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Olympic spirit something we can all work toward

As the window closed on the 2008 Olympics for swimmer Michael Phelps this week, he emerged from the water carrying eight gold medals for the United States of America and seven new world records. Since the games debuted in Beijing, China, earlier this month, Estacada residents and millions of viewers around the world watched in awe as Phelps dominated the competition and defied the odds at times, beating Serbian Milorad Cavis by .01 seconds in the 100-meter butterfly, and surging forward in the water as the competition was gliding into the finish.

In the first full week of the Olympics, dozens of athletes like Phelps showcased their talent in competitions that matched the best of the best in the world. Phelps will leave the Olympics a legend, becoming one of the most decorated Olympic athletes in history with a total of 16 career medals: eight in Beijing, six gold and two bronze in Athens.

But when the excitement of the Olympics are over, regular programming returns to NBC, and you're left wondering what the future holds for China. There's a lesson to be learned by watching the greatest athletes on earth compete for the gold, silver and bronze.

You don't have to be a superhuman athlete with your own fan club and paparazzi to make a difference. But you can make a conscious decision to be your best self, give up a bad habit, change careers, overcome your fears and make every second of every day matter.

The Olympic performances we have witnessed were born out of personal sacrifice, dedication, commitment and an unyielding spirit, to get the most out of every training exercise, every practice and every you-can-do-it-I-know-you-can lecture. Everyone of us harbors the same passion for something as the Olympians. It may not be athletic in nature, but there's a hidden talent in everyone waiting to be discovered and shared with the world.

Maybe you're already on your Olympic tour, having developed your talent after years of dedication. Or maybe you've just discovered what really excites you and motivates you to wake up in the morning. If you're not there yet, it's never too late to start training, developing your talent and reaping the rewards of your efforts.

Phelps may have some natural abilities that helped propel him to the top of his game, but there's no doubt his victories came from countless hours of training and swimming. While Phelps will return to the U.S. with eight gold medals, the real victory is in his dedication to years of practice, drive to excel and commitment to becoming the best.

That's the Olympic spirit each of us can harness to improve our own lives. It's not what we do once with our all hearts and every ounce of strength that matters nearly so much as that which we do every day. Too often we claim to be a helpless victim of our circumstances, rather than actively seeking positive change. Too often we become complacent with jobs, relationships and exercise, and that's when life starts to seem like one big rat race.

Instead of giving into the remote control, another bag of chips and the numerous excuses you've come up with for why you're not getting the most out of life, add a little Olympic spirit to your life. When the games are over, pick up the torch and carry it to your own personal finish line.