Archive for Sunday, August 10, 2008

Childhood events thwarted potential Olympic greatness

August 10, 2008


Boomer girl

Before we begin, please stand and join me in singing our national anthem.

I'll start you off: "Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light :"

Go ahead. Sing it all the way through. And as you do, picture me - your humble Sunday scribe - on the top tier of the Olympic medals stand, right hand over my heart. Through tears of joy, I am belting out the song I memorized decades ago as I dreamed of this moment. I am doing Francis Scott Key proud.

"Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,

O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming :"

Stop laughing. It could happen!

OK, maybe not. Not now. But, back in the day, I'll have you know I was quite the athlete.

(Seriously, cut the cackling. You're hurting my feelings.)

To quote the late, great Marlon Brando in "On the Waterfront": "I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody."

Believe it or not, I had a shot at becoming an Olympic medalist - a real live, Nike-endorsed, bling-bedecked superstar. If only I had worked up to my potential.

It may surprise you to learn that I have participated in many of the summer Olympic sports. In some of them, I even excelled. Heaven knows what might have happened if, under different circumstances, someone would have identified and fostered my copious raw talent.

Take cycling, for instance. From the day I learned to ride a bike at 6 years old, my extraordinary prowess was evident. As Dad ran alongside me, yelling, "Keep pedaling! Don't stop!" I screamed back, confidently, "Let go! I got it!" After a few heart-stopping wobbles, I was in the zone. I took off down the sidewalk, onto the street, around the corner and out of sight. It would be four hours before I returned. (Seems I took the "don't stop" order too literally. I was an obedient child.) Even the policemen who found me in the next county had to admit I was born to ride. (Top THAT, Lance Armstrong!)

I honed my boxing skills during the adolescent years, the result of countless fisticuffs with my younger sister. She had a nasty left hook, but I could bring the kid to her knees with my stiff right jab. The shiner she sported on her right eye in her second-grade yearbook photo is testament to my pinpoint accuracy. Unfortunately, women's boxing wasn't (and still isn't) an Olympic sport. Sigh. More potential left untapped.

My equestrian skills are legendary. While on a trail ride in Colorado on family vacation, my horse broke free of the pack and took off lickety-split down a mountain road. The wranglers admired the way I stayed in the saddle - eyes squeezed shut, mind you - while my wayward (and obviously ticked off) steed charged down the steep incline, hoofs skidding on loose dirt beneath us. It would be 10 years before I could fathom another equine encounter, but the capacity for greatness was there.

High school was the real breeding ground for my athletic aptitude.

I earned an "A" on the balance beam in P.E. class freshman year, impressing everyone with my extraordinary equilibrium. There were whispers about Olympic-level scouts traveling to Kansas to recruit me, until a missed dismount sidelined me to an ice-cold sitz bath for two weeks.

In track and field, they called me "The Gazelle." My scissor-kick high jump was the talk of our annual Field Day. That is, until the aforementioned balance beam accident dashed that dream, too. (Don't ask me to elaborate. It still smarts, even today.)

Our basketball coach definitely saw something special in me. Why else would he put me on the varsity roster, then give me the critical assignment of "clipboard holder"? (My official position was "guard," but obviously coach wanted to keep me on the bench where I could avoid injury. He was thinking of my Olympic future.)

I could go on and on, but it's impolite to brag.

Now you know why this summer's Olympics will be bittersweet for me. Having brushed greatness, I will watch Michael Phelps, Dara Torres and Shawn Johnson with a pang of "what might have been."

It's like Brando said, "I could have been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am."

But at least I'm a bum who knows all the words to our national anthem.

- Cathy Hamilton is a 52-year-old empty nester, wife, mother and author, who blogs every day at


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