8
Mar
2016

Olympian Ashton Eaton and his desire to explore

Since launching our OS Mars map a few weeks ago, we’ve had interest from far and wide. We’ve heard from map lovers and space fans in their droves, but we didn’t expect to hear from a world-record holding Olympian. American decathlete Ashton Eaton was inspired to enter the competition to design a map symbol for Mars. Ashton tells us how curiosity and the desire to explore have helped drive his athletic success. 

My life has been defined by athletics, so far. However it has been governed by something else; curiosity. Since I can remember I’ve had the involuntary urge to know “what’s over there?” In my younger years the daily foray into the backyard or neighboring woods was enough to satisfy the urge. But as we grow, so do our appetites. I hungered for greater undiscovered things. Around the same time I began to realize that there was so much stuff out in the world; so much to know. Since then I’ve wanted to know everything! “Why?” and “How?” sit in my mind like twin Jabba the Hut’s constantly wanting to be fed and entertained. They are only satiated by the low-error, high-scrutiny, no artificial solutions diet that is science. My natural tendencies led me to fall in love with exploration and science!  Image 1 Unfortunately my young enthusiastic ways were not always reinforced. Long before I reached high school I learned to stop asking “why” and “how.” The time constraints and controlled curriculum of the education system, despite the best efforts of teachers, don’t nurse persistent wondering. I understood things best by knowing how they were built. For example, when introduced to a new math equation I was initially concerned with how someone came up with it and why more than how to use it. If told it was derived from something else I wanted to know about that too, and so on. It’s unrealistic, but if I could, I would have asked someone to explain everything from the beginning of time! As a result I spent most of my academic years not really understanding much. And so I struggled. But we gain strength when passing through difficulty. What I lacked in the classroom I forced myself to grasp on the track.

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This mindset along with my innate curiosity has been the motivating force behind my efforts to achieve my athletic accomplishments. I’m always wondering how far I can jump, for example, then trying to understand the finer details of a technique, then using my findings to try and make my body go places it has never gone before. If I’ve jumped 8.23 meters can I jump 8.24? It is shocking how many things you learn about yourself, and the world, in pursuit of a frontier! I enjoy being an athlete and I will always consider myself one. But the time is coming when I will move on professionally. As I slowly segue from athletics I can feel the pull to explore something new again.

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The global system of today distributes massive amounts of exciting information that assail our attention. For me it’s like playing your favorite song on max volume: too much and not enough at the same time. Despite all the noise, space has intrigued me the most. If it’s exploration and undiscovered things I’m after I’m told there is plenty out there. More than that I find the collective efforts and byproducts of its enterprise to be generally audacious, inspiring and beneficial. While some think our efforts could be better spent “at home,” I liken our off-Earth exploration to the young bird that has grown and strengthened its wings. Even when it knows of the danger beyond, it yearns to leave the nest.

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Ashton’s blog reminded us that we can all explore, even on our own little patch of Earth. And our #GetOutside champions have been inspiring us to try new activities and push ourselves beyond our boundaries too. You can find out more about them here.

You can also find out more about Ashton and his desire to inspire on his website.

All images produced courtesy of Ashton Eaton.

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