Michelle Turnberg, Published August 04 2012
Turnberg: Olympics inspire generations of athletes
They aren’t part of prime-time Olympic coverage; it’s what has going on in my living room 24-7 for the past week. My daughter has been inspired by this year’s gold medalists.
Her excitement brings back personal memories. I have always looked forward to the Olympics, and I watch as much as I can every four years. I remember watching Nadia and pretending to be Flo-Jo, Janet Evans and Mary Lou – depending which sport I was playing that day. (The old railroad ties in our front yard earned me gold on the balance beam many times.)
What is it that makes us feel so connected to the games? Perhaps it’s the pride we feel watching Team USA walking into the stadium for opening ceremonies. Or maybe it’s the awe of watching the athletes move their bodies in ways that don’t seem humanly possible.
What might intrigue me the most are the athletes’ amazing personal stories. Some have persevered through brutally difficult upbringings; some have battled physical or emotional ailments; others escaped war-torn countries. Somehow, through the difficulties, they refused to let anything get in their way. All are already champions in their own right, as they dream of standing at the medal podiums, hearing their country’s national anthem play for them.
A few of my early favorites include:
- U.S. gymnast John Orozco, who grew up in a rough area of Bronx, N.Y., and overcome serious family health problems.
- U.S. hurdler Lolo Jones, who grew up very poor and at one point lived in the basement of a Salvation Army church. As a young girl Jones stole TV dinners so she and her siblings could eat.
- U.S. long-distance runner Lopez Lomong, who was kidnapped in order to be turned into a Sudanese child soldier when he was only 6. He escaped by running three days and nights to a refugee camp in Kenya.
- Gymnast Danell Leyva, who probably would’ve never achieved his dreams had he and his mother not defected from Cuba to the U.S. when he was just a little boy.
The stories go on and on, and they are wonderful testaments to the human spirit. I got choked up watching Ryan Lochte bring his mother the flowers he received on the podium and watching Aly Raisman’s parents nearly flip out of their seats cheering her on to gymnastics gold.
My daughter feels a connection, too. She told me last night as I tucked her in, “Mom, sometimes I dream about being a great gymnast and being in the Olympics and winning the gold for the U.S. It’s a really good way to fall asleep.”
Yes it is, my dear, yes it is.
Michelle Turnberg writes a weekly column for SheSays.