Friday, July 27, 2012

Faster, Higher, Stronger

The London Olympics begin today.  Boy, do I love me the Olympics.  Really, is there any better competition?  Super Bowls, World Series, sorry, the Olympics trump you all.  The drama.  The stories.  The blood, the sweat, the tears.  It's the best. 

I've been a fan of the Olympics since I was a little kid.  I still can remember being in my basement jumping up and down screaming with my dad while watching the 1980 Miracle on Ice USA hockey team beat those pesky Russians.  I remember being a lifeguard during the 1984 Olympics with a t.v. hooked up to an extension cord aimed at the guard tower so we could keep an eye on the swimming action.  When a swimming event came on we kicked everyone out of the pool so we could watch the events.  
Olympic Gold Medalist Rowdy Gaines
Olympic Gold medalist Steve Lundquist

In high school I was lucky to see my dear friend, and former teammate, Susan,  try out for the 1984 Olympics.  She really had no chance of making the team.  However, it was SO exciting to see her make the attempt.  And, to see all the amazing other swimmers who would make the team.  Who would have thought they would make such an amazing impact on the 1984 L.A. Games? Swimming was the iconic sport of these games.  And, Rowdy Gaines and Steve Lundquist were two of the stars.  Two of the swimmers we were lucky to meet at the Trials. 

And, wouldn't you know,  who made the 1988 Olympic Team?  Susan.  Sitting in my teammate's living room watching her race at the Trials, jumping up and down, screaming, yelling, crying.  She.  Made.  It.  Wow.  All I can remember when she called me just after the race was saying, "Oh, my God, YOU ARE GOING TO THE OLYMPICS!!!!!!!" Holy shit. I was bursting at the seams with pride. 

Years later I was so very lucky enough to work for the U.S. Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs,  Colorado.  This was such an amazing experience.  Working, living, and hanging out at the U.S. Olympic Training Center was a thrill.  Having friends who just happened to be on the cusp of making Olympic teams was so fun.  I got to do some really cool things.  Meet some really cool people.  Have some really amazing memories. 

But, this would be nothing in comparison to when I was lucky to procure a sweet month long volunteer position with the 1996 Atlanta Olympics a few years later.  I was smart enough to know not to ask for an event position, which most everyone else asked for.  I knew there was a better place to be.  Accreditation.  Anybody and everybody - athlete, coach, media, staff, EVERYBODY associated with the games was required to get their credentials badge.   I really think I had the best job.  Every single person that came through my station was smiling the biggest smile I had ever seen.  They were at the friggin Olympics for crying out loud! 

I checked in volunteers.  I checked in media.  I checked in athletes.  One night I was working at the airport accreditation.  I was having such fun doing this I pulled a 24 hour shift.  I just didn't want the fun to end.   Why hello there men's Greek water polo team.  Welcome.  Please step forward.  Welcome to the Atlanta Olympic Games.  My name is Andrea.  And, what is your name....... ?  Seriously?  How did I get so damn lucky?!?! 

My boss loved me so much she sent me to the Athletes' Village to work a few days.  The work there was pretty minimal, so she told me to just go have fun.  Go to the athlete bars, nightclubs, whatever I wanted to do.  Enjoy.  Again, seriously? Who am I?  I don't deserve to be amongst these amazing athletes.  

Susan & me at 1996 Olympic Swimming
And, lucky me.  Guess who met up with me to see some swimming events?  Susan.  We had an absolute blast cheering on USA Swimming.  I rode her little wave and was in awe when famous swimmer after swimmer came up to say hi to her.   As her guest I went to an Olympic alumni cocktail party.  Well hello there Al Orter.  Carl Lewis.  Mary Lou Retton.  Little old lady from the 1932 L.A. Olympics wearing a medal around her neck.  Wow.  Just wow.  Sure we ended up in the EXACT spot the bomb went off that night.  As in the EXACT spot.  But, fate pulled us away from there 10 minutes before it went off.  10 minutes. 

Jess & Rowdy
Three years ago my sister, 7 year old niece and I went to the U.S. Team Swimming Trials (Olympic Trials in Olympic years).  We were back in Indianapolis.  Where I had been 25 years earlier to watch Susan.  Where I met Rowdy.  My niece was just starting her swimming career.  But, she already had the glimmer in her eye.  However, it was a tough call who was more thrilled by these few days, her or me.  I felt like a kid again.  And, lookie there.... who do I see again?  Rowdy.  He was just as nice and sweet as I remember twenty five years before.  And, he was especially sweet to Jessica.  Anytime we ran into him he high fived her and said, "Hi Jessica".  She thought he was the coolest.  He really is. 

We were lucky enough to have nice seats right next to Michael Phelps mother, Debbie.  Jessica was dying to talk to her.  To tell her how much she loved her son.  She got the nerve to go talk to her.  Jessica was SO nervous.  But, I was so proud of her.  She did it.  And, talked to Debbie for what seemed like forever.  Later she went up and had another conversation with her.  Debbie was SO sweet asking Jess about her swimming and giving her encouragement,  ending with a high five. It was fantastic. 

Yes, I'm a little goofy for the Olympics.  But, there's something about it.  About people pushing themselves.  To be their best.  To be THE best.  I've seen first hand sacrifices athletes make to get there.    To see moments like this.  A world record.  The feeling is so intense.  To share in that moment.  It's not my moment.  But, to cheer for that athlete is really a remarkable feeling.  The joy is contagious.   (Yes, I was a screaming lunatic)

Aaaron Peirsol breaking the 100 back world record. 

So, excuse me for the next 17 days. I might be a bit preoccupied.  I might be a bit emotional.  I might lose my voice.  I'll surely get a bit patriotic.  However, it's not all about USA, USA, USA for me.  Yes, go red, white, and blue.  However, go underdog.  Go athlete who's seems to fail when it matters most.  May this be your time.  To the parents that gave their everything, may your child make you proud no matter what.  To the human spirit.  To the volunteers.  To the city of London.  To the paralympians.  To the athlete that finishes last.  

At age ten Jessica has turned into quite the swimmer.  This weekend she'll be in the State meet.  Qualifying and competing in the maximum amount of events.  Next weekend she'll represent the state in a multi state meet.  A pretty big deal.  When I told her how very proud of her that she made this meet she replied, "Well, someday I'll be in the Olympic Trials."  I smiled.  I did not even have to humor her.  Because, I truly believe that she will in fact be there.  And, surely you know who will be up in those stands screaming her head off.  Because, really, there is no place I'd rather be.  Well, other than the Olympics.  And, who knows, I may have a really good reason to go to another one sometime soon.  

Oh, yes.... tonight's gonna be a good night......


  1. You pretty much summed it up in a nutshell! Love the Olympics, love swimmers, love this post!

    1. Awwww, thanks, Jenny. Come on... Olympic swimming? How much do we love this shit?!?!? To infinity and beyond!