Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Tribute

There is plenty of news about what is going on right now for Margot. And I could also give more information about the events previous to her qualification. But I have been thinking for days about this particular post. I feel as though I can't write about what is going on now without saying a few words about the other side of the qualification process.

If you look at the roster of women who will participate in Olympic rowing, it seems like a small list indeed.

LIGHTWEIGHT DOUBLE SCULLS: Kristin Hedstrom, Julie Nichols
DOUBLE SCULLS: Margot Shumway, Sarah Trowbridge
QUADRUPLE SCULLS: Natalie Dell, Megan Kalmoe, Kara Kohler, Adrienne Martelli
PAIR WITHOUT COXSWAIN: Sara Hendershot, Sarah Zelenka
EIGHT WITH COXSWAIN: Erin Cafaro, Caryn Davies, Susan Francia, Caroline Lind, Esther Lofgren, Eleanor Logan, Meghan Musnicki, Taylor Ritzel, Mary Whipple

Every year, women all over the country participate in local and national regattas for coveted spots on the US National Team and the ability to represent the US in World Cups during the summer months. Every four years, the level of competition increases dramatically in terms of impact, when the goal is a spot on the Olympic team.

I have watched someone I love experience crushing disappointment when she was not selected, did not win a medal, had a disappointing race, and so forth. I have also watched that person live on a shoestring, hold 2-3 part time jobs to pay for rent and groceries, practice 2 or 3 times a day including Saturdays and depending on the time of year, Sundays. I have welcomed this person home for a few days when everyone in the family basically had to adjust their activities around her training schedule, because training doesn't stop for a few days -- fitness is hard to develop and very easy to lose. I have picked up the phone numerous times and listened to her sob when her herniated disk was so painful she had to stop rowing and cross train until it healed, unable to provide real comfort or reassurance that this injury wouldn't prevent her from continuing to pursue her dream.

I could continue. And so could the moms and dads, sisters and brothers, friends and lovers of all our rowers, male and female. Each one of them has a story, often very similar, but always illustrating the ability to overcome challenges large and small to focus on excellence.

I have come to know some of them, through conversations with Margot, times when I have been able to meet them, and watching them perform online or live. And I have developed so much respect for them. At this point, thinking about next week's excitement is still tempered for me by the sadness I feel for those who didn't make the team. It is heartbreaking. But for a truly unique set of circumstances, Margot would be in the group I am thinking about now. 

This is a group that includes hugely talented, gifted rowers who worked their tails off day after day with the Olympic dream in their hearts. The factors that determined the outcome of selection are so varied and elusive that it almost seems like serendipity, even though there are, of course, very specific requirements. Still, it seems like the difference between being on or off the team is no larger than a butterfly's eyelash. Even when you think you can point to a specific requirement, an erg score, a seat race, an NSR result, it is rare indeed to find a clear cut rationale in all circumstances. For every "this is why it didn't happen," most of the time you could also say, "but remember this... this should make up for that, etc. etc. etc."

And it is a shock, a huge shock, to KNOW that this goal will need to be replaced with a new one. Everything that drives an elite athlete points them towards believing in themselves, believing they have what it takes, believing that they can and will succeed. You rarely win when you walk in the door, or get in the boat, prepared to fail. You prepare to triumph.

Please forgive my presumption in writing this. My most memorable athletic achievement was being co-captain of my volleyball team in high school. My biggest disappointment was not being able to learn the uneven parallel bars in college because it would have required adjusting the equipment for me each time it was my turn because of my height (too tall). So, I only hope I am doing justice to the very real emotions that our athletes, in all sports, are feeling if they are not part of that Olympic magic taking place in the UK.

My intent is to honor them, and to let them know they are not forgotten, especially by those of us who know their sport. 

For those of you who did not make the team... We will miss you in London. We will remember all you have contributed (and hopefully will continue to contribute) to our competitions and your teammates. We will pray that you overcome your disappointment and move on to a new goal with renewed hope and all the enthusiasm and joy you bring to everything you do.

Forgive me for being trite, but in some ways the journey is just as important as the destination. You made the journey with class and distinction. Thank you! We love you!

No comments: