The Heart of the Olympics

I’ve never been a sports girl. It’s not for lack of trying. As a young girl I tried the usual team sports. Softball was a disaster. Basketball is not even worth a comment. Moving on to individual sports, I didn’t fare much better. Tennis camp was laughable. Even the one-on-one lessons with the tennis pro didn’t make up for my lack of hand-eye coordination. Bill thought I was exaggerating, until he tried to teach me. Never again.  Next was track and field. NOT a shot. It’s a miracle I didn’t break a leg on a hurdle. I was once introduced to someone as the girl who only runs at gunpoint.

I had some trivial success in a couple areas. I was pretty good at horseback riding, as long as I was on a trail in the woods. No rings or shows for me. And I was a swimmer on a swim team but I did that for the camaraderie, not the swimming itself. Nothing like eating Jello powder straight from the box to get a group of kids motivated so show up for swim meets. Plus, most of the girls in my age group were state champs which left honorable mentions for the rest of us. Eventually, I found I was a better fan than athlete, but even my cheering wasn’t always fully committed. I have rarely rearranged my schedule for a sporting event, but if I happened to be in the area I would stop in and cheer wildly.

So why is it that this half-hearted sports girl loves the Olympics so much?  Honestly, I’m not sure, but I think it is because as a kid it was a big deal to watch them. I remember getting to stay up late and watch the gymnasts. I remember Nadia and Olga. I was enamored with the way they could run and flip and move. I knew even at that young age my body would never do the things they could do, but I admired that theirs could. (My theory that I would never be a gymnast was proven correct when I got to high school gymnastics and spent most of my time falling off the beam.) I also watched the swimmers because I had enough experience at meets to understand what was happening. I was stunned at their speed. I cheered and yelled just like I was poolside only cheering when their heads came out of the water, “Go!”… “Go!”… “Go!”  While watching the Olympics, it seemed to me like a two-week summer camp where everyone is playing games all the time…and summer camp is something understood! What more could you want than that?   

The Olympics were also a big deal in our family. When the Olympics came to Atlanta, we were all over the moon. Mom and Dad hosted an Olympian and his wife. He was a Russian wrestler named Boris who spoke no English. I don’t have to tell you that Mom and Dad spoke no Russian. It was make-shift sign language at its finest and they were thrilled. My Aunt Betty was an ambassador who drove Olympians and stood at venues to answer questions. She was ecstatic and I am sure whoever she was driving got the history of Atlanta as a free add-on to their ride. As the torch went from town to town and city to city, the closeness was real…you could almost just reach out and touch it. The opportunity to be a part of the international spectacle made us all giddy.

When my kids were little, Mom and Dad invented the grand-kid Olympics complete with a torch relay, games, and a medal ceremony for each event. This went on for several years and my Aunt Betty came each year to help. She provided the Olympic music for the medal ceremonies and dressed in her official Olympic ambassador uniform. These Olympics were on New Year’s Eve so we parents could have a date night to ring in the new year.

After the torch relay around the outside of the house with a flashlight, there was hat-making out of paper plates and decorating the house. At the opening ceremony all the grandkids in attendance wore their hats in the athlete parade. The games themselves included pick-up sticks, twister, a couple of board games, and a balloon popping relay among many others. To make it fair for the younger kids not all of the games required skills…some were entirely chance. Unbeknownst to the “athletes”, the clocks were all set two hours ahead so that 10:00 became midnight. At ‘midnight’ they were all tucked in to dream their own Olympic dreams thus the legacy was passed to the next generation. In the morning, when we arrived to pick up our kids, we attended the medal ceremonies, which included Olympic theme music and the National Anthem. Did I mention our family likes the Olympics a little bit?

I think as a non-sports girl what makes the Olympics special to me is the unity they bring. Even if it’s just for a couple of weeks the world kind of takes a break. The spirit of the games is a tangible force. It draws me in and gives me something to look forward to. Unlike the rest of the time, the games push pause on the news of the day and they bring me stories. Watching and hearing the tales of what these athletes from around the world do to get to the games is inspiring. For so many, it isn’t even about winning, it is simply about getting there. Competing. Being in the mix. Those tales of trouble and triumph make the races more exciting. Overcoming obstacles, never giving up, constantly improving…all of it takes heart. THAT is what makes the Olympics worth watching. HEART.

We think these games are about the body, how fast it moves, how flexible and strong it is. But if there is no HEART, there are no games. The heart is what I, as a non-athlete, love about the Olympics. All the training. All the sacrifice. All the effort comes together and winning is part of it, but it isn’t all of it. The goodwill of the world is displayed and it is a beautiful thing. The heart and spirit of the Olympic games have drawn me since I was a child and they draw me still.  Even in a pandemic…maybe especially in a pandemic… we need these games to remind us who we are as humans. I might not be an athlete, but for the next two weeks I will feel like I have the heart of one.

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