(Photo Source: the Kroger cereal aisle and me)
“I don’t rank competitions – every single one is the Olympics to me.” – Blanka Vlasic
In the fall of 2005, I sat at a table in Greenwich Village having lunch with one of the most important people in my life, my oldest and dearest friend, John. He and I met some years earlier in music school in a theory class that we both found torturous and became instantly inseparable. I’d never been to New York during that time of year and it felt and looked different from the other times I had been there, which were twice in the heat of the summer and once in the dead of winter.
On this particular day, the Village looked like a living, breathing Instagram photo, complete with the sun casting an insta-vintage, dreamy, golden and slightly out-of-focus filter over the neighborhood. (The out-of-focus feature potentially being the result of my two-martini lunch, or wine in this case.) John was there for a private audition with the Sarasota Opera’s Young Artist Program and I was his moral support. We sat at lunch talking about how it had once been our dream to live and work together in the New York musical theater world and about how strange it was that our lives had taken such divergent paths. At the time, I was in and out of Nashville writing country music and he was working on the Mid-Atlantic Coast in the classical music world, singing at Wolf Trap and the Washington National Opera, among other storied institutions. We talked about the difficulties of pursuing a career in the arts and how this opportunity was, for him, an important next step in his classical career.
During the course of the conversation he said to me, “Robin, all of this, it’s worth it. This is my Olympics.” That statement had a profound, hammer-over-the-head effect on me in that moment, and it wasn’t just the alcohol. After lunch, while we walked over to the church where the audition was being held, the one thing I thought about, besides the butterflies I felt for my friend, was what, in my life, would be the equivalent of an Olympic moment.
It wasn’t long after the trip to New York that I sold half of my belongings, packed up the good things in my life, left the rest and carted myself, for good, to Nashville to give my version of the Olympic dream a real chance.
Flash forward to 2012 and I’m still thinking about his statement, especially now that the Olympics are here again and I’ve found myself in front of the television watching my favorite event and crying every time one of our Team USA gymnasts does well and sticks a landing or breaks and has a wobble on the beam. I’ll admit to being empathic to a fault and somewhat overly emotional, but I’m a bit suspicious of people who aren’t moved by the thought of what it takes, in sacrifice and hard work, to nail a performance at the Olympics or by the unbearable heartbreak of falling short of your dream by a half of a tenth of a point.
A few weeks ago, out of curiosity, I started asking friends and family what they considered to be their “Olympics.” The answers I’ve been receiving are part “that was my moment” and part “I hope to see this moment.” I’m going to share a few of them with you.
I’ll start with Kelly, my sister and the mommy of two amazing small humans. This was her answer to my question:
My Olympic dream is to raise my kids in such a way that they will grow into who they are supposed to be without me imposing any of my own expectations or judgments; but more so, that they will be fearless in the pursuit of their passion. Growing up painfully shy, I never really left my comfort zone and therefore didn’t try many of things that I was interested in. I hope to be successful in raising two moral and confident people who, even it they do have regrets, will know that NOT following their dreams won’t be one of them.
That moves me. A mother’s sweat and tears along with the kind of blood that comes in the form of scraped knees and the boo-boos that mamas mend, are no less deserving of a gold medal or Wheaties box cover than a perfect performance in an Olympic event. Do you hear that, Wheaties? Next time you’re looking for a hero to put on your box, look no further than your local playground.
(Kelly with one of her precious small humans. Photo Source: Me)
The next response I received via e-mail was from a friend I met last year during a volunteer job here in Nashville. We became pretty fast friends and she is a person who I felt immediately comfortable sharing my stories with. Her name is Leslie. She’s a social worker, a sculptor of small clay animals and she makes me laugh. I got her permission to post her e-mail response in its entirety, because I found that her story is better told in her own voice. Here are Leslie’s Olympic life moments:
So, I actually had to think about this a little bit, but after figuring it out, I’m not sure why. I have 3 Olympics, 2 past and 1 current (as of Tuesday!) One of my defining achievements was extracting myself from a terrible marriage and moving to Nashville from CA by myself. I had to limit my belongings to what would fit in my car and the 8 boxes I shipped to myself. It taught me a lot about what I really needed to live and when to let go of “stuff.” I also learned that I can start over and reinvent myself, creating a person that I’m happier with than the one who ended up in a crappy relationship.
My next Olympics was getting through graduate school without getting arrested for assault or ending up in rehab. I wanted to quit sooooo badly, but I was lucky to have a supportive husband (the amazing 2nd husband, not the terrible 1st husband) who kept telling me I’d look back and believe it was worth it. He was right. Between the move to Nashville and meeting my goal of getting out of grad school with a 4.0, I feel like there’s nothing I can’t do. Until….
This past Tuesday I started laser hair removal on my legs. I’m a hairy, hairy brunette and it has been a dream for a long time to deal with my legs. I was unable to get through Tuesday’s appointment and went back today, covered in even more numbing cream, and still couldn’t get through the appointment. I’m rescheduled for Sept. 6, when I’ll have some prescription strength numbing cream in my corner.
If I can make it through one year of laser appointments, there won’t be anything that I’ll find intimidating. A cross-country move, graduate school, and now physical pain…I’m ready to take on the world!”
Go, Leslie, go! She gets a gold medal for finding the will to leave a marriage that left her emotionally depleted and looking for any and every way to get out. I can assure you that the Leslie I know wouldn’t take any crap from anybody. She’s a small person with big-time strength (and soon-to-be permanently carefree, hair-free legs.)
(Leslie and me at the Frist Center where we volunteer. Photo Source: Leslie’s husband)
I’m also posting my next friend’s e-mail in its entirety, because trying to edit her, in any way, is like trying to rope a wild horse. I love her for that. Melany and I wrote a lot of songs together before she moved to New York City and I was sad to see her move away. Here are the thoughts of a singing, songwriting wonder-diva with Olympic-sized talent on what she hopes will be her Olympic moments in life:
My three main goals in life were to attain a record deal, move to New York, and lose the rest of my weight.
2 of the three goals were attained! Well, at least the New York goal. I still want to lose the rest of my weight. I have to keep reminding myself, “Melany, you used to weight 250lbs! Be GRATEFUL!” It’s so crazy that I used to be that big. I lost 75lbs. All I wanted was to be a size 10-12. Now that I’m involved in a music career, I gotta be a size 4-6. I feel like I have used my weight as an excuse for YEARS. I hid behind it thinking I wouldn’t achieve my goal.
Well, I have come to the conclusion that God made me to be curvy. I’m ok with this finally. I’ve also come to the conclusion that if I ever want to lose weight for good, I have to do it for no one but myself. My whole life I was dieting for someone else. My father, the Junior High Volley Ball Team, the high school crush, the music career… NEVER for myself.
I guess the ultimate dream (My Olympics) will be to set out and actually lose the weight for good. I want to flaunt pics of my size 6 ass all over the WWW for the world to see how much I love myself! I want the world to see that I lost the weight for ME MYSELF AND I…. Not for a music career, not for a boy, not for anyone but my damn self.
Doesn’t that make you want to get your Aretha on and sing RESPECT at the top of your lungs? Melany gets a gold, a silver and a bronze. Listen to THIS girl sing.
(Melany and me in the studio last fall. Photo Source: Melany’s iPhone)
After hearing and reading these declarations of dreaming big, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are as many kinds of Olympic-sized life events, gold medals and medal podiums as there are people. Some medal ceremonies take place in delivery rooms, board rooms and courtrooms. Some receive their medals on a theater stage or after crossing the finish line of a marathon, or triathlon, in my case. (Hopefully.) Some ceremonies take place inside a pair of skinny jeans or behind the desk of a social worker whose success will go largely unnoticed and to little applause. Whatever you want your Olympic moment in life to be, go for it, no matter how big or small you think it seems. I’m grateful to my friends who shared their dreams, goals and moments with me in e-mails and in conversation. I was inspired as much by their stories as I was last night, tears and all, watching Team USA’s female gymnasts live their dream.
Cheers to the Olympics! What are your “Olympic” moments?