Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do

What wonderful stories of persistence and achievement we see daily in our newspapers during the 2004 Olympics—athletes overcoming obstacles, pursuing goals against great odds, staying focused in spite of difficulties.
Much like Fanny Blankers-Koen did more than 50 years ago.
Fanny was a track and field athlete from Holland. Only 18 when she went to the 1936 Olympics, Fanny finished fifth in women’s relay and sixth in high jump.
But her most memorable moment from the 1936 Olympics came when she got the autograph of Jesse Owens—the American sprinter who won four gold medals.
Fanny was inspired by Owens’ achievement and she kept training—keeping her eye on gold in 1940.
But by 1940, there were no Olympics. World War II had begun and the Olympic Games were cancelled for the duration. Thus, she had to wait 12 years for another chance.
By the time the next Olympics arrived, Fanny had married her coach and the couple was raising two children, with another baby on the way. When she went to London for the 1948 Olympics, everything seemed to be against her.
Her public thought the mother of two should stay home and take care of her children. And they told her so.
Years later, Fanny told the The New York Times, “I got very many bad letters, people writing that I must stay home with my children and that I should not be allowed to run on a track with short trousers.”
She insisted she was a busy woman but a good mother. She biked to practice with her two children in a bicycle basket behind her. Then the children built sand castles while she worked out.
“I had no time for much besides my house chores and training, and when I went shopping, it was only to buy food for the family and never to buy dresses.”
One journalist wrote that 30-year-old Fanny was too old to run. When she got to London, she pointed her finger at him and said, “I’ll show you.”
The British team manager didn’t even consider the Dutch runner a threat, dismissing her as “too old to make the grade.
But Fanny proved all the nay-sayers wrong. She was 30, a mother of two and in the early months of her third pregnancy, but Fanny gave it her best. In seven days she ran 11 races—winning them all.
She returned home with four gold medals. Back in Holland, Fanny was dubbed the “Flying Dutchwoman” and became an instant celebrity.
In Amsterdam, she was driven through the streets in a carriage drawn by four white horses. Some said it was as big a celebration as when the German occupation ended.
Later, she was knighted by the Dutch queen.
Fanny believed in herself when no one else did. She believed her goals were achievable and she worked hard for 12 years to achieve them. She silenced the nay-sayers and didn’t let anybody tell her what she couldn’t do.
And most important of all—she didn’t let her age get in the way.
What about you? Do you have dreams that remain unfulfilled? What obstacles are in the way? And is age a factor?
Remember Fanny’s example and keep your eye on the “gold.”
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at or visit

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