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Olympic athletes are the poster children for stretching beyond personal comfort zones and taking risks. But, how far should they go? How far should any of us go? People do have limits. A small child cannot reach the top shelf in a closet or get on certain rides at Disneyland. Which leads me to another lesson from the Olympics:

Lesson #3   Know your limits

Earlier in the Sochi Olympics, Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko made a remarkable comeback and helped his teammates obtain a gold medal. A year ago,  31-year-old Plushenko went through serious back surgery and was not expected to skate anymore. However, through hard work and the encouragement of fellow Russians, Plushenko did a fantastic job last week.

On Thursday, he was already on the ice and set to begin his short program. He was clearly in extreme pain and left before ever skating. Later, Plushenko said he could not skate due to severe spinal pain resulting from warm-ups that night. Now, fellow Russians condemn Plusheko’s decision, and he is getting bad press. One politician said Plushenko should, “Perform through the pain for the honor of the country,” Huh? Should someone risk another complex back surgery for the country’s honor? This is the twenty first century, not ancient Rome.

Plushenko has a family and hopefully a future. Why risk that? Why take the chance of further injury and pain? At some point, people have to be honest and accept their limits. They must weigh the rewards against the potential long-term damage. A younger athlete might have pushed on, the glory of medals too much of a lure. But the “elderly” Plushenko used his common sense, which is what adults do.

NBC interviewed Plushenko after he pulled out. He said, “I am normal people like you. I’m not robot. I try my best and I try to go ’til the end.”

That’s right: he did his best, pushing, taking risks, and making a comeback. He is a real person, not a symbol of excellence for Russia. When the pain from the earlier performances became overwhelming, Plushenko knew he had limits. His countrymen need to cut him some slack and offer thanks for all his years representing them. Plushenko is a mature role model for knowing his limits.

And that politician? Siberia for him.

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