You make sacrifices. You fight for what's right. It is expected of you if you care about your country, if you believe in standing up for it, which means a good deal more than to stand on a platform to have a medal wrapped around your neck.
Ron Galimore knows loss.
He was 5 when his father, the great Bears running back Willie Galimore, was killed in a 1964 car crash on the way to training camp. His own life's ambition came to an abrupt end 16 years later when a U.S. boycott cost him a trip to Moscow to be a gymnast in the 1980 Olympics.
"Sometimes in life," he says, "it's important for you to do what you feel is right."
Galimore carried a torch last Wednesday through the streets of San Francisco, amid heavy security while protesters cursed and carried picket signs and went so far as to fling water balloons to try to put out the flame.
For him, running a leg on the Beijing Olympics torch relay felt right. He was thrilled to be asked. He called it "one of the best experiences of my life."
Yet where individual freedom rings, Galimore is someone who certainly knows firsthand how much influence they can wield over a global event. He understands how passionate a great many can be with regard to a Chinese occupation of Tibet or to a government's infringement on basic human rights.
Just as multitudes from other lands feel strongly about our own nation's activities in Iraq.
You want the Olympians of tomorrow to be conscious of the world in which they live today.
You hope they won't shut their eyes, cup their ears and zip their lips. Dozens upon dozens of would-be Team USA members at a huge Olympic Summit this week in Chicago are being given a golden opportunity to come across as socially responsible human beings.
Some, being too young or naive or shy or self-involved or uninformed, choose to take a pass.
Some give it a try, as if responding to a pop quiz, resulting in an occasionally comic Miss USA beauty pageant kind of moment.
(One gymnast complimented the 2008 host country Monday by saying, "Obviously, China's a great country gymnastically and everything.")
But some do come through with flying colors.
Softball player Jessica Mendoza, 27, belongs to a coalition of athletes dedicated to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. A 2004 gold medalist in Athens, she says, "I don't feel it's my place to tell China what to do. It's more my place to tell people that it's happening. Hopefully, the more people know, the more they will hold those responsible accountable."
She senses the indifference in other athletes but also is sympathetic.
"They're not all like that, but this is how focused they are on the Olympics right now," she says. "A part of me wants to keep some of them that focused. I don't want to be selfish and make it all about the world. It's about the world for me, but that's not for everyone."
It can make you feel guilty at times, bringing up the subject, when you know it's archery or synchronized swimming or beach volleyball or tae kwon do that brought these young people to town, not a geopolitical summit or crusade.
They don't want their hopes dashed. They don't want their mood dimmed.