Saturday, October 13, 2012

My Time With an Olympian

The opening paragraph reads, "The United States held off Canada to win a second straight Olympic gold in the women's eight Thursday, maintaining its six-year dominance of the high-profile event."

I remember watching the event with my students during summer school. I'm always proud of the US of A when we take home the gold. The Canadians were expected to be strong this summer. But the Americans continued their excellence in women's rowing and took home the gold.

Little did I know that I would end up meeting one of these rowing superstars. Here's that story:

My school does an annual fundraiser, community awareness, 2-day awesome fest. Typically, we find a person or two that has excelled in some sort of adventure and has a story to tell. This year, we featured Julie and Colin Angus. I'll give you much more about them in the very near future. The Cliff's Notes version is that they have done some amazing things in traveling the world via only human power. On their list of accomplishments is long distance rowing excursions (seriously, I'll give you more later).

One of the Olympians pictured above, Meghan Musnicki, lives not far from here. (She is 5th from the left in the picture at the right). See the connections? Our headliners are rowers (among other things). The Olympian is a rower. The school is near here. The Olympian is near here. (Okay, not really. Meghan currently lives elsewhere, but she used to live near here. And her mom is still near here. Meghan likes her mom and is willing to come back and visit). We sent out a request and asked Meghan if she'd like to join us for the big presentation. We were all excited when she accepted and told us she would come.

My responsibility during the whole event was to look after Julie and Colin. We held a reception before the big presentation. Normal to Banter standards, we showed up fashionably late. Why I cannot get to an event on time is quite beyond me. As we (Julie, Colin, and I) were walking in, I briefed them that there was an Olympian coming. They, of course, were already aware of this and excited just the same.

I honestly didn't know what Meghan looked like. I had been busy taking care of other details to look her up. This pic is from her Olympic bio. When we entered  the room, the 3 of us scanned the environment to both get a feel of what we were walking in to and to see if we can spot our hero.

Amongst all of the unknown faces, one woman clearly stood out. "I think that's her," I said quietly to my charges. Not that I have much experience in this area but she certainly looked like an Olympian. For example, she was tall, as in towering over the common man. She looked solidly built, like you'd envision a world class athlete who spends hours and hours pulling wood/ fiberglass through water. Her bulging muscles were evident underneath modestly dressed clothing.

Let's not forget the more subtle details that tipped you off to her Olympian status. These include the official USA Olympics label on her shirt. Oh, and she also happened to be sporting a gold medal around her neck. Plus, she was blonde-a dead giveaway.

Having never met an Olympian before, I mentally put them in the same spot the Greeks put their Gods, up on a pedestal outside the circle of us mortals. When coming face-to-face with a goddess, would you know how to act? I surely didn't. There she was grazing at the hors d'oeurves table, comfortable in her surroundings.

Understand that I was not the only other person in the room that wanted to meet her. Everyone wanted to meet her. I knew that I was going to be busy most of the night, so I was hoping to get my chance early. One problem is that beautiful women intimidate me, a throwback from my middle school/ high school nerd-status that I haven't really overcome (read- I'm still a nerd). I approached slowly. Another problem is that most of the other people in the room do not suffer from hot-chick willies so they were a lot more aggressive than me. By the time I made it towards Meghan, she was already swarmed by a group of oglers, leaving this ogler to admire from afar.

In hindsight, this fact turned out to be advantageous. I started friendly, easy conversation with an equally beautiful, albeit shorter and slightly older, blonde woman. We were watching Meghan's interaction with the crowd. Meghan had obviously prepared herself in advance. She came with Olympic trading cards, which are much like baseball cards but with cooler athletes, and pens to fill out autographs. (Meghan, should you ever read this... How can I get one of those?)

Meghan, despite her best efforts, did not have enough hands to handle everything she wanted to accomplish. In one hand she held her food and pens. In the other hand, she held her medal and trading cards. She needed to lose something. She walked over in my direction and handed me her medal. HER GOLD MEDAL! I had it in my hands. Innocently given to me by an Olympian stranger I had never met before. "She does that all the time," said the beauty standing next to me. I turned and looked at this woman again and for the first time read her name tag. It was Meghan's mom.

So here I am standing and chatting with an Olympic mom, admiring the interaction between the Olympic athlete and her fans, and holding a Gold Medal from the 2012 London Olympic Games. Mind you, I was supposed to be tending to the needs of Julie and Colin, whom I have temporarily forgotten existed in this world. It took me about 2 minutes to realize that I needed to bust out my camera. Here are my shots of the medal itself:

I'm not really sure which side is considered the front and which is the back. I'm also not really sure if it matters. I'd have to guess that it was about 1/2 inch thick. I am very sure that this piece of magnificent artwork is quite heavy. I'd probably put it at 3-4 pounds, making it understandable why Meghan didn't want to keep it around her neck the entire night.

I'm kicking myself for not bringing it up to my science lab (we were in my school and I am a science teacher) to run some measurements and tests. Then again, you don't want to anger an Olympian. There's no doubt in my mind that she could crush me like a grape. Not that she would actually do it. After my interactions with her, I found her incredibly sweet. Regardless, I kept the medal near her.

(Note: you can catch glimpses of Meghan in the background of both of those shots. She has her back to me. That's her green skirt with the chiseled legs. I didn't actually notice her legs at first. Another woman in the reception told me to check them out. I'm pretty sure I lose man-points for: A. Not checking her out, and B. Having to be told to check her out by a woman.)

As you can probably surmise, I wanted to get some evidence that included more than my hands. The iPhone has a front facing lens. Here's one of those shots with me and the medal.

Naturally, since I'm a tool, I showed these pics to pretty much anyone who would look at them. The most common question I received was, "Why didn't you put it on?" The answer to me was simple: Respect. In reverence of the toil, sacrifice, and dedication that it took for Meghan and the other Olympians to earn this piece of gold, I feel that they are the only ones with the right to actually wear it around their necks. I can touch it, grope it, lick it, and hold it, but at no time should I wear it. That honor, at least in my mind, should be reserved for the Olympians and whomever's neck they actually decide to place it around. I was content with just holding it in my hand.

After snapping back to reality, I resumed my regularly scheduled responsibilities. Before handing back the medal to Meghan, I continued to chat with Mom. I knew that I wasn't going to have an opportunity to get my picture taken in the near future. Mom promised me that she would ensure that I got my chance at her daughter. Mom held true to her promise. Here's the photo op that happened a couple of hours later.

I stand 5'10. Meghan is about 5'11, if you believe her bio sheet. She is wearing heels thus increasing her stature. After all of that, she still had the gumption to put her arm around me. I may never wash that shirt again.

Aside: True to form, Meghan let pretty much everyone play with her gold that night. It was quite amazing. She even stayed long after the reception was over to continue to interact with her fans (myself included).

I have read stories of other gold medalists who keep their hardware in safety deposit boxes and even sell them on e-Bay. Not Megan: she respected the Games and the enormous sacrifice it takes to be a champion. Here's a shining example of an awesome person humbly allowing others to touch her goodies. Most of us have never, nor will ever again, have that chance. Meghan is a great example of humility and I, for one, recognize and appreciate the effort it takes for her to make these public appearances. Whereas winning a gold medal is never an easy accomplishment, neither is sharing that accomplishment. Olympians, in reality, are not gods and goddesses. They are regular people who need the support of countless others around them. Meghan certainly knows what the symbol and her status means for the rest of us and was quite willing to share it. In doing so, she gains respect, support, and credibility from many. She touched and inspired countless individuals that night. She continues to represent her country well and I am proud to have met her.

In my opinion, even more amazing was her commitment to those close to her. She refers to her teammates as "The 8", which immediately told me of the bond she has with the other girls on her team. To further illustrate her commitment, a small intimate group was heading out for a drink after the presentation, including Julie and Colin. I invited her out with us. She told me that she hasn't seen her mom in a while. She drove many hours (I think 9) to arrive at Mom's house. She visited for only about 45 minutes before having to leave and see me. Since most of her night was spent with star-struck strangers, she didn't hang out with Mom much. She was honestly looking forward to Mom time. She declined my invitation.

Good stuff Meghan! I have learned quite a bit from you. Good stuff indeed.

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