We are a nation divided – Republicans and Democrats, sweet tea vs. unsweetened tea, those who love Barry Manilow and those who hate Barry Manilow.
Now we are divided on Nathan Sorrell as well. Nathan is the 5-foot-3, 200-pound 12-year-old boy from London, Ohio, featured in a Nike Olympics commercial. The commercial showed Nathan jogging down a lone highway, huffing and puffing, his shirt soaked with sweat, against a somber voiceover about finding your greatness.
There are those who think the commercial was inspiring and those who think the commercial was raw exploitation.
Critics claim the commercial equates becoming fit with greatness and sends a hurtful message to those who are obese. They point out that a young man does not have to run to find greatness, that he can find greatness in art, math, literature or other fields.
The ones who claim that the commercial was inspiring are saying, “GO, NATHAN, GO!”
This much we can agree on: Not many people will find greatness sitting on the couch all day eating chips and playing video games. Nor will many find greatness eating frozen pizzas into the night while watching the Cartoon Network.
Greatness often requires that you get up and move.
Nathan’s first move was to answer a casting call for a Nike commercial searching for a young person of a certain build. He wanted the spot. He went for it and he got it. That’s not exploitation, that’s success.
Yet, objections to the message that being fit is the equivalent of greatness, carry some weight as well. Oprah has had her ups and downs on the scales, Elvis was far from willowy in his later days, and if theologian G.K. Chesterton were alive today he would need to book two seats on a plane. Size does not obscure accomplishment.
The common denominator to any sort of greatness, physical, mental, creative, is self-discipline. Self-discipline is in such short supply today that we cheer like mad for it wherever we see it. It’s why we don’t catch the irony of rooting for our favorite contestant on “The Biggest Loser” while eating a bowl of ice cream. It’s why we love the Olympics. Most of us can’t pole vault, swim for speed or do a gymnastics floor routine, but we appreciate someone who can.
It is the mastery of impulse, that ability to deny temptation, ignore the distraction and refuse to quit, that opens the door to greatness. The challenges can be as varied doing 100 crunches, saying no to dessert, memorizing chemistry formulas or formulating a business plan.
Nathan Sorrell and his mother have said they plan to slim down together. They joined a gym and will be exercising. They’ll be exercising their bodies as well as self-discipline.
Nathan may very well have taken the first step to finding greatness and, along the way, he may have motivated others to get off the couch. Pretty great, if you ask me.
Lori Borgman is a columnist, author and speaker. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org