Have you ever given any thought to what it takes to become an Olympic athlete? No, not one of the misfit entries that result from a sport not being indigenous to a particular country – you know, the Ethiopian swimmer with the “dad bod” or the Jamaican skier who “never trained in the snow before.” I’m talking about the real deal – being selected as an elite athlete to represent your country in a competitive sport in which thousands or maybe hundreds of thousands of other athletes compete. Rising to the top to become the best of the best. Winning and competing at a level that requires intense training, total commitment and mental toughness. It exhausts me just thinking about the amount of work it takes. I remain in awe of the athletes who make it to that level and those who come close.
The opposite of training to become an Olympian is sitting on the beach in Cabo under a palapa with a cold Pacifico in your hand, and a basket of chips & guacamole within easy reach – meaning sitting up is not required to dip your chip. That fairly accurately describes me at the time my eleven-year old son breathlessly ran to the beach to say we needed to come meet his new friends. Right now. I wasn’t highly motivated; there was still some guacamole left in the bowl. Assuming it was probably another child who impressed my son with his ability to chug a virgin Pina Colada in under three seconds (brain freeze!), I demurred. I was wrong.
“Dad, there are two girls from the U.S. Olympic Water Polo team in the clubhouse and I’m playing pool with them.” Say what? For the record, three of my children, ages 14, 11 and 8, all play water polo. This was a big deal. He said they wanted to meet my 14-year-old daughter, Lang. Sure enough, two very tall, beautiful blonde girls were there waiting for us, as promised. Kami Craig (center), a three time medal winner (two golds and one silver) and Kaleigh Gilchrist (attacker) with a gold medal from the 2016 win in Rio were there with big smiles. Holymoly.
Where’s Lang? they asked. Lang had just been selected to train with the ODP (Olympic Development Program) the previous week. Don’t take me the wrong way; I’m not suggesting my daughter is on par with, or even close to, these accomplished athletes, but ODP is where they got their start, so they wanted to meet my daughter. With what appeared to be genuine interest and excitement, they congratulated my daughter for her amazing achievement in making ODP and peppered her with questions about the sport. The irony was not lost on me. Charming, humble, engaging and kind are adjectives that fail to convey their warmth.
Needless to say, it was quite an experience for all of us. I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to the handlers of the Olympic athletes, or maybe the parents of these amazing young women (or both) for their impeccable manners. They went out of their way to make my children feel special when it was they who have achieved so much. The experience made me feel very proud and honored. Go USA!