When I recall movies I’ve seen, whether I saw them yesterday or 20 years ago, I tend to think of them in fragments — disassociated images or pivotal scenes that stick in my mind for various reasons. In the case of the 1993 Disney film “Cool Runnings,” what always comes to my mind first is one particular scene. This scene not only sums up the entire movie, but also presents an important lesson I personally reference often.
If you’ve never seen it or heard about it, “Cool Runnings” is loosely-based on the real-life story of the first Jamaican bobsled team to enter the Olympics. It’s a fun movie — the setup alone pays off with countless gags and laughs as four Jamaicans who’ve never even seen snow before travel to Canada. Watching the team prepare to compete at the Olympic level in a sport they barely understand is nothing short of good guffaw-inducing fun.
But there’s one particular scene that makes “Cool Runnings” truly memorable. The scene is between the team’s coach, a guy named Irv (John Candy) a disgraced Olympian who cheated to win, and Derice (Leon), the captain of the Jamaican team.
First, a little background: Derice had made it his goal in life to win an Olympic gold medal. In his mind, he believed that if he could do that one thing, his whole life would be deemed successful. When he didn’t qualify in the 100-meter dash to compete with the Jamaican team in the Summer Olympics, he turned his attention to bobsledding. Derice was so singularly focused on what he thought was important that he began to forget who he was. He began to alienate his friends and tried to be something he wasn’t.
And now, the pivotal scene that’s stayed with me since I first saw it, and which elevates this light-hearted movie into something special: The night before the final competition, Derice is sitting in his room going over the course layout. Irv comes by to see if he needs anything, and Derice answers, yes, there is one thing: He needs to know why Irv cheated in the Olympics.
Irv doesn’t hold back. “It’s a fair question,” he replies. “It’s quite simple, really: I had to win. You see, Derice, I had made winning my whole life, and when you make winning your whole life, you have to keep on winning, no matter what. Understand?”
Derice responds, “No, I don’t understand. You won two gold medals. You had it all.”
Irv’s answer is humbling. “Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing; but if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.”
Irv’s hard-won wisdom helps Derice realize that it isn’t in the possession of material things or even success in the eyes of others that define your life; the only way to really achieve happiness comes from understanding that the world cannot determine for you a definition of success or achievement.
That’s the kind of lesson I want my kids to learn. It’s not about whether they’re popular or have the coolest shoes or the most advanced video game that defines their success; it’s in being the most complete, best people they can be, and knowing that’s enough. I want them to find joy in who they are and appreciate all they have instead of wanting more, because always wanting always leaves you empty.
It’s nice when there’s an opportunity to see the lessons I try to teach my kids in the context of a really enjoyable, entertaining movie. It’s part of the Disney way of telling stories that movies like “Cool Runnings” make it easy to connect with my kids on topics that are important to us. Talking about important scenes during and after a movie gives my kids and me a great window to connect with one another, and a chance for me to hear their own concerns about their lives and do what I can to help them. There’s no substitute for finding time for shared experiences with your children — whether you’re reading a book together, going on a family trip, or just sitting down and popping in a classic movie, anything that gives you and your family something to talk about is a golden opportunity.