We just returned from the North American Irish Dance Championships held this year in Vancouver.  Thirty-five-hundred dancers and 20,000 family and friends descended on the city for a week full of Olympian artistry.  The gorgeous venue overlooked the Pacific Ocean and the first thing I noticed after the salt-water breeze was the air of expectation.  It was palpable.

There were dancers attending their first major competition.  There were dancers who have graced international stages countless times before.  There were dancers who hoped to recall for a medal.  There were those who wanted to place higher than they had in the past.  There were competitors who yearned to qualify for the Worlds.  There were those who hoped to make it through their dances in spite of an injury.

And Irish dancing is a judged sport.  So everyone must remember that it’s not who crosses the finish line first, but who earns the notice of human judges on a given day.  So many factors come into play.  And success is defined differently for everyone.

Both my sons danced their hearts out.  My 16-year-old did not recall for a medal but ended up 18th in his age group in North America.  My 14-year-old did recall for a medal and placed 14th in his age group.  In the end, what they will remember decades into the future is the friendships, the perseverance and the adventures in a new land.

When in British Columbia we saw bike paths on steep highways, evergreen trees growing on the side of a cliff, tree trunks wider than a car and mountain peaks higher than the clouds.  The perfect environment to host Irish dancers.  Fearlessly taking paths that are lightly-trodden.  Blazing trails.  Gripping the side of their mountainous goals as they claw their way to the top.  Growing in their sport on a strong trunk of practice, dedication and belief in dreams.

The choreography and athleticism in Irish dance is breathtaking.  But the journey to becoming more of yourself is what takes your breath away.