I’m a list-maker – I have journals, scratch paper, apps everywhere recording hopes and dreams and chores. But nowhere on any list I’ve ever made did I write “go to the Olympics.” Because like, when would that ever happen?
I love sports. I played all of them growing up, and volleyball especially had a lifelong impact on me. And I love a good underdog story, a fight to the finish, and hard work rewarded. I cry at every cheesy sports movie (‘Space Jam’ soundtrack still makes me weep, I’d sell my soul for sequels to “Miracle” or “A League of Their Own” or “Sandlot).
Maybe I like teaching so much because I love cheering for anyone working hard. Plus I’m super competitive and über patriotic, especially about the USA. So when it came to signing a contract to stay in Rio for another year, where the Olympics would be held, I’d be lying if I said the Games didn’t factor into my decision.
I signed the contract, booked the ticket (actually my stepdad did – thanks for the miles, Mark!) and landed on August 6th. Complications aside, simply landing in the airport got me excited. There were athletes everywhere, flags on backpacks, I heard so many languages. I was pumped.
My first Games experience was 9 something hours of beach volleyball – men’s and women’s. I’ve played volleyball since 7th grade, and it’s been a huge part of my life as a player, a coach, a girl, a woman. It’s one of the best things that ever happened to me. And seeing some heroines of mine, Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross, who I had previously met here in Rio, play O-level and recognize me and thank me for coming to the Games blew. my. mind.
We live in an age where athletes are not often good role models, treat fans terribly, engage in tasteless activities, embarrass themselves and their sport and countries. But these women are incredibly kind and gracious and humble and also KICK BUTT on the sand and I can be nothing but grateful.
I went to archery, fencing, water polo, more volleyball, gymnastics, and wrestling. I walked the grounds of the Olympic Park, saw the torch, cried at the murals, took a thousand kinds of public transport, met about a million people, walked up to strangers and asked to take pictures with them because I liked their flag, collected sports cups because it was the cheapest souvenir (and oh, hey, there is beer in there), learned a lot about games I had never witnessed before, cried a dozen times for winners, listened to national anthems for countries I’ve never visited, memorized new flags from around the world, screamed “MERICA!” more times that I can count, teared up at “O, say can you see?,” regretted Locte’s legacy left here in my beautiful Brazil.
I red, white, and blued it for two straight weeks. I obsessively checked my phone app, tried to stream every moment (someone please explain to me how as an American living in Brazil, I can’t access NBC in the country hosting the darn games?! What is this?!). I snapchatted and instagrammed. I got a phone plan for the first time after living abroad for two years solely to text people to look for me on TV while I was at the Games (it worked).
It was cheaper for me to attend because I live in Brazil and tickets are on discount for residents. And I am so blessed to live here – the transportation is easy for me, the language and places and routines familiar, and it’s already rent I’m paying for!
Bonus – I felt such a sense of pride for everyone to see this beautiful and creative and complex place I call home via the Olympic Games. Come visit already!
Sitting here and trying to write this, again I am tearing up thinking of the triumph and pride and just goodness I have witnessed here during the games. I’m remembering the Mexican contingent cheering for women’s archery as they tried to make history (and oh, I miss my Mexicans). I’m remembering Brazilian fans randomly picking Uzbekistan to cheer for in wrestling (I think simply because it was against the USA, lol) and yelling wildly in the crowd.
I’m remembering April and Kerri hugging me at 2am after waiting forever for them to emerge from press, and Kerri insisting I took an Olympic pin from her.
I’m remembering Tunisia fencing winning the first medal for her country. And the contingent from Montenegro cheering for their men’s water polo team, and having no idea what language they were shouting in, and marveling at their flag. And being able to help people figure out the bus, or tickets, or food, or translate something.
And texts and messages from friends saying how beautiful Rio looks during the Games, and reports back about how well everything seems to be going, and talking with my friends as we attend the events about how quickly the lines are moving and the new bus systems and Metro stops that are making it all work.
At the same time, there was a part of me waiting for the bustle to end – for the city to come back to itself, to only hear Portuguese and no tourists bumbling around with maps and the inherent maternal instinct that makes me engage in conversation and help them get somewhere.
I am ready to be back to work after 8 weeks of vacation; my brain’s gon’ mushy and my handwriting sloppy and I’m quite chubby after two months of nonstop caloric fun. But I’m a wee bit apprehensive of new challenges this year – besides my normal incoming assessments, teaching ELLs, and my second year of the beast that is yearbook, I’ll be focusing faculty meetings, be the point person on our reading program, heading New Member Care, getting Google Trainer certified, AND I will be teaching Biblical doctrine to eighth graders. Yeah. A Bible class. I’ve never even taken a Bible class! I am terrified.
So…clearly this is going to be a season of “why Jesus why where is the punchline” and like hopefully there are some answers on the end of that. At the very least, I expect some good stories out of this. I already like what my new roommate has provided – screaming like we were at the gates of hell as we battled her first cockroach in her bedroom. I just cackled and snapchatted the moment from the fetal position on her bed.
I miss the Olympics with everything in me . . . there is nothing like the rush of seeing the world’s best do what they do best, seeing the flag lifted, the national anthem heard, the athlete running to his/her parents in the stands for a tear-soaked hug. My hands were sore each day from clapping, I lost my voice from cheering, I saw flags I’d never noticed before, heard anthems I will probably never hear again, learned about sports that had been an almost made up concept before. It was incredible. I will never be over it.
If you haven’t heard it today, and you need to hear it – you’ve got good stories, too. And you should share them! All the time! With me! I love stories!