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Thank You, Olympics

I am an Olympics junkie. I seriously can't get enough. You can catch me, glued to the T.V., at one o'clock in the morning pretty much every night. I'm totally committed to every single thing they're airing. Synchronized diving. Water polo. Dressage. Things that, in my normal life, wouldn't even get a second look. But, because it's the Olympics, I'm all in.

If you know me, you'll probably think this is pretty funny, as I have approximately zero interest in sports as a general rule. I make an exception for my children, but, even then, I feel completely out of place on the sidelines. I felt like a fish out of water signing my son up for soccer and laughed out loud when someone asked me if I was planning on coaching. Even at the games, I have only a basic idea of what and when to cheer.

It's not that I didn't grow up with sports. I did. Both of my brothers played sports when I was a kid and I went (read: was dragged) to every soccer, baseball, and basketball game. I always brought a book to read, or my sketchbook, or a counted-cross-stitch project. When my parents would have a football game on, I would be practicing the piano or working on memorizing the entirety of the "Phantom of the Opera" soundtrack. Art is my thing. Sports are not.

And it's not that I'm not competitive. I am. Fiercely. Anyone who has tried to make a living as an artist will tell you that competition is part of the job. As I've gotten older, that competitive side of me has changed, but not into anything athletic (much to the dismay of my extremely athletic brother). I am who I am.

But back to the Olympic Games. Y'all. I love them. I mean, I LOVE them. I watch them feeling a mixture of amazement at the human body, awe at the human spirit, and pride at humanity. Watching Simone Biles defy gravity in a tumbling pass gives me goosebumps. Reading about runners Nikki Hamblin (New Zealand) and Abbey D'Agostino (United States) helping each other cross the finish line makes me teary-eyed. Hearing Simone Manuel talk about what it means for her to win a gold medal leaves me inspired and humbled.

It's my first Olympics as a mother to kids who are old enough to understand it. It's been an excellent opportunity to talk to my kids about good sportsmanship and hard work, which has been a struggle at our house more often than not. Yes, thanks to the Olympics, we have talked a lot about hard work, sacrifice, and disappointment. Hearing athlete after athlete talk about the work they've put in has been important for my children. I need them to know that I'm not the only one saying that it's the work you put into something that matters. In our house right now, Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps carry more weight than Mom. (Thank you, Katie and Michael!) When we watched Epke Zonderland (Netherlands) fall during his high bar routine, we talked about how he must be feeling and how proud we were that he finished his routine with pride. On sportsmanship, we talked about how it's easy to tear down your opponent with words or hope that your opponent underperforms. And we talked about how that's cowardly. It takes real bravery to admit defeat gracefully, like Kerri Walsh Jennings. Plus, when everyone does their best, it makes for a more exciting competition. And it makes the win sweeter.

I have also been putting myself in the shoes of the athletes' parents and looking for myself in athletes who are parents themselves. I'm thinking about how many practices they sat through, how many hours they spent at the gym or at the pool or at the track, how many boo-boos they kissed or tears they wiped away. Or how many firsts they missed because they were training or how many times they had to explain why they weren't home for dinner. Yes, Aly Raisman's parents are all of us. But so is third-time-gold-winning cyclist, Kristin Armstrong, who had to explain why she was crying after her win to her young son, who couldn't understand why you would cry if you were happy.

So, thank you, Olympics. Thank you for the reminder that, no matter our home country or what we look like, we have so much in common with our fellow human beings. Thank you for the opportunity to appreciate our differences and our commonalities. Thank you for inspiring me to work harder toward the goals that I have set for myself. Thank you for the reminder to be gracious in disappointment, and to be gentle with those around me. I have a few more days to soak in rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming, and water polo before the closing ceremonies send us all into a four-year hiatus from kayaking on prime time television. So, until Tokyo, thank you.

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