I geek out over the Olympics.
I know, I know. Rio is a bit of a mess. A sometimes very dangerous mess. The IOC makes bad decisions and perhaps we should stop the bidding wars and just declare one city Olympic host forever.
But you have to admit that, politics and personalities and abysmal NBC coverage aside (commercials, anyone?), people at the absolute tippy-top of their game are inspiring to watch. Especially the women.
The first gold medal of the Rio games was won by 19-year old Ginny Thrasher. Sunday a Hungarian woman obliterated a swimming record. Beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh-Jennings has birthed three children and can spike your face off.
My parents required my two sisters and I to play a sport growing up. It could be any sport we wanted, but they wanted us to learn teamwork and stay out of trouble. For awhile we dabbled in soccer, but then we found ice hockey and were absolutely hooked.
The late-night practices, away games, and weekend tournaments were a hassle, but my parents never blinked. My mom washed nine million stinky hockey socks and cheered from the freezing cold stands. My dad learned to skate so he could be an on-ice helper and eventually even an assistant coach.
“A kid on the ice,” my dad was fond of saying, “is not in hot water.”
(This photo was our annual alumni game – alumni versus the current high school girls’ team. We won. I scored a goal. Three of the alumni were currently nursing babies and one was a few weeks pregnant. Those are my nieces in the foreground, who thought their mom (my sister) and their aunts (my other sister and me) were so cool they both started playing hockey the next winter. Yeah, we rock.)
(My amazing parents, who never missed a game and still don’t ever miss the annual alumni game, my two sisters who were (and are) better athletes than I will ever be, and me (center). Aaaaaaand if you look closely at this photo you will see that I forgot to take off my dangly earrings to play hockey. Because: classy.)
In a culture that still often tells girls and women that their primary value is in being pretty, sports help young girls learn how to say, “Oh yeah? Well, watch what I can do.”
One of my college roommates returned from a yoga class on a rainy afternoon with a huge, beaming smile on her face. After struggling with food and body image for years (despite being totally gorgeous and much smaller than I was – and I was average-to-thin) she’d begun doing yoga regularly for the first time.
“Dieting was all about making myself smaller,” she said. “Now I want there to be more of me. I want to be strong.”
I love that for the next two weeks young girls around the world will turn on the television to see Simone Biles and Allyson Felix and Katie Ledecky and watch their speed and grace and strength and think, “If she can do that, what can’t I do?”
Tune in, girls. Tune in.