Winter Olympics inspires dreams

February 19, 2014 10:33 am

Nothing takes me back in time to the happiest childhood memories of watching television than the Olympics. 

These past two weeks, I’ve been glutting out — Internet streaming the games to my heart’s content — from the classic events like figure skating and downhill skiing to newer ones like that one that looks like a Chinese downhill race or skeleton — sledding 90 miles an hour down a luge course face first.

When I was 8 years old, I wanted to be an Olympic gymnast and skier. I remember watching Cathy Rigby and Olga Korbut as a preschool kid and was enthralled. Eventually, my parents enrolled me in an academy and began the two-hour round trip treks several times a week for my lessons. Then Nadia Comaneci of Romania came along and became what was thought impossible — perfect with her scores of “10.”

As an elementary school kid, if I wasn’t practicing gymnastics I was watching the girls on the team go through their four- to six-hour workouts. Over and over they would vault, dismount and tumble. The floor exercise music repeated tirelessly — piano only, back then.

When I watch the skaters I think, “Do they get sick of their music? Do they hear it in a restaurant or elevator and scream, “NO! NOT ‘SWAN LAKE’! NO MORE!”

Each note is a gesture, a jump or a transition for the skater or gymnast — the music ingrained into the fibers of their being. 

Glued to the television as a child watching Olympic sports or ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” I imagined that I, one day, would be competing for one of those medals. I was disappointed when I found out they aren’t really made of the precious metals they represent, but as a gym rat, I was fully aware of the work that goes into competing at that level.

I would never say that these athletes sacrifice for their sport. Given the skill to compete at that level, is it a sacrifice for a teen to spend her afternoons in the gym perfecting her craft when other kids are busy bullying each other or worrying about what some boy thinks? Is a childhood lost pursuing a dream?

I didn’t make it to the Olympic level, but I did compete in both gymnastics and ski racing in high school. My mother likes to retell a conversation she had with a family friend who asked what I thought I was going to do with my gymnastics training. My mother asked him, “What do people who take piano lessons do with theirs?” Not all become concert pianists, but all become familiar with music and gain appreciation for it.

As an adult, I parlayed my love of gymnastics into rock climbing and yoga. I still downhill ski occasionally, but prefer the quiet of the cross country trail. Tonight, as I hunker under the blankets glued to the snow and ice sports of the Sochi Olympics, in my mind I will jump, leap and race with these splendid athletes who have earned the right to compete on the world stage of sport.