By JAMIE PARSELL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Spoiler alert: I didn’t win a gold medal at the make-your-own Olympic games in the backyard. I had to retire my balance beam routine after my family moved from our home in Glenwood. I haven’t found another porch with a suitable banister to practice my routine since then. So I had to retire. It sounds silly now — a child pretending to be a gymnast on her back porch. Even I laugh at the memory. So does my dad; he was the one who watched my routines from the garage. I figure he was entertained by my leap poses and dance skills. Or he was waiting for me to fall and break a bone. Either way, I had an audience.
I wasn’t an aspiring gymnast or a dancer, nor did I take any formal lessons from area teachers. I was child who caught Olympic fever. It happened every four years like clockwork. As soon as the gymnasts took the floor — bedazzled with make-up and 40 barrettes — I felt my heart swell with pride for the U.S. I stayed up late to watch, eager to see each dismount, cringing at the tinniest hop on the mat. And by the end of the individual all-around competition, I knew their names, hometowns and skill specialty.
The Olympic games did more than entertain a bored child during the summer months. The intense two-week event was an inspiration; I wanted to be an Olympian. However, there were a few challenges. I didn’t have a shiny red, white and blue leotard or a massive collection of barrettes. Those were minor. On a serious note, I could barely perform a cartwheel. It didn’t matter. So in basketball shorts and a T-shirt, my hair pulled back in a messy ponytail, I climbed on the banister of the porch. It was the perfect length and not too far off the ground. I knew I would survive a fall if I lost my balance. Every evening during the games, after my mom cleared the dinner table, I would sneak outside and practice my routine. I walked up and down the banister, often kicking my leg up or pointing it down, pretending to do highly technical skills to impress the judges. I had a good imagination in those days. The sounds of early evening was my music. The green grass, rather itchy, was my blue mat. I never forgot those balance beam routines. Nor did I forget names like Kim Zmeskal and Shannon Miller, Dominique Dawes or Kerri Strug. On those summer nights, they were my inspiration.
I knew I would never have a gold medal; I was an average athlete. However, that didn’t lessen my desire to participant. I am easily inspired by athletes. And I think that is the best part of the games. These athletes — gymnasts, swimmers and runners — live their life for one moment. I am overwhelmed by their commitment and dedication. Sometimes it is all I can do to run 30 minutes. These folks run, swim and practice for hours every day. Every aspect of their lives are devoted for one goal. I am inspired by the Olympics — then and now.
As a child, I headed outside to the banister. But as a grown woman, I am inspired in a different way. I want to run a little harder, go further down the road. I am encouraged to try new things and be more creative at work. Simply put, I want to be determined, even if there is no gold medal at the end of the road. I would be lying if I didn’t wish I had a gymnast body; I am too tall to swing on the uneven bars. And I am sad I can’t run a marathon in world record pace. I am too slow.
A lot of people don’t like the games and find the TV coverage boring. I accept not everyone is a fans of the Olympics. However, we all have the ability to be inspired — either by sports, art, music, education and books. Inspiration helps us become a productive member of society. And I believe it can be found anywhere — on the balance beam or in the office.
Jamie Parsell is the Lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @BDTParsell.