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Recap of Washington Visit

Here we go again, wrapping up another Olympiad. The trip to Washington was wonderful, and bittersweet. Since we had so little time, a lot of the athletes stayed out all night, taking turns buying each other drink after drink, toasting their accomplishments, and pretty much just having a great time. It was surreal to see everyone in the same place, in a relaxed environment. I actually checked in at registration with the Men's Gymnastics Team, and while they were shorter than I expected, they were also every bit as toned and muscled as you'd expect. That sort of thing was true for about 90% of the 800+ people there. Just incredible.

Then there's the recognition thing. It happens a lot on campus to me, where I'll pass someone on the street and try to place their face. But after years of classes, who knows where you've seen them, or if you've met them, or if you've spent hours together in study groups? The same thing applies to such a crazy event as this. Do I know that athlete personally, from Athens? Beijing? Or did I just watch them on TV? Maybe I've talked with them before. Maybe I should be remembering a name right now. Maybe they won't notice if I just smile and keep walking...?

I stayed out with some rugby and equestrian athletes most of the night after the amazing banquet. The banquet was one of the best catered events I've seen, mostly because they served fillet mignon and Chilean sea bass. WOW. The food was incredible, and they kept the speeches to a minimum, although they played a couple recap videos from Beijing that were inspiring. (Mostly featuring the Olympian side of the audience, but hey I guess we can't be picky, right?)

It was cool to be able to talk with the Olympic Archers, who we all know from tournaments. Vic Wunderle, Khatuna Lorig, and Jenny Nichols were all there, as well as Olympic coach Don Rabska, who also happens to be my personal coach. How wonderful to see him!

The visit to the White House wasn't as cool as the one I remember from four years ago, but I can't put my finger on anything specific. It was a gorgeous day, with bright blue skies and a chill in the early morning air. The Marine Band was arranged on the White House Lawn, playing exquisite music. The cameramen were perched on some scaffolding behind the spectators. And the athletes were pushed up against the White House itself, in a hodgepodge of red and blue jackets around a platform with a podium in the middle. (Red jackets for men, blue for ladies, which I thought looked sloppy. Last time we all matched, and it looked great!) Last minute, they snuck Michael Phelps into the middle of the crowd, although I didn't see him until later.

President Bush's speech went just fine. He spent plenty of time on the experience he and his wife had, visiting the Olympics. He profiled many of the Olympic athletes they met, spending a lot of time on each little story about the two gymnast friends and rivals who had to share a room while competing for the gold, joking with Misty Mae, or meeting the Softball Team or the Men's Volleyball Team. When he finally got around to mentioning the Paralympics, he just gave as a quick congratulations and then segued right into the fifteen veterans on our (200+) team. He talked about Melissa Stockwell, the Paralympic Swimmer who lost her leg in Iraq. He smiled for us, and then moved on.

I guess nothing's perfect. At least he didn't accidentally call us Special Olympians, which would have been an absolute disaster.

This might sound obvious, but there's a big difference between seeing someone on TV and seeing them in real life. You pick up on things you'd never notice on the television, like how the President had aged considerably. It's nothing you could really put your finger on, but to me he looked like he was smiling over a bone-deep exhaustion. During the speech, he was incredibly focused, as if he was trying so hard that he might snap the podium with one of those seemingly relaxed politician gestures. When he made it through the speech, he looked a little relieved, proud of himself in a way he didn't want people to notice. Maybe I was just looking for something like that, I can't know for sure. It's just that, sitting eight feet away from him, I felt as if I could see his eight years of office written all over him. Regardless of whether or not you believe the US President is the leader of the free world or not... I would bet good money that the President himself has to believe that, and worry about it, and think of it constantly day and night for four or eight years. For President Bush, it may not register on TV as more than a few gray hairs, slightly slumped shoulders. But in real life, it's hard to not notice how hard this term has been for him.

I felt the same sort of surreal feeling when seeing Michael Phelps give interviews with another swimmer at the back of the White House. Poor guy looked like he was stuck under those cameras like a bug under a pin. He smiled and talked his way through it, but the whole time it was hard not to understand how real he was, and how exhausting this must be. Just a regular guy who maybe didn't know what he was getting himself into when he signed his life away for publicity's sake. Also, he doesn't look as goofy as he does on camera--or maybe it's just that in the past few months he's had to mature beyond his years. Shawn Johnson doesn't look as young, in real life--although with her height and blonde hair, she was continually mistaken for our star Paralympic swimmer, a little person named Erin Popovitch. I find that wonderful, to be honest.

Well, I have to go get ready to give a talk and a demonstration in front of a large group of third-graders in Marble Falls. Before the Games, these kids each made me good luck cards. I have stacks of them, still. I have no idea what to do with them!

I'll try and write again soon. Thanks for reading!


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Oct. 9th, 2008 05:30 pm (UTC)
Your posts are always enjoyable to read; you spend a lot of space being descriptive as to what you're observing, and what you think and feel about it. Especially for those of us who don't get to travel very much, you bring finely detailed narratives of your adventures. Thank you for continuing to bring them to us!

As for the President...yes, I'm sure he's exhausted. Not just from the accumulated stresses of the past eight years, but most particularly in the past three weeks, in which pretty much everything financial went bad fast. I've seen several news articles over the years, and we can probably expect another one soon, with before-and-after pictures of the President that show how much he's aged.

It would have been nice if he'd spent a paragraph acknowledging the Paralympians; he's done this before! You've all fought even harder than able-bodied athletes to get where you are, and that deserves to be acknowledged.
Well, I admire your accomplishment much more than Michael Phelps'. His competitions had almost an inevitability about them, for the most part. Yours--not so much, Little Miss Drama Queen!
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )