When I was 9 years old I took gymnastics lessons. For six months I tumbled. I cart-wheeled. I jumped on a trampoline. And while the other girls in my level (they called it Basic A), all quickly mastered the fundamentals, I was left behind in the proverbial dust, unable to complete a back walkover.
I quit gymnastics before ever moving up to Level 1.
Sure, at the time it was disappointing, but at that point in my life, the future was full of possibility. When my dream of Gymnastic Gold died on the balance beam (scariest shit ever) alongside my confidence, I was still just a young woman of 9 years. Although at that age I could have competed for China, I chalked my failure up to experience and moved on to my next endeavor. It was probably swim team, or dance or something else I was terrible at.
Which I guess brings me to my next point:
I like watching the Olympics, but I know not why.
It's likely that my Olympic fascination centers around the abundance of shirtless men, all at the peak of their physical fitness.* I mean, at the end of the day (and even at the beginning) I am a girl, after all. Perhaps the Olympic games are really just about satiating my carnal appetite without watching porn...
But I doubt that.
I like the national pride that comes with winning medals. I like the cheesy national anthem playing as my new favorite competitor takes the podium (kind of, I also think the medals ceremonies are a bit long and uncomfortable/unfun to watch). And I like that events are featured that I'd normally never ever think to watch on ESPN because I loathe ESPN and wouldn't watch anything on that channel anyway.
Swimming, for example, is really only fun to watch when it's Olympic swimming. Hurdling is only fun to watch when it's Olympic hurdling. Same goes for water polo, fencing, gymnastics, and a barrage of other sports that are only entertaining when the competition is for "The Gold."
I like that the Olympics count for something. Like Pride. Glory. And Kicking the rest of the world's ass on a global stage without using guns or bombs or WMDs. The world remembers for years what you did as an Olympic athlete. Your accomplishments are called "historic," and "unbelievable," and you set records and stuff. It means something. Unlike the NBA, or the NFL or any number of professional sports leagues, the Olympics has an air about it that makes it feel more legit. You could pay me $10 million dollars to play professional basketball, and sure I'll work hard because I'm being paid $10 million dollars. But it's the Olympians** who have the real heart, the real balls to get up every morning and train. When the game is over and a team has that look of profound joy and relief and disbelief on their faces, it's just really cool to watch. It sounds goofy, but I love that shit.
But, in spite of all the rock hard abs and national pride and feel-good crap, I can't help but find the Olympics more than a little depressing.
Recall the pathetic story I told you about me as an incapable 9 year old. Take that same girl and fast forward 13 years, and sure you've got a modest list of accomplishments, but not one of them comes close to achieving an "Olympic Dream." Not one of them even comes close to qualifying for the Olympic qualifiers.
Those gymnasts are freaking young! I mean, at 16 I was proud of myself for things like getting an A on an Algebra II test, or not getting into a car accident during my first year of being a licensed driver. If I didn't feel bad about my thighs, or my hair looked good for more than 6 hours, that was a good day! My mind at that point could barely wrap itself around surviving high school, much less concept of Olympic destiny, or anything even remotely like it for that matter.
So when I say it's depressing to watch the Olympics I don't really mean that I get thoughts of loneliness or hopelessness while watching. I don't want to stay in my pajamas and mope around the house in the dark all day long. I wouldn't rather be watching soap operas. I just wish I had a little more to show for my 23 years. If those little non-menstruating girls can go home Olympic champions, and if Michael Phelps can win 100 Gold Medals before the age of 24, I'd just like to be able to sit in the same room with those kids and not feel totally inadequate.
And I'd be remiss to say I wasn't totally jealous of all the attention. Damn straight I'm jealous. The glitz and glamour of being a world-class athlete would be totally awesome and intoxicating. I'd deal with the stress just fine if I knew I could give a shout out to my mom on international television at the end when I raked in another win.
The Olympics are cool. But they lure me into the danger of thinking that I should have peaked by now. I'm 23 and I just moved home to the most boring place on earth to coach junior high volleyball and substitute teach in order to work myself out of debt. I have maybe 4 friends within 10 miles, and I planted a failing vegetable garden to keep myself busy.
If this is the top of my game, there's not a whole lot of room to fall.
And maybe that's a good thing.
*This was Tommy's observation. But I mean, really. Even I'll jump on the Michael Phelps bandwagon despite its being totally overplayed in the media.
** Obviously I'm completely dismissing Olympic sports that allow pro-athletes to play. Kobe Bryant shouldn't be an Olympian. I kind of think it's bullshit.