event at the Olympic games. Oddly enough, most people aren’t talking about his history-making performance on the slopes. Instead, buzz on the street revolves around his mission to rescue the five stray dogs that have won his heart in Sochi. Word recently got out that Sochi had a stray dog problem, with nearly 2,000 homeless, furry friends roaming the streets. Worse yet, Olympic officials were killing the dogs in an effort to ensure a clean image of the city. Naturally, this didn’t sit well with the 22-year-old dog lover so, when he came across four adorable puppies and their mom, he rounded them up, took them back to the Olympic village and vowed to find a way to keep them safe. In his spare time thus far, when he hasn’t been busy, you know, medaling at the Olympics, he has lined up kennels and vaccination appointments for the pups with the intent of bringing them all back home. The newly minted medalist will adopt one of the five, with his family and friends already vying to take in the other four. Kenworthy could have turned a blind eye to the strays of Sochi and focused solely on the games but, he chose compassion instead, proving that there is always time to make a difference. Congratulations, Gus Kenworthy! You now have a silver medal, a new puppy and the affection of all animal-loving girls in the world.

Dunk Your Kicks

Max Plotkin was diagnosed with cancer the day before his fourth birthday, but was lucky enough to beat it after a strong fight. Today he is happy, healthy and with the help of his family, has spent the last five years raising money to make life easier for other kids fighting a similar battle. On the day Max was diagnosed, his father remembers pledging to spend the rest of his life making a positive impact in the lives of other pediatric cancer patients and their families; if only Max could make it through. Fast forward a few short years and the Max Cure Foundation was born, with the mission of identifying families who need financial assistance while their child is undergoing treatment.

Through the “Dunk Your Kicks” program, Max’s foundation gives gift cards to families providing them with the means to buy the daily necessities they often can’t afford due to the high cost of treatment. In a program that has gone national, supporters are encouraged to donate their old sneakers, often “dunking” them through a basketball hoop after they have completed road races or at fundraising events. In turn, Max’s family sells the piles retired shoes to an international recycler, collecting one dollar for every pair. Thus far, the Plotkins’ chairty work has helped 77 families at 21 hospitals since 2008. They have taken over the New York City Marathon, roared on Capitol Hill, launched fundraising carnivals and hoisted up basketball hoops at golf outings and cocktail parties near and far. But, they aren’t done yet. Recently, the foundation has recruited team captains at schools across the nation to encourage everyone to emulate the Max Cure Foundations mascot, the lion. Max and his family want supporters everywhere to “Be Brave” and “Roar For A Cure,” helping them reach their goal of raising five million dollars.

Often when something terrible happens we forget that any good can come from it. This week, Max and his family remind us what it means to pay it forward, to insist on turning tragedy and grief into kindness and bravery.

A Message To Mom

Anyone North of the Mason Dixon line is grumbling about how tired they are of the snow. While it has been a rough winter to say the least, a boy in Chicago made good use of the in-climate weather this week, seeing a snow-covered parking garage rooftop as a blank canvas.

Will Hart wanted to send his mom Sharon, who is receiving chemotherapy treatments at Rush University Medical Center, a message with the hopes of putting a smile on her face. With the help of his father and uncle, 14-year-old Hart stamped out the words “HI MOM” in the snow atop the parking garage roof visible just outside her window. Clearly, mom Sharon was touched by the gesture.

“At that moment I was feeling the most pure form of joy you could imagine,” said Hart. “Something as simple as a message in the snow made me so happy, and I actually started crying a bit.

A short while later, Hart’s son had another surprise, asking his mom to look out the window once more. This time, she found an additional message in the snow, one meant for everyone in the hospital, the words “GOD BLESS U.”

A nurse at the hospital reported that news of the rooftop message spread quickly, a simple act of kindness bringing a great deal of joy. “I think it just warms the heart to see a child try to support their parent in such a lovely way,” said Jennifer Cranston.

The snow may seem like it will never end, but Will has melted all of our hearts with his kindness and love, reminding us that even a small gesture can evoke pure joy.

Are you reaching for the Kleenex yet? It’s okay if you are. The stories of kindness and love from this past week could easily bring a tear to even the toughest eye. I hope it warms your heart to know that there are always people helping people (or animals!) somewhere in the world, just because it is the right thing to do. Here’s to another week of good deeds, random acts and positivity!

Feature Images via USA Today, Fox Sports, Gus Kenworthy, The Max Cure Foundation and Time

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