Category Archives: Olympic Dreams

Pollyanna.

If I try hard enough, I can find a silver lining in a lot of situations. For instance, right now, I’m telling myself that the silver lining to my insomnia (it’s currently 3 am) is that I do my best writing when I’m overtired. {Except for tonight. Because my grammar is terrible. Bear with me — I’ll edit when I have more than 6 hours of sleep in 3 days.}

When Tom ruined his ankle, looking back we can see how it landed us here in the Carolinas. Living 6 months apart when he was in California ended up being our saving grace, since we weren’t stuck in a lease and could move here for a better opportunity.

Tonight, or I guess last night, Tom didn’t make a legal snatch at the American Open, rendering him essentially out of the competition, out of medal contention, and unable to help his team get points for the title. It was, and is, an absolutely heartbreaking situation. The worst case scenario is always an injury. This seems like the second-worst.

It is so hard to put all this in perspective. Watching him come home every day from practice, bruised and bloody, aching and sore, you tell yourself that it’s all worth it. And for his teammates that walked away tonight with gold, unequivocally, it was. For the teammates that placed and put up respectable numbers, they’ll probably agree. But when he walked off that stage after the 3rd snatch, I wasn’t so sure. {Obviously it’s not my decision, I’m just keeping it real.}

And I wondered if he was going to come back out for the clean + jerk. I know Tom, and I know he’s not a quitter, but after a defeat like that, for someone as emotional as he is, you wonder if it’s worth the pressure. And then it was his turn, and he stormed up on that stage with a ferocity I had never seen before. And I knew at that moment he’d make his lift. And he did. And then his second turn. And the number was high. And I knew if he made this lift, his 3rd attempt would be a PR. And he made the second. And that was it. I knew he was going for it. He didn’t just walk onto that stage. He MARCHED onto that stage, staring this bar down, looking for vengeance. He was going to prove it to himself, to the audience, to his coach, to his teammates, and to that bar, that he was good. And he did. The lift was beautiful. The look on his face was frightening. And then his victory celebration…it was so exciting.

And there you have your silver lining. The feeling I had in my stomach after the snatch session was awful, and I wouldn’t want to experience that again or wish it upon another lifter. But without that, I wonder if he would have made the 192 later. Would he have the determination, the fuel, the focus that it would take to get three white lights?

Medal or no medal, it is obvious to see that this kid has something special. He’s strong, but he’s new and raw in this sport. And tonight is the sandpaper that will smooth him down and make him a great weightlifter.

“In this life, we’re not looking for easy. We’re looking for worth it.”

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Citius, Altius, Fortius

As a person with feelings, it’s hard to watch the Olympics and not get caught up in the emotions of the competitions. It’s hard to NOT cheer for the underdog, hard NOT to tear up when an Olympian tears up on the podium as her national anthem plays, hard to NOT root for and get disappointed when the US doesn’t take the gold. Even before my husband began taking steps towards his Olympic dream, I loved the drama and exhilaration of watching The Games. But now that we’re here and watching other athletes with paths similar to ours, it’s an entirely different thing.

It’s hard for me to watch these athletes’ loved ones in the stands without wondering if it will be me the cameras are panning to in eight years…(well, assuming cameras are there. His sport is the one they air at 2 am because it’s not super popular.) It’s hard to not wonder if I’ll be biting my nails as he approaches the platform, if our families will be with us or watching from home, if his teammates will be representing the US, or if they’ll have been edged out by the competition.

Four years would be pure luck (and, as Tom was told by one of his Olympic heroes Brian Oldfield, “Good luck, and by that I mean work hard, because there’s no such thing as luck in this sport.”) Eight years is the goal…a dream so far out of reach right now that the host city hasn’t even been chosen yet. Tokyo, Madrid or Istanbul hold our hopes, without even knowing it.

I read somewhere today that the Olympics are 95% narcissism and 5% national pride. There’s a grain of truth in that, I guess. I think the percentages are pretty far off, though. But I think that’s a necessary combination. To do what Tom does to his body day in and day out, you have to want this so much for reasons beyond American pride. To spend 4+ hours a day training, 2 hours actively recovering (that means tubs full of ice and painful muscle stripping), and another 3-4 hours watching the Greats, your competitors, your teammates and yourself on Youtube, you have to want this for yourself. You have to be crazy enough to analyze videos from the ’70’s while rolling your muscles out on PVC pipe to reduce the inflammation from today’s workout. You have to be crazy enough to give up not one, not two, but three jobs you love to move across the country to train with the best coach and athletes. You have to be crazy to give up a steady paycheck and a comfortable life for one of little monetary reward and lots of physical risk.

You have to be crazy enough to want the Gold. Or the Silver. Or the Bronze. Or just the chance to march in the Opening Ceremonies, donned in the colors of your country, as millions around the world recognize you for the talent you have and the sacrifices you make.

Or, you must be crazy enough to stay married to someone who wants all that.

To my love: Citius, Altius, Fortius 2020.

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Abnormally Normal.

We’ve been living here almost four weeks now, and I have to say, I really like it.

I feel the same about the environment and the people that I did last time we chatted – everyone is friendly but slow, and the weather here is very hot and humid.

But it’s not that which has changed my mind.

Tom and I have fallen into such a rhythm of comfort here. Long walks with a cool breeze aren’t an out of the ordinary experience here. Spending my lunch break poolside happens twice a week. We share most lunches and dinners together, just for the sheer fact that we’re both home. A lot.

This is in stark contrast to the first 2 years of our marriage, where we’d be lucky to have 2 meals together during the week. Some nights he’d be working until 9 pm or later. A lot of meals were consumed on the couch — mine around 6 pm watching Golden Girls, his around 9:30 watching Sportscenter. It was normal to us at the time, and we made it work.

And now, this is as abnormal as it gets. It is altogether strange. But it’s wonderful. There are days where I look forward to running errands to have some time by myself outside of the house, just as I imagine he actually looks forward to heading off to the gym some afternoons. But I think that’s the normal part of all of this. I can say we genuinely do enjoy each other’s company, and wouldn’t trade this arrangement in for either of our previous ones.

I am under no illusions, however, that this is the way things will always be. Our situation is delicate. It relies on the decisions of others, namely Tom’s coach, his team’s financial backer, and in the future, organizations that govern his sport, and the US Olympics committee. Things change, people take different routes, one gets chosen over the other. There was a weightlifter who made the US Olympic team four years ago and travelled to Beijing. I don’t know the technical details, but another country’s lifter was disqualified (I believe), and that changed the formulas for the countries sending lifters, and long story short, this man no longer met the world standards to be at the Olympics, and was sent home days before the torch was lit.

Disappointment on this journey is everywhere, success is rare, frustration abounds. But contentment and gratitude…thankfully we have a lot of that hanging around.

On the Road

Technology is amazing, isn’t it? I sit here writing to you all from somewhere in Indiana, en route to my new home. By the time I’m done writing, we’ll be closer to Kentucky.

This just does not feel real. Have 6 months really passed?

Every bump and jolt of the vehicle reminds me that I am indeed on my way to a new life. It sounds dramatic, I know, but it’s true…very few things are the same now. New apartment, new surroundings, new way of living (just found out I’m allergic to gluten), new job (same company, thankfully!). So what’s the same?

You.

My family, my friends, my work wife, my coworkers…you’re still all here for me, encouraging and supporting this dream, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

I cried yesterday…a lot. It’s not easy to make me cry, but I just couldn’t stop the past few days…waving goodbye to my friends and colleagues, getting those tight squeezes from my nieces, the card from my goddaughter that tells me how sad she is that I’m leaving, breaking down when my mother in law asks me how I’m doing, kissing my grandmother goodbye for the very last time…

(And now I’m crying again.)

No amount of excitement can temper the sadness that I’m feeling. Even the fact that I’m returning in the next few weeks doesn’t help.

Please keep my parents and I in your thoughts for a safe and uneventful journey. I will report back in better spirits in Carolina!

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Carolina in My Mind.

Well, I believe the proverbial cat is out of the bag…

I am not moving to California.

{I’ll just let that sink in for a moment.}

So, here’s the story. I was in California a few weeks ago to find an apartment. On Monday, Tom and I found the perfect apartment. It was across the street from our new favorite microbrewery, had granite countertops, a fireplace, and was even $100 under budget. And on Tuesday, I flew back to Chicago. Tuesday evening, the following text conversation transpired between my husband and I.

“We need to talk. There’s some big stuff going down.”

“Wow. That’s never good. With who?”

“With what, you mean. The team.”

“What about the team? Wait, let me guess…Murphy’s Law. We just found our apartment, so that means the team is moving right? LOL.”

“…”

“Seriously?”

And that, folks, is how my life turned upside down in 30 seconds. I don’t have the time or energy to go into the politics of the move, but what I can/will say is that this has the potential to be a very good opportunity for us. We’ll be settling in South Carolina, near Charlotte, NC. This move really allows Tom the ability to concentrate 100% on training and not feel the pull of working another job. Luckily, I can pick up and work from wherever I have an internet connection and a phone, so other than the timezone, the “move” really isn’t inconvenient.

But, I am sad to not be moving to California. I was really, really looking forward to it. I had already found {and met, and loved!} a writing group out there, I had found an alumni organization to join…it seemed that everything was falling into place.

And then just as the glitter settled, dusting our eyelashes and shoulders, everything was shook up. Not only could we not talk about this {huge, mega} change in our lives, we had days to figure out where we were going to live and how we were going to get there. We wrestled with how and when to tell our family and friends, while still keeping quiet like we were asked. While I pored over rental listings and online photos trying to find something that didn’t remind me of a scene from Slumdog Millionaire, Tom began to quietly contemplate severing ties with the new alliances, clients, and teams he had lifted with, worked with, and coached. The more I thought about it, the more terrified I became.

I’m going to be a Yank. I’m not going to be any good in the South. I’m probably going to hate it. There’s nothing for me out there. From big, beautiful, thriving San Francisco to a small town in South Carolina…I don’t even like sweet tea.

It’s all been an adjustment, and a really hard one at that. Maybe even harder than the initial “Oh my gosh, I’m moving far away!” I don’t do change well, and that might be a slight understatement. I also don’t do well in situations where I have a decided lack of control. And with this…not knowing the area, not knowing when Tom will move, not knowing when I could or should move, partially as a result of the very sad, hard situation with my Grandmother…it’s just all been really, really tough.

So our adventure takes another {U}turn. We’re turning our moving truck East, learning how to make sweet tea, and trying to build the future American record holder. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll learn to love the South and get a novel or two published.

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Blinders.

There’s a common adage that death comes in threes. I’m not sure if this is applicable to just death, and if the number three is right, but it certainly seems that problems beget problems, and darkness stays longer than light. My heart is so heavy and sad for so many I know that are struggling right now. Just as I begin to make sense of a horrific story I’ve heard, my phone buzzes, alerting me to the next crisis. I almost don’t want to answer it anymore.

I’m big on self-preservation. If I don’t want to be sad, I won’t read certain news stories that I know will affect me. I purposely avoid television shows I’m sure I’d love, because I don’t want to fight the battle against being hooked. For as much as I tend to worry, I just don’t let my mind go to some dark places. In the same vein, sometimes I feel like Tom and I are immune to the stress that is our current and future lifestyle. I’ve always convinced myself {and listened as others told me} that there was something special between us…something strong and unbreakable.

I don’t think that having these blinders on is always the smartest choice, but I do think it allows me to plod forward in scary situations without being spooked. Semi-educated ignorance can be bliss. There are a lot of unknowns about our life paths right now that could cause disaster. Professional athletes in small sports aren’t well-compensated, if compensated if at all. My husband is in a situation that allows him some income as he trains, but it’s nothing compared to his salaried teaching and coaching jobs that he left behind. The dynamics of having one person chase their dreams at {quite literally} the expense of the other isn’t easy to navigate. Then there’s the move…the nerve-wracking journey to box up 1,400 square feet of possessions and two energized dogs and move them 2,200 miles into a 650 square foot shoebox. Time to find a new doctor, a new dentist, a new veterinarian, a new Sunday morning breakfast spot. And then there’s the injuries…the invisible monster that haunts practices. Is the soreness temporary, or is something worse going on? What’s lurking in the future? Will it all disappear tomorrow, dreams ripped to shreds like torn muscles? There are battles with ego, temptation, insecurity, power, teammates, sleep, guilt…

While the world seems to crash down around us, we cling to each other. We look straight ahead.

Don’t look at the wreckage, or you’ll get nervous. One foot in front of the other, that’s it, keep going. Don’t look back. Don’t listen to the crying behind you, it’ll only make it worse.

Are you scared? Me too.

Heated.

So here’s a new one for you, internet world.

This weekend hit me like a ton of bricks. Maybe it’s all the, well, for lack of a more eloquent word, crap in my life right now, or maybe it’s just reality hitting me a few months late. The last week would have been one of the most celebrated weeks in our house…Off Week. As a college coach, my husband worked every evening and every weekend, often leaving me to fend for myself at family parties, events with friends, and general weekend life. But Off Week, the short, sweet period of time that he had no practices or meets was MY week. I knew he’d be home every evening by 5, like a “normal person,” and the weekends were mine to plan. Sometimes we’d go downtown, sometimes we’d do nothing, sometimes we’d spend hours at the forest preserve hiking a new trail with our dogs.

On Saturday, I realized it was Off Week. And then I got irrationally angry. I’m not really ashamed to admit this, either. I feel like I’ve been a brave solider for a long time now, and as a friend put it earlier, I’m due for a meltdown. I felt it all start to bubble inside, a bitter acid of hatred brewing in my stomach, spreading through my veins and flushing color in my cheeks.

I hate California. I hate weightlifting. I hate it all. This is no fair. This is MY WEEK, and they stole him.

When he was an athlete in college, I used to half-heartedly joke that he had two women in his life…myself and track. Weightlifting has become his new mistress…the one he spends his days with, the one that brings him the greatest frustrations and the greatest joys, the one who he thinks about while he lays in bed at night. He would do anything for weightlifting. {He’d do anything for me, too, but that’s not the point of this.}

Since we’re being honest and raw, I’ll also admit that it’s not easy to be number two in your spouse’s life. He and I have had this conversation many times, but to no avail. In order to be the best, to be the greatest, there can be no distractions, no second guesses. In the split second that he hesitates to choose between myself and weightlifting, someone else will swoop in and become better. It’s tough, and it’s no fun. I can’t sugarcoat that, not for you, dear readers, and not for myself. I’m not a martyr, either. I lack patience and sensitivity, and at times, the will to understand. It’s easier for me to stick my fingers in my ears and throw a mega-tantrum.

In the end it comes down to an ultimatum: would I rather be selfish and have a passionless man all to myself, or would I rather share a great man with fire and determination?

In the distance, this seems like an easy choice. In the cyclone of emotions, the torrent of an Irish temper mixed with the fire of an Italian mouth, I often choose the former. But when I stop yelling and drop my hands to my sides, I know which option I need to choose. What option I WANT to choose.

On our wedding day, we opted to perform a simple yet poignant ceremony called a handfasting ceremony. The concept is simple: we were asked a few questions, answered with honesty, and our hands were bound with silky ribbons to remind us of the committment we chose to make. It was the questions that made us fall in love with this, and they still ring true.

Beth, will you share his dreams? Yes.
Tom, will you share her dreams? Yes.
Will you dream together to create new realities and hopes? We will
Tom, will you cause her anger? Yes.
Is that your intent? No.
Beth, will you cause him anger? Yes.?
Is that your intent? No.
Will you take the heat of anger and use it to temper the strength of this union? We will.

We entered this realistically, and the span of miles between us doesn’t change this. Makes it more difficult, maybe…but it doesn’t alter the vows we so enthusiastically and honestly made. So tonight, I will temper my anger and hatred, for it reminds me of how fierce my love is for him, and that is a blessing in this dark period of my life.

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Glory & Gold.

You guys, I did it.

In the crazy, always thinking a million miles ahead brain that resides in this heavy skull, I shoved off time and remained in the moment.

This was momentous for me. It was, as Oprah would say, an “Aha moment.” No thought or worry that would enter my mind in those seven days would make them any longer or better…only shorter and sad. And the time with him was perfect. It wasn’t all fun. At times it was boring and scary, lonesome yet claustrophobic, but we enjoyed all the time we spent together.

I worried that maybe things would feel strange or awkward, that we would need an acclimation period with each other again. But we didn’t. We picked up right where we left off, but better, more sophisticated. We were more aware of the other’s feelings, taking care not to bruise one another emotionally, for our time to make repairs was short. We were honest and raw, talking about our biggest fears and worries, the physical presence of one another protective and comforting. We whispered about our dreams, the twinkle in our hazel eyes encouraging broad smiles on our faces.

It was surreal, it was short, it was wonderful.

We sat together, shoulder to shoulder, hands clasped as we watched fifteen women fight for two spots on this year’s Olympic team. Hopes were high, then they were dashed. The battles were epic: two women reigned the competition, then another pushed her way to the top, only to be knocked off the podium at the end. Yet another desperately attempted a Hail Mary, a last-ditch effort to literally muscle her way to the Olympics…and in the end, it just wasn’t enough.

Watching as two women’s’ dreams came true was exciting. The adrenaline was pumping through my veins, the endorphins almost palpable in the crowd of hundreds. But simultaneously, it was heart-wrenching to watch the women whose dreams died that day.

Four years of work, sweat, pain, blood, sacrifice: will it be enough? Is he killing himself now only to have his overtaxed heart crushed later? Is what I’m bringing to the table enough? Is it too much? Is it worth it?

Without getting into the migraine-inducing technicalities, it’s worth noting that the way this sport operates, no country is guaranteed a spot at the Olympics. They are instead based off of team performances at other world-level events. This year, the men currently don’t hold a single spot. There’s a chance they’ll eek out one in the coming months, but there’s a far greater chance they won’t. So what about the athlete that does everything right? The athlete who is the first to show up and the last to leave, the one with the deepest scars and the strongest muscles? It’s painful to think about: that we could uproot everything, turn things upside down, only to be met with devastation because as a country, we are not strong enough.

I looked over at him, wondering if he was feeling the same mixed emotions I was. And it was evident: the glory, the one shred of hope of making that team. I could see it in his eyes, the gold outshining the green, the fire of an athlete burning.

So we’re doing this. Completely, unequivocably…we’re putting all our proverbial chips in the middle of the table, and looking forward to the day four years from now where we found out if the bet we took was worth it.

I have a sneaking suspicion that either way it turns out, we’ll have no regrets.

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