Olympics and My Life

It’s strange how as you get older, the Olympic games appear to be time capsules that create vivid pictures of places you were not-very-long-ago.  This must be how it feels to people who were born on leap years – who celebrate their 10th birthdays at forty.  When there are so few, it makes the years seem very condensed.  You’re reminded that life is flying past you. So without further introduction, here is my life’s Olympic journal.

1972: Absolutely no recollection. I was about to turn 2 – living in Canada.  I’m pretty sure we were just thrilled that the snow had melted. One interesting note: Roman-numerically, this was the XX Games.  2012 is the XXX Games – so I have lived an entire X in Olympic history. (Leave all of your locker room jokes at home, people. I’m a pastor.)

1976: Sumter, South Carolina. I remember all the fire hydrants were painted red, white, and blue.  I remember running races against friends, but cannot confirm that it had anything to do with the Olympic games in Montreal.  For some reason, I have vague memories of my dad watching Olympic boxing on TV, and my sister doing lots of somersaults.

1980: We were now living in Austin, Texas. I was nine and far more interested in riding Bikes with friends.  Of course, the US didn’t even go.  Were the Olympic Games still televised in America?  I wouldn’t have known, unless they interrupted an episode of CHiPs.

1984: One of my favorite memories of childhood. The Rush Family journeyed to the Olympics!  In a spur-of-the-moment decision, no less.  We were watching the opening ceremonies in our living room as they played out in LA, and somebody said how much they had always wanted to go.  My father was in the aviation business, and we had a plane at the time.  Out of the blue, he said, “Let’s go!”  No kidding: the next day, we were flying ourselves to California.  With no tickets, no itinerary, and no prearranged lodging.  We had a blast.  We were only able to get tickets to see the Chinese Women play basketball against some Eastern Block country, and the Uruguay Men play Spain.  (Imagine thousands of fans chanting “OOO-ROOOO-GWAY!” for two hours.  You never forget something like that.)

Mostly, we wandered the Olympic grounds and took in the scenery.  We saw the flame.  I’ll never forget walking by a large statue in front of the stadium with an anatomically correct naked woman next to an anatomically correct naked man.  I was thirteen, and remember thinking I was about to get in trouble. Instead, my mom took a picture.

1988: Seoul. This was the first time that I remember being totally captivated by the Games on television (age-wise that would have normally been the ’84 games for me, but I couldn’t watch those on TV.  Not to keep rubbing it in, but, um, we were there in 1984.)   My father and I watched every minute that NBC showed of the basketball team – which turned out to be a very frustrating pastime.  John Thompson was the coach, and he seemed to be either oblivious to the strategic changes he needed to make or he just didn’t care.  It seemed to us he was throwing the games.  In an eerie way, it was like I forged an alliance with my dad as we declared together how much we loathed John Thomson and how much he had ruined American Basketball.  Dad would spend many of the coming months (my senior year) in the hospital with cancer, so these times together became extra-special to me later when I began to realize how much every day together should be treasured.  Dad was also at every one of my Summer League basketball games that were happening at the same time – and there was still a part of me that thought, perhaps, if I kept growing and improving, I could be a part of the 1992 USA Basketball team – the one that would turn everything around.  Oh, the confidence of a 16-year-old. And the beyond-all-reason-or-logic confidence of a father in his son.

1992: Dream Team. Alas, I was uninvited to participate on the Men’s Basketball Team after all.  It turned out to be the first time we sent pros instead of amateurs.  (As if that’s the reason I didn’t swing a try-out.)  A newlywed living in San Marcos, I watched every moment of the Dream Team as if it was a time capsule of every basketball memory in my childhood.  Magic. Bird. MJ. Emotions overflowed as they beat down every nation that had questioned supremacy of the juggernaut that is American Hoops.  It was a beautiful thing.  I think it might have also been the first time Lana wondered what kind of basketball weirdo she had married.  I was that excited.  (Actually, this probably happened when MJ had hit the NBA record six first-half three pointers just two months earlier in the 1992 NBA Finals. During that game, I couldn’t stop jumping up and down.  I kept yelling to her, “Can you believe this?  We’re witnessing history!”  And she just kept staring.)

1996: Reagan Steals the Show. Our daughter Reagan was born eight days before the Olympic opening ceremonies.  I honestly don’t even remember having the TV on, except for after the bombing in Atlanta.  I do remember being inspired by the USA team’s preparation for basketball gold – so much so that I tried to go to the neighborhood park to “shoot some hoops” about two days after Lana and the baby returned home, and Land still feeling very weak.  And I remember a stern lecture from my baffled mother-in-law about priorities. And a well-deserved one, I might add.  It was a moment of basketball insanity.  Atlanta was a forgettable Olympics for us, but it happened during a time when I was learning to treasure far more important things than sports.  And I didn’t want my mother-in-law to catch me lounging in front of the TV.

2000: Lynchburg, VA. Do you know what I remember most about Sydney? Ryley was 7 years old, Reagan was five, and this was the first time they paid attention to the Olympic games.  We actually sat and watched some events together.  It would be an understatement to say that Ryley liked horses when she was 9.  Ryley was obsessed with horses when she was nine.  Reagan also loved horses, but at times it seemed like she was liking horses under threat of punishment from her big sister.  Earlier that summer Lana’s dad had bought the girls a pony (because it was a totally illogical purchase for 4 and 9 year old girls who have an interest in horses – but that’s what grandparents do.) If you had asked me prior to the 2000 Olympics whether there were horses involved, I would not have had a clue.  This summer?  We watched a lot of equestrian events – quickly followed by “replays” on stick horses in the front yard.

2004: Athens. I was a new pastor in Austin, the girls were 11 and 9, and they were interested in Carly Patterson winning Gold.  Lots of cartwheels in the Rush house. To my horror, USA Basketball lost for the first time with pro players – and with Tim Duncan on the team, no less.   This was a dark day for hoops fans. When asked about his thoughts on Olympic basketball, Tim Duncan famously replied, “FIBA [International Basketball] sucks.”  In my opinion, so did the Athens Olympics.

2008: Bejing. We were living in a beautiful home at the top of a hill overlooking much of South Austin.  I remember laughing histerically that the Chinese leader’s name was “Hu.”  It was instant clean comedy:  Who’s the Leader?  “Hu.” Who? “Hu.” I remember good times with friends and family.  I remember Reagan thinking I had laughed a little too long and loud at President Hu. I remember Ryley going from interested viewer to absolute, unabashed sports fanatic at that Olympics.  I remember how surreal it was to juggle the viewing of the Olympics with viewing cartoons with our two year old – like 1996 all over again.

And here we are in the summer of 2012. On the eve of the Opening Ceremonies, our Reagan turned sixteen.  While we watched the event this evening, Reagan was the one who could point out every band playing in the background.  On the evening of the Closing Ceremonies, we will be delivering Ryley to her first year of college at Liberty University.  Two weeks later, Lily will start Kindergarten.

Time marches on, and I remember the games far differently than I would have anticipated when I really started watching as a child.  Such simple traditions leave memories that bring to mind not so much the spectacles of the venues or the heroes of the games, but the people whom I loved who were next to me when the moments happened.  London marks my eleventh Olympics.  How can that be?  These honored traditions have become to me like bookmarks in a treasured novel. I can’t wait to read the rest – and there’s another bookmark on page 2016.

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