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As the walk-up to the Olympics began and the U.S. gymnastics team was picked, my daughter and I picked our favorite, the one we’d champion through it all (Gabby Douglas), and I began to anticipate sitting on the couch watching the Flying Squirrel (Gabby’s nickname) and her amazing teammates do things I can only dream of doing.
I’ve never done gymnastics. Always appreciated it, never felt I had a calling or anything. Just love to watch other human beings contort their bodies and do amazing things with it. Truthfully, I couldn’t tell you the names of half the maneuvers these tiny athletes pull off. Not the way that a real enthusiast could. If I happen to catch a national championship on TV, I’ll record it and watch. But my true passion for it is pulled out of the closet and dusted off every four years or so during the Olympics.
It should be no surprise that the heightened emotions of it all, the very idea that these young men and women (and boy, are they young) have worked so hard to get to these challenges makes it hard not to feel invested in them. And that’s before you factor in national pride. But what sealed the deal for me was watching Mary Lou Retton in 1984.
Growing up, I heard all about Nadia Comăneci’s feat: that perfect 10 in 1976. But I didn’t witness it and might have been too young for it to have stuck. But I watched that 1984 Olympics like a hawk. I happened to be visiting with family out of the country during that time, so all things U.S.A. meant the world to me. It was my Olympics and Mary Lou was my girl. And I think every Olympics I’ve been trying to replicate that intense emotion. But then it hit me: I have a kid who’s into gymnastics (like really into it). And because she went through my last Olympics fix four years ago and can remember watching Shawn Johnson and her team going for the gold, we’ve started our own tradition. And I’m left to wonder if this year will be her defining Olympics year. Will Gabby Douglas be her Mary Lou Retton?