By: John Jericiau
The Olympics are here, and I’m in heaven. I can’t get enough of them. Swimming, track & field, and triathlon are my favorite, but I love the diving, gymnastics, and tennis as well. I stay up late and wake up early so I can get in some TV time while the boys are asleep. Before kids I watched a lot more, but I’m happy for the chance to watch any of it.
What’s amazing is that these Olympic games are just a snapshot of all the hard work and dedication that these athletes have as they pursue their dreams. They’ve endured many highs and lows in their illustrious careers. They have cried many tears and have nursed many wounds. A good percentage are pushing through some kind of pain as we watch them sprint or fly or climb their way toward their goal. Whether they win or lose, the athletes are making memories that they will never forget.
I’ve never been in the Olympics; not even close. Nevertheless I have some athletic memories that I have carried with me for all these years, memories that I revisit once in a while like an old friend. Memories of events that have made me the person I am today.
On my 7th birthday my family and I were swimming at a large municipal pool in New York City with tons of kids of every age. There was a very tall and scary diving platform that anyone 7 and older could try. A long ladder to the top was crawling with kids heading up, and almost as many kids slinking back down in fear. My parents were amazed as I simply climbed to the top, walked to the edge, and jumped. After I fell it felt like an eternity under water, but when I finally popped to the surface I was greeted by a thunderous applause from everyone in the pool. It was the first time in my life that such a large crowd praised me, and I liked it.
A few years after that I was playing offensive end on my Pop Warner Football team. It was a Friday game on a warm autumn night, and the lights were illuminating what seemed like the entire world. A few seconds before the end of what looked like a losing game for us, the quarterback threw a long pass my way. As the ball spiraled toward me, time slowed as I watched the ball hit the very edges of my fingertips and then roll into my palms, and then snuggle securely between my elbow and my chest as I ran and crossed the goal line. As each and every member of my team ran to and piled on top of me, all I could think about was how good it felt.
When I was 12 years old my parents had a big in-ground swimming pool put in our back yard. My grandmother visited us a few weeks later, after I had the chance to get accustomed to swimming back and forth nonstop for periods of time. When she arrived and my parents walked with her to the side of the pool to “watch what your grandson can do”, it was all I could do not to smile as I watched their chins hit the ground as they counted my laps. 50, 100, 150, and finally 200 laps before my grandmother waved at me to stop because it must not be good for me.
Hundreds and hundreds of races later and I have a book of memories to live with. These days it’s the enjoyment of the sport that makes me happy. I still love to run and swim and bike and whatever, but as I get older I pass the torch to my sons and live vicariously through them as I watch them enjoy their swim lessons, Karate class, or whatever they want.
I took a trip to Fiji 4 years ago to compete in a 12-mile ocean swim race as part of a relay. I did have another swimmer friend from LA on my team, but our other three teammates were going to be picked by the race directors so that the American team would have a better chance of winning. One of the two girls on our team was a very in shape young blonde girl who we came to find out had just missed qualifying for the Olympics the week before, and her coach sent her far away (Fiji) to escape the buzz of the Olympics as well as to begin to embrace swimming as a fun sport again.
We had such an awesome time in that race, and Fiji water makes swimming so pleasurable. We took the above picture to commemorate our win. And that blonde girl did find the love in the sport, and vowed to work hard and make it to the London Olympics.
I smiled last night as I watched that girl, Dana Vollmer, win her last of a handful of gold medals. She was enjoying it. And so was I.
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