Tonight we watched the closing ceremonies of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece.
ceremonies were simply stunning. We were so enthralled by both the
show and what this small country had managed to accomplish that all
three of us had sat there watching the teams enter the stadium, the
flame lit, the theatrical performances. We were so engrossed, trying to
impart the historical importance of the Olympics returning to their
birthplace to my four year old daughter that we quite frankly allowed
her bedtime to come and go.
Over the last two weeks we tried to
sample many different events to watch--NBC got smart and spread various
events over their many NBC-owned stations so there was a MUCH wider
variety of options--not just the same old mega-popular events. N. did
pretty well and was genuinely interested in a lot of it, but I don't
know how much of this she'll remember.
Tonight, I mostly watched
the closing ceremonies by myself--N. had been put to bed at a sensible
hour for a change and J. had wandered off to take a shower, nursing a
probable broken toe courtesy of a late-night foray into the darkened
kitchen and an unexpected greeting by the immovable kitchen island last
As I watched I was surprised to feel myself choking up a
bit as they showed scenes of the many amazing victories, failures and
strain that the athletes endured. Then it hit me as to why I
tried so hard to get my daughter interested in the games, why I got so
absorbed myself: I remembered watching the 1972 Olympics from Munich
when I was 11.
quiet summertime in Norco, with no air conditioning and the house
opened up to every possible breath of fresh air, fans running at high
speed. My Dad mostly asleep on the couch as I watched the events.
Surprisingly, while the terrible murder of the Israeli athletes towards
the end was the prevailing memory of that year, it was also the year
that had really fired my every-kid's-wish to somehow, someday, be on that Olympic medal podium myself.
When you are 11 you know that certainly you can do it!
only you didn't have to wait until you were older. The problems of
being short in height, never having been on a real sports team before
and being the youngest child of a large family with admittedly modest
means doesn't even enter into it. In my family I learned by watching
the older kids--and learned pretty quick not to even dream of playing
little league or go out for expensive school sports. My folks couldn't
afford it, and what they were able to give us came with a lot of
hard work and sacrifice on their part. I think we kids decided
privately to ourselves to appreciate what we had, enjoy our family and
My personal ambition was to be able to compete in the
high jump and it had hit me hard. I had seen Dwight Stones in the
Olympics and what he was able to do amazed me. Again, never mind that I
was lamentably short--even as an adult I don't exactly tower at 5 foot
2--and the high jump bar loomed overhead like a damned skyscraper. I
was determined to try. Surprisingly--especially to me--I actually did
pretty well and was looking forward to taking the first step along the
Olympic road. To me, anyway.
I had been practicing the high jump
during P.E. and was screwing up my nerve to ask the coach if I could
get at it seriously when--
we moved away.
Not only moved
away, but moved FAR away, to a tiny country town where the high school
student body numbered exactly 100--for grades 9 through 12. Needless to
say, they had no such thing as high jump equipment. When my dad told
us of the move I could practically feel any chance of competing
draining away from me. Heck, they barely even had a football field, and
no track and field program at all. The sports choices for the girls
were basketball, volleyball and softball.
I even asked the one
girls' sports coach about starting up a track and field team, complete
with high jump, and was given a gentle but firm lecture on the
small-time budgets of small-town schools.
For a while I tried to
practice on my own in the sagebrush-and-fire-ant-infested area up behind
our barn. I built two poles with nails every 1/2 inch to hold the bar
and marked the measurements on them. My problem was the pit. When you
high jump, ya need something large and soft to land in. This is where I
was stymied. That town wasn't even big enough to collect old
mattresses from. From somewhere I obtained some miserably thin foam
padding, cut into weird shapes that was obviously scrap material. There
was precious little of it and I had to arrange it juuuuust right to
keep from breaking my head. Even then it was woefully thin and
eventually, sadly, I had to give up that particular dream. All I was
doing was pissing off the fire ants. It's probably just as well and
saved me many injuries, failures and disappointments when my lack of
height would eventually put a stop to my dream. But I did watch Dwight
Stones again in the 1976 Olympics, feeling a kind of kinship with him.
We were lucky to even see the Olympics since in our remote area we had
three TV stations, and only one was semi-reliable.
Tonight, I was
shocked to have that childhood memory and dream of the high jump come
roaring back so strongly. I haven't even thought of it in years. It's
been filed away I guess, waiting for the chance to pop up. Now that I
carry an extra pound or two of scrap metal in my left ankle and have had
to give up running in any form I am reduced to watching others strive
for that dream. I don't often feel sorry for myself for what has
happened to me--heck, if it's the worst thing I'll be lucky--but tonight
I do, and it's because I had a huge flashback--being 11 years old and
having any possibility in the world open to me. Not only having that
door closed, but having it welded shut, still jumps up to bite me at
I guess that's why it was so important to me
to explain to my daughter what the Olympics mean--it's the best of the
best, and she won't see them again until she's nearly 9. I hope she
remembers something of what she saw this time, and gets to experience
that same amazing, breathless, wide-eyed epiphany of possibilities when
she gets older. I hope that she trusts me enough to come to me and say,
"Mom, can I...?" without any barriers.
When she does, I hope I can remember how I felt in 1972.