Olympic sized memories
It may take a while before I settle back into the normal rhythms of life on the heels of the two weeks spent watching the Rio Olympics. Every day found me tuned to the television to cheer on the American delegation and if they weren’t participating, to root for the underdog. I have been glued to Olympic viewing size Nadia Comaneci wowed the world in gymnastics by scoring a perfect 10 and in the same year but during the winter games when Dorothy Hammill spun magic on a sheet of ice. I have watched every Olympic competition since those days of my childhood.
I have seen them all. Mary Lou Retton, Shaun White, Flo Jo, the Miracle on Ice team, Greg Louganis, Mia Hamm, Serena Williams, Kerry Walsh Jennings, and Michael Phelps to name a few. I have cried tears of joy watching the triumphs and tears of sadness over devastating losses. Mouth agape at the records being shattered and at Olympians defending their titles from previous games, I have soaked in everything that a television viewer can while watching the coverage from afar.
But of all the Olympic moments I have seen, the one that will forever hold its special place in my heart is the Summer Games of 2004. This was the summer that a rite of passage was passed from mother to son and it is one etched deep in the memories of my soul.
Reed was nine years old and ready to start staying up a little bit later. Watching the games return to their roots in Athens created the perfect atmosphere to introduce to my son my secret passion for Olympic viewing. After the other kiddos were fast asleep, tucked into bed much earlier, he would come and nestle in next to me while we cheered on the American team. It was during these games that we discovered more than just I could feel the little girl God was knitting together in my womb. Simultaneously glued to the T.V., Reed would lay with one hand on my belly to feel his baby sister kick away, swimming in her own in utero version of the games and the other hand would be busily cheering on his team.
Reed was a bigger fan than I could have ever imagined. The son of a soldier, he defined what it was to be a patriotic fan of your home country. The thing about Reed’s viewing was that he forgot he was in a tiny bedroom in southwestern Minnesota and he would cheer and yell and wipe away a tear or two as if he was in the Greek coliseums and arenas and natatoriums. Our pillows would shield his eyes if he felt the excitement was too overwhelming and at times a full out face plant into the mattress was the only way to calm his nerves or effervescent enthusiasm.
Wrapped up in a favorite quilt we would stay up way past his bedtime. While his siblings had been out for hours, for one summer the delectable taste of growing up and having new freedoms was tantalizing.
Reed’s fanom knew know bounds, and after watching Michael Phelps commanding performance he convinced me to help him create a costume honoring his favorite Olympian. That Halloween, we did and Reed was so proud to emulate the athlete that wowed his imagination and stirred his heart. The crazy thing is that Reed was a super fan long before the repeat performances in Beijing, London and most recently Rio.
Perhaps like many things in life, Reed knew that Phelps was destined for greatness long before anyone else. Sure Michael has had his ups and downs in life (Who hasn’t?), but I have to believe that Reed would have loved him anyway. Unlike the way many Christians view the world, Reed’s way of seeing people was through a lens of viewing them as perfectly human in need of Jesus. Stumble and fall, no judgment would have come from him, rather a love would have emanated saying “pick yourself up and learn from this”. Knowing that is exactly what Michael Phelps did following the London games would have caused my redheaded wonder to beam with pride. To him, that would be the definition of greatness – someone who overcame a challenge and tackled it head on. Of course, a little help from the man above didn’t hurt at all.
So while the rest of the world joined me in watching the Olympics, I don’t think anyone viewed the same way I did. Wrapped up in a quilt, I carried the memories of a boy who died in 2008 months before the Beijing games began. Watching Michael Phelps wrap up an amazing career in perhaps his final Olympic performance, I envisioned that same little guy jumping up and down on the bed hooting and hollering for his favorite athlete one last time. The games became more than the greatest athletic competition in the world, they were a beloved trip down memory lane.
While my efforts didn’t earn any gold medals, I still believe they would have made Reed proud.