Whether or not one is an avid viewer of the Olympics, there is one thing everyone can surely agree upon: The Olympics are purely inspirational.

While some may argue that the Olympics encourage expectations that are too high for youngsters or that the competition is too fierce, behind every athlete there is a story of courage, dedication, strength and perseverance, traits that seem to be lacking in much of the general population. Most, if not all, of these athletes started in sports at a young age and continued with a diehard attitude and love of the sport that are unique for most kids.

Take, for instance, the Lamoureux twins, 24, Monique and Jocelyne of North Dakota. These sisters were both all-state in soccer as teenagers, but went on to play on a Peewee A boys’ hockey team at 12 years old, and led the team to the North Dakota State Hockey Championship. And while women’s ice hockey gets little air time in comparison to the men’s version, these two never relented on their passion for the sport. Further, these two fierce competitors helped lead their Olympic team on Monday to the semifinals, scoring 9-0 over Switzerland, Jocelyne working in telepathic sync with her sister, setting up both of her sister’s goals. Their obvious ability to work seamlessly together may prove to be worthy of a gold medal.

Another of the real shining stars of the Olympics this year (though there are many) is alpine ski racer Julie Manusco, 29, of Reno, Nev. She was recruited for the World Cup at the age of 15 and won her first World Cup at 17. While she has experienced up and downs in her racing career, she stayed the course and stayed on course, too. At the Junior World Championships, from 2002 to 2004, she won eight medals, including five gold medals. Her impressive feats have translated as one may expect from her at the Olympics. Although she struggled through the early part of the World Cup season before the holidays, she didn’t let any of that hold her back. Skiing her best this past Monday, she scored a bronze medal in the women’s super-combined, which some may not see as top-notch. But it’s not her one medal that shows her success; it’s the fact that she has four Olympic medals from the Olympics in Turin and in Vancouver, making her the most decorated female Olympic skier in U.S. history.

While there are many stories to be told of both male and female athletes from all over the world competing in the Olympics, the fact that there is so much unity and respect for the games, as well as for the athletes who have dedicated their lives to get to this point, and that it is a time everyone puts aside their differences to come together, makes the whole endeavor truly inspiring. We know that not everyone has the same set of skills or abilities to accomplish such things, but we should reflect on the lengths these individuals have gone to to accomplish their dreams and then figure out how we can apply the spirit of unity and dedication to our own lives.