Controlled by Our Imagination, is sport and history and inspiration for us all. But more than anything else, it is The Neighborhood Motto.
Those who dream by day
are cognizant of many
things that escape those
who dream only by night.
– Edgar Allen Poe
CONTROLLED BY OUR IMAGINATION
written & developed by Kendall F. Person
On August 4, 1936, James Cleveland Owens, better known as Jesse, would flirt with disaster. A day removed from winning his first gold medal in the Olympic Games’ showcase event – the 100 meter finals – he had already established himself as the world’s fastest man by pulling away from the world class field at the 50 meter mark, leaving only dust in his wake; he also humbled a nation, that was beginning to believe in a demagogue’s ideology of their being a master race, called Aryans, In fact, it may have been that humility of a people, or at least a person, that served as the catalyst for Jesse Owens to become an Olympic hero and an American legend.
Sixty years later, on July 26, 1996 in the Summer Games in Atlanta, Georgia USA, Kerri Strug, a member of the United States Olympic Gymnastic Team – dubbed the Magnificent Seven – would under-rotate her landing on the vault during the final rotation, causing her to fall and badly damage her ankle. With the gold medal in the women’s team competition theirs to lose, and with the Russians, with equal jitters, breathing down their neck, the American team appeared on the verge of an epic collapse.
Jesse Owens was attempting to do what no other Track & Field Olympian had ever done before, and would not accomplish again for 48 years: win four gold medals at a single Olympiad. With the eyes of over 100,000 spectators inside of Olympic Stadium in Berlin, Germany upon him, millions more listening on radio around the globe, nerves finally begin to crack, as Jesse Owens would scratch on his first two attempts in the long jump competition. He would receive only one more try, should he not hit his mark, a failed attempt would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Meanwhile, six decades away, Kerri Strug waited patiently for the Russians to error, and gift the gold to the Americans, without her having to make a second attempt, for it was becoming excruciating to even stand. But as if scripted for maximum drama, it would be the American Dominique Moceanu, who would miss her mark, falling on both attempts, placing the Magnificent Seven’s legacy in the hands of a wounded Strug.
According to Alex Schlegel, a graduate student in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth University, our imagination lies in the human brain’s “mental workplace”, a neural network that coordinates activity across several regions of the brain…allowing us to focus intently and rapidly in order to solve complex problems and think up new ideas.* If the data is to be accepted, it is therefore imagination that separates humans from chimpanzees of which our DNA is 99% identical.** It is the imagination that allowed Paul Nipkow to send images over wires using a rotating metal disc, giving rise to modern day television. It is the imagination that served Dr. Charles Drew when he discovered a way to bank blood, revolutionizing the medical profession.*** And it was the imagination of South Africans that averted a bloody civil war by investing their hopes and emotions into a united symbol of peace. And it would be the imagination that would launch two Olympians, 60 years apart, into super stardom.
Rather it was humility he felt that prior day, the spirit of the Olympics or perhaps he was simply a nice guy, long jump silver medalist, Luz Long, a German both by birth and nationality, and according to Adolf Hitler, a member of the master race, would offer Jesse Owens a tip of valued advice. Jesse’s speed would propel him through the air, but in the competitive sport of long jump, there is a specific mark a jumper must not surpass before taking flight. Jesse missed the white board, located a short distance from the sand pit, on prior attempts, disqualifying the marks of both jumps. So Luz told him to jump prior to the mark, meaning he would have to fly a longer distance, but it was chance he had to take. Pressure overwhelming, nerves beginning to crack, Jesse shook it all off, rocked back into position, and like a rocket, blasted off into the orbit of long jumper’s lane.
When Dominique fell, Kerri looked at her coach, knowing what he was going to say, but she was in such pain, she had to ask anyway, “Do we need this?” Without flinching, the legendary gymnastic coach, Bela Karolyi, said, “We need you one more time for the gold.” Attempts to mask her limp failed, as she found her way to vaulters lane. The famed Georgia Dome fell silent and with television now a common technology, hundreds of millions watched from around the world. I have no idea what was in her mind, when she stood and stared at the vault, that had defeated her on the first try. But she paused for a moment, rocked back in her stance, and with the speed of a gazelle, made haste, moving closer toward the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.
To the crowds, their runs must have seemed like slow motion, but it took less than five seconds until they were forced to jump. They soared through the air, in Berlin, there was no flag raised, Jesse had hit his mark. In Atlanta, Kerri hit hers too, but while his problem was in the beginning, hers would come at the end. Jesse soared like an eagle, moving his legs as if he were propelling himself to fly. Kerri dove toward the vault, then somersaulted off, into thin air. And as gravity took hold, the Olympians began their descent. And in the tiny fractions of a second, in which they had to plan their escape, it was not prowess of an athlete, that initiated their go-to plan, but it was the mind’s imagination that shifted into high gear, devising a plan and transmitted signals to all parts of the body – in a neurological chorus of song – places, everyone take their places, as they were needed to deliver a once in a lifetime performance.
A few inches was no match for James Cleveland Owens, as he had willed himself far enough to stay in the hunt of what began as an unimaginable quest, but would end, in herculean success: quadruple gold. The imagination’s plan for Kerri was to land on one ankle, the good one, and hold her breath. She hit the floor, posed long enough to satisfy the judges, and while her body collapsed in pure agony, her heart, soul and mind, reveled in gold.