I don't know about you, but Olympic fever is at an all time high in my household, and it started even before the torch arrived at last week's opening ceremony. We've got the DVR recording in overdrive, live video running on the iPad and the Twitter hash tag streams on the iPhone. My three children are popping popcorn, cheering all the races and devouring every athlete profile they can.
It's amazing what a difference four years can make for an athlete or for children, like mine, who are coming of age in this Olympic era. Ryan Lochte beating Michael Phelps. Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings dominating in volleyball. Jordyn Weiber losing the opportunity to compete in the gymnastics all around. Usain Bolt. Allyson Felix. Mary Whipple. These athletes are their new idols and my children will remember these games just as I remember Nadia Comaneci scoring that perfect ten in '76 and Flo-Jo burning up the track in '88. The 2012 Olympics are inspiring a whole new generation of kids like my 15 year-old daughter Teddi who just finished her freshman year in high school rowing on an award winning crew team. A little more than a year ago she didn't have much interest in sports and wasn't sure what, if any, she wanted to do. She was lacking in self-confidence and locked in that awkward teen girl body phase.
Knowing the importance of sports, I must admit that I worried for some time that she wouldn't pick anything. My sports enthusiast husband, a former college football player, was holding his breath. Teddi tried soccer, tennis, swimming and lacrosse, but nothing seemed to stick. Then her girlfriends (gotta love those girlfriends) convinced her to try rowing, or crew as we call it, a sport we new little about. We entered into a world where long, lean muscle, split times and low erg scores reigned supreme. There were months of cardio and strength training, captain's runs and 2Ks. There was mandatory daily practice, carpools to the Passaic River, weekend regattas in Philadelphia and pasta house parties the night before. Teddi and her teammates brought their schoolbooks on trips, studied hard in between practice, took pride in their bodies and their team. Their coaches, champion British rowers of their time, pushed the team to believe they had the power to rule the river.
Fast forward one year later and I see an athlete with drive and determination who has been transfixed and transformed by the sport of rowing. At 5 ft. 10 inches, she has lost weight, built muscle and discovered that she is a powerful rower. She has acquired a discipline and focus like never before, learned what it is like to be a part of a hard working team, regained her self confidence and learned lessons that she will carry with her for the rest of her life.
When Sir Steve Redgrave, five-time Olympic gold rower, carried the torch into the Olympic stadium on Friday, it was a powerful moment for my daughter, who texted her teammates that "one of their own" was starting the games. She had already read up on the Olympic rowing team, checked their stats and the colleges they attended. My other two, who play lacrosse and ice hockey, were there to soak up the excitement.
As we listen to the Olympic athletes' stories of triumph and heartache, watch their home videos and hear their parents describe the sacrifices they made to keep their children at the top of their game, all of a sudden juggling our busy family schedule to drive my daughter to the river for practice and traveling to those weekend regattas comes clearly into focus. The stories and games of the Olympics, even to those of us just watching, have the power to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. They are the images that inspire another generation of athletes to work hard to achieve the same goals, that keep the dream alive and all that much more attainable. Already I'm hearing my daughter talk about being the first African American on the U.S. women's rowing team to win gold. 2016 Olympics in Brazil? 2020 games in Istanbul, Tokyo or Madrid? Who knows? But for now, I am smiling. I have three children who are dreaming that they, too, can be Olympians. Their eyes are brighter. Their minds are dancing. The 2012 Olympics are pushing the envelope further, daring them to dream big. I, for one, will be right there to cheer them along every step of the way.
Follow Kuae Kelch Mattox on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kuaemattox