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We try, but few of us can relate to Olympians

My husband and I sat on the couch last Sunday, mesmerized by what was taking place before our very eyes.

Austrian bicyclist Anna Kiesenhofer sought extra momentum by standing on her pedals as she pushed up a dreadfully long incline toward the Fuji International Speedway finish line and her gold medal.

“Holy smokes!” my husband shouted, sounding as if he knew anything about the sport or about the fact that the woman was a huge underdog in this Olympic road race.

Truly, there was no way for either of us to relate to what Kiesenhofer was doing. Yet, each time the Olympic Games come around, somehow we think there is.

“Wow!” I exclaimed. “She looks like us!”

You see, I, too, struggle in pain up the final hill on my usual weekend bicycle journeys. Of course, I’m not fighting for gold after a grueling 85-mile trek. I’m just trying to make it to my driveway atop the hill in our neighborhood.

Or more honestly, I’m trying to grind past just one more mailbox. That’s usually the point when, huffing and puffing, we give up and tumble from our bicycles, opting instead to push them the rest of the way up the hill to our own mailbox.

As a child, I truly believed I would be an Olympian someday. I remember skateboarding in circles around the inside of my parents’ garage, convinced that I had what it took.

What was I thinking? I mean, sure, I had what it took. But c’mon. Skateboarding wasn’t even an Olympic sport back then.

As a youngster, I also swam in circles around our above-ground backyard swimming pool, dreaming of doing the backstroke at the Summer games. I also was quite an expert at underwater handstands and consecutive somersaults that I swore were good enough to qualify me for some sort of artistic swimming competition. I recall yelling for my mom to come outside and count how many somersaults I could do in a row before I had to come up for air. And then, to counter the dizziness, I’d demand she stay put while I did more somersaults, this time backwards.

And how about those incredible Olympic table tennis matches? My ping pong skills were never that advanced, but I did my fair share of tearing it up at the fraternity houses on my college campus. Of course, back then, we were attempting to bounce the balls into cups of beer in friendly games of beer pong. (As they read this, my parents must be so proud.)

In all seriousness, I suspect most Americans also find themselves glued to the TV these days. How could you not appreciate the Olympics and these amazing athletes who have dedicated their entire lives to honing their skills and athleticism?

While people like me might try to relate to them, in reality, we know we cannot. The sacrifices these athletes made for their sport in hopes of representing our country on a world stage, really, are impossible to comprehend.

The toll nonstop training and competing takes on their lives — physically, emotionally, mentally — became clear when American hero Simone Biles last week made the gut-wrenching decision to pull out of the team gymnastics competition for mental health reasons. Public reaction ranged from total support to the expected sickening slams, mostly on social media, labeling her a “quitter.”

The truth is, already world acclaimed as the greatest ever, Biles came to Tokyo with nothing more to prove as an elite gymnast. She’s gotten to this point in her life by never, ever taking the easy way out of anything. Somehow, I doubt that those people who spend way too much time on their antagonistic social media rants could make the same claim.

Sure, it’s easy to sit around and think we can relate to the finesse, skill or general toughness of these Olympians. But the truth is, very, very few can.

blinert@tribtoday.com

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