This space is typically reserved for real-life examples of great communication and leadership… but not in this issue.
On August 8, 2008, I lived out a lifelong dream and marched in the Opening Ceremony of an Olympic Games. My actual life goal has been to compete in the Games as an athlete. But my best chance for that disappeared on June 11, 2000, when my teammates and I lost the selection trials for the Sydney Olympic Team. Since that time, the realities and priorities of life have shifted and my dream of being an Olympic athlete passed me by. However, my present leadership position with US Olympic Sailing has allowed me the opportunity to experience the Games firsthand. And I have to tell you about it.
Walking into the National Stadium, known as the “Bird’s Nest,” in Beijing, China, with more than 60 percent of the planet watching was a moment I will never, ever forget. It was pure magic. I could write several thousand words about the experience, and at some point soon, I probably will. But in this short space, there are a few special moments worth sharing.
Our night began at the Fencing Stadium, where we met President Bush and his family. They were so gracious and so excited to be with Team USA. We spent almost two hours with the first family as they chatted and posed for pictures with everyone. This was also the time when we were able to meet and speak with many of the more well known members of Team USA. Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Lisa Leslie, Tyson Gay, Freddy Adu, Lindsay Davenport, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony… all of them were there. My sailing teammates and I were all like little kids at Christmas… at least I know I was.
If you polled the members of the team, I think most of them would list the walk into the Stadium tunnel as a highlight of the night. Inside the tunnel, there were volunteers and staff standing five to ten feet deep on either side, going absolutely crazy. As we got closer and closer, you could see the lights inside the Stadium, and the noise of the crowd increased with every step. And just before Lopez Lomong, our USA flag bearer, stepped out of the tunnel and into the stadium, our whole team broke into a chant of “USA… USA… USA….” Fists were pumping in the air, and the goose bumps were an inch high.
The Bird’s Nest was huge and loud – 91,000 fans cheering and shouting. The sound was like nothing I have ever heard. One of my clearest memories from that night occurred just as we stepped out of the tunnel. There was this one American standing just above us, screaming himself hoarse and wildly waving an American flag with tears streaming down his face. I don’t think my feet ever touched the track during our lap around the Stadium.
My favorite moment of the night, without question, involved the President and First Lady. When we walked past their box, one other member of the Sailing Team and I paused in front of the President, tipped our caps in a show of respect, and pointed in his direction. He and Laura saw it and acknowledged it with a point back, and the President gave us the two thumps to his chest and a wave of his fist. Politics aside, that was magic.
That night was about as good as it gets for me, and it felt even better than I expected it could. It was such an honor to be there with so many members of Team USA. Other than my wedding day, this was, without question, the greatest experience of my life. Everyone who was there will remember it forever.
> Beacon Issue – October 2008
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