I was thirteen years old when the Olympic Games came to Los Angeles in 1984. My family traveled three thousand miles, across the country, to experience the games firsthand. We had always been Olympic junkies, so we were excited to see the events "up close and personal."
I was always an athlete myself and an obvious fan of the Olympics' many sports, but I don't think I had the slightest idea how much I would be drawn in by the spectacle. It was that first day in the sweltering seats of the grand track and field Coliseum that something changed in me. I couldn't believe that I was sitting a few feet away from REAL Olympic athletes. They no longer felt like movie actors playing parts; these were real people, performing real feats and receiving real medals.
I'll be honest with you though, seeing these physical phenoms on their various fields of play, it didn't matter how many records they had broken or how much "Olympic bling" was hanging around their necks. What mattered was their dedication. Their spirit. Their passion. They were ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
For me, those 28 years ago, sitting in those Los Angeles grandstands, my dreams and desires were no longer a vague concept. They were now a bona fide prospect. I looked at those Olympians with awe and vowed that someday I would become one of them.
That initial inspiration propelled a lifetime of hard work. It was always the memory of those athletes that helped me persevere through hard times and push past insurmountable obstacles -- and believe me, there were many. And ten years later, I was walking into my own Olympic Opening Ceremonies. And the tears that stained my face demonstrated that the journey was worth it. I was able to stand where my heroes once had. And I knew my presence there had the potential of inspiring some other child leaping out of his or her spectator seat or yelling along with exuberant spirit. Maybe I could motivate someone to push a little harder to understand their childhood dreams.
So, as a mom now that is typically very conscious to keep her children away from the television for the better part of the day, I'm okay leaving on NBC nearly 24/7 to blast inspirational images into the depths of my children's souls. Whether they connect with a Michael Phelps, Gabby Douglas, Lopez Lomong, Missy Franklin or Oscar Pistorius, it doesn't matter. I just hope they recognize that these people are heroes, and with the same drive and dedication, they can be too.
Every four years, Olympians step onto the field, track, court and pool and demonstrate why they are the best in the world at their designated sport. I've been fortunate to know how an Olympian's efforts can inspire an endless number of girls and boys to accomplish great feats. I love the thought of some wide-eyed child saying, "Twenty-two, huh? Michael Phelps is human just like me. Why can't I top that record?" Who knows, maybe it will be mine.