I remember watching the Olympics with my family as a child. We would eat popcorn in the living room cheering on the Americans and marveling at the Soviets. Through these early experiences, I learned about sports, hard work, culture, other countries, commitment, honor, patriotism, government, and dreams.
I am not a sports fan. My children do not play soccer. We are healthy. We enjoy the outdoors. We hike, surf, practice yoga, ski, etc. We don’t aspire for glory, just the love of feeling good in our bodies in nature.
I’ve never watched the Olympics with my children, other than a brief snowboarding race last winter. For some reason, the London summer games got me excited. Perhaps it was my father’s visit and nostalgia for my youth, perhaps it was time to show my children what hard work and commitment can accomplish.
We have watched young Americans win gold. We have seen heartbreak and disappointment.
As a parent, I can’t help but empathize with with parents in the stands. As a forty-year-old, I no longer dream about what might have been. Could I have been an olympiad?
The Olympics always makes me reflect on life. The choices we make, where our paths lead us. How many potential Olympic athletes never discover their hidden talents? Do my children have such skill that is being undeveloped? What other paths could or would our lives take given the right circumstances?
A writer for the Globe and Mail recently wrote about the odds for raising a future Olympic star, which apparently Brits actually bet on:
First, Dixon and Adams wanted to know if my daughter, Riley, was a boy or a girl and how old she was. When I said 2, they nodded. “Anything over about 10 makes the odds go down because they could already be in elite training,” Dixon said. That was what happened to the English goalkeeper Chris Kirkland’s father; he bet on his son to play for England’s national team one day but did it when he was already 13 and was paid only 100 to 1 when Kirkland made his debut in 2006.
Then I was asked for a detailed family history of athletics, a sort of Steffi-Andre test (when Steffi Graf married Andre Agassi, bookmakers understandably offered short odds to those betting on their children’s someday becoming Wimbledon champions).
I laid out my impressive experiences as a high school soccer player and golfer, then shared my wife’s extensive past as a lifeguard.
Sensing a lack of proper esteem from Adams and Dixon, I then detailed — in great depth — Riley’s homage to Houdini in escaping the pack-and-play over the weekend.
Adams and Dixon had a few moments of discussion before reaching a verdict.
“We would be prepared to offer you 2,500 to 1 that she’ll ever take part in the Olympics, 5,000 to 1 for any medal and 10,000 to 1 for a gold,” Adams said.
Those odds are about the same as my son being born with Tetralogy of Fallot. Anything can happen. That’s the yin yang of life.
When I see 15 and 16 year olds competing in the Olympics, I admire their abilities, but I mourn their childhood. A little girl in the same gym Gabby Douglas practiced in as a child stated she was there five hours a day in hope of her own Olympic glory some day. Gabby herself almost quit, as she was living away from home and family in order to train. This is not the life I think I would chose, but then again, it’s not my choice.
Beyond the endorsements for McDonald’s and other such Olympic scandal, I do think the games inspire us to dream and live vicariously for a couple of weeks. I don’t think these have to be sports dreams, but dreams of all the potential of life.
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