When you’ve made more than one Olympic Team, people like to ask you how your experiences compare – past to the present. What’s different this time? Which one was better? I’ve talked a bit about how I feel I’ve grown and changed as an athlete over the course of three Olympic Teams, and what making the Team means to me now vs. then. When I explain it or write it out, it often comes out as the excitement or “magic” (as I like to call it) of making the Olympic Team decrescendos with each experience, and is somehow replaced with a stronger sense of purpose, duty, routine or general utility. I don’t mean for it to sound that way, but my explanations to date have all sounded a little mature and, frankly, dull.
Well, I changed my mind. Call it an act of my cavalier subconscious, or just really bad luck, but I’ve spent the last few days on my Road to Rio enthusiastically engaged in a process I can only look back on now as KEEPING THE MAGIC ALIVE. Because I’m in Rio, and I’m more pumped than ever just to be here. Let me explain.
On Wednesday, I was in Houston with my teammates for USA Team Processing. It was epic. We did all the fun stuff, and the USOC partners really stepped up their game this year, making every athlete feel special and creating a really memorable day for all of us. We got some training in, got our gear, got fed, and then headed out to the airport to fly to Rio. I was the last of my group to check in my bags and when I got to the United counter, I reached in to my bag…to find that my passport was not there. I stared blankly at the empty pocket on the front of my bag for a second, knowing that I only ever put my passport in one place in my luggage and that I had definitely had it with me on the bus to the airport. I went through my entire bag twice before telling my team leader and my coaches that my passport was missing.
I spent the next forty-five minutes or so with USOC and United staff in the check in area going through all of my bags, calling everyone everywhere (including the bus driver, who pulled over on the freeway to look for my passport), and trying to come up with a contingency plan for the next twenty-four hours assuming that the passport was, in fact, lost. Ultimately, after rifling through every item I brought on the trip, we conceded defeat and I went back to the hotel, making plans to get a replacement passport issued the next day. Because I was the last person in the baggage check, I didn’t even get to see my teammates to say goodbye as they left for Rio, and had to wish them bon voyage via text.
The next day, a team of very organized and motivated individuals at the USOC, Houston Sports Authority, and the US Department of State created what I can only describe as an Olympic-sized miracle, and I had a new passport by 1:00pm. That meant I was going to be able to make the next departing flight for Rio, that night. By mid-morning I was basically on a first-name basis with everyone on site, or at least achieved a certain level of recognition from them (“oh! So you’re the one who lost her passport!”). Celebrity status achievement unlocked.
I got my workouts for the day in (I can tell you from experience: erging alone in a convention center when your teammates are at the Olympics is about as fun as it sounds, but at least it was air conditioned), the USOC made sure that I didn’t have to worry about a thing, and before I knew it, I was back at the airport to be greeted with huge smiles and high fives by the United staff who had stuck with me to the bitter end the night before. I proudly flashed my new passport while they gave me some well-deserved heckling, then I checked my bags and the rest is history.
As much as I wanted to be with my teammates on the flight to Rio, I took some comfort in the fact that my surrogate teammates for the flight were the US Sailing Team. As I told one of them on the bus to the airport, “this probably sounds weird, but I’m glad I’m with other boat people.” They were all friendly and gracious, and made me feel less like a loser for losing my passport.
There were more hoops to jump through when I got to Rio, because one’s Olympic accreditation is linked to one’s passport, and so a new passport means a new accreditation. But once again, the USOC already had things in motion to make my entry to the Olympic Village as smooth as possible, and I was in my room and ready for a workout within about an hour of arriving.
Not long after, my teammates all clambered off the elevators after a day at the course, and found me on the couch in my room in my gray Nike mu-mu getting caught up on what I missed on my overnight flight. After greetings from all of them, and my coaches, and then all of our support staff, it occurred to me that in none of my Olympic experiences has everyone been so enthused about me just getting to the Games. So, while I don’t recommend losing your passport while you’re trying to travel to the Olympics, it does allow you the opportunity to humbly remember and feel a true sense of gratitude for being where you are, as well as for all of the people around you who miss you while you’re gone, and for those who work so hard to get you there. I got to see firsthand the determination and cooperation of the many, many people who are a part of our Team in the face of a challenge, and I am really happy that they were on my side this week. To everyone who helped to get me to Rio, I owe you one. Thank you so much. I’m here now, and I’m so happy to be here with my teammates enjoying the Olympic Village and the beautiful Lagoa. We’ve had good views of Christo at the venue so far, and… there are monkeys (marmosets) here!!!!
Long Live the Dream,
PS: once I hit the ground in Rio, I got an email from my friends in Houston letting me know they found my passport. FML.