Guest Post: I Coulda Been a Contender

When I was 11 years old, we were watching the Olympics one day at a cousin’s house. It was gymnastics, of course, as it always seemed to be in those days– that or hockey. It was all about beating the Russians then, I remember that much distinctly. The family was gathered around the television and I mentioned how great it would be to win an Olympic medal, of any kind. (I was rather partial to silver, actually; gold is so flashy.) The general response of the room from uncles, aunts, grandparents and all was that I was too old to start training for the Olympics.

Admittedly, I probably was behind the curve for gymnastics. But there were two things I didn’t realize at the time. One, that the difference between starting at age 7 or at age 11 is not all that great in the scheme of things when planning a life goal, and two, that there are plenty of other sports in the Olympics.

Thanks to the internet and cable, I can see all kinds of sporting events that were never televised when I was a kid.  Kayaking, skeet-shooting, water polo – a thousand possible avenues to ownership of that shiny medallion. Why didn’t anyone tell me? Why was there no encouragement? I was playing badminton all that summer! I was in training, for chrissakes, and I didn’t even know it. Or handball – have you seen that one? Probably not; it was on at 3 o’clock in the morning – but it features a group of players standing in a small court – maybe 2/3 the size of a basketball court. They have a little Nerf looking ball that they toss to each other or bounce, or just walk toward the goal with. The opposing team stands in a little semi-circle around the tiny goal and the team on offense does a little tricky shell-game-like passing maneuver amongst themselves until one of them pitches it toward the goal. It goes in a lot. It’s silly, silly, silly, and a whole bunch of people are going to get to own Olympic medals for doing it.

Of course, we didn’t know about these sports back then. All we had was network TV. Still I wonder if my family may have had some personal reasons to immediately reject my idea. An Olympic medal isn’t really an individual achievement, after all. It takes a village, as they say,

Virginia Wolff famously stated that a successful writer needed a room of her own, a place to focus and be allowed the space and freedom for the creative process. But she also knew that it takes more than this to really be successful. In her published essay on the subject, she clearly states that what a writer really needs is “a room of one’s own and 500 a week.” Ah. Indeed, the ability to dedicate yourself completely and focus on your goal, whatever it is, requires a support system. Food, shelter, travel, equipment…Whether you have sponsors or a trust fund or a selfless family, there has to be something, because a balance beam of one’s own just isn’t enough.

Think of a person who stands there with a medal: The Hero; they’ve dedicated their lives to this; they swam 6 hours a day, they got up at dawn to go running, they moved to Moscow to train with the best fencers in the world. And you have to think: who paid their bills? Who drove them to practice and went to the grocery store and washed the dishes while they were “dedicated to my goal.”  Probably the families should get a medal too.

At this point I search for the Olympic accounting team in vain. My Olympic dreams will remain just that, although I have to wonder if there is a badminton league in the area. I just know I could do it with a little encouragement (and 500 a week).

Nancy’s inability to focus on anything for more than 5 minutes may also have something to do with her lack of Olympic bling

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4 comments

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  3. […] the New York Times is still in love with Portland, OR, and will remain so. My regrets go out to my funny sister, who like many a Portlander is sick of the New York Times’ depiction of her fair city as […]

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