I get asked quite often about my “favorite Olympic story”. Depending on the circumstance I’ll tell something funny, something patriotic. Something super behind the scenes. But if I had to pick a very best “holy crap is this really happening” moment, it will probably always be this.
I had pretty much been soaked since morning when I stood in pouring rain on a mountain in Rose Khutor and watched my friend win an Olympic medal. So it was fitting that night to be standing in pouring rain, waiting to watch his medals ceremony. My friend Nicole and I had weaseled our way onto the photographer’s stand so we were in clear view when the athletes came out on the stage. We jumped up and down like idiots, trying to get his attention and for our efforts, we got a knowing “yeah I see you two goofballs” grin out of him. I was proud of my friend, I had watched him work hard and make sacrifices like elite athletes do, but more than that, I’d also watched him hang in there when he wasn’t one of the athletes on anyone’s watch list. Had heard him talk like he was going to win when he wasn’t the one getting his photo taken at pre-Games events. It’s easy to believe in someone the world is cheering on and that can be part of the fun of the Olympics-there’s certainly something to be said for being in a bar full of people shrieking at Michael Phelps. But it’s also incredibly satisfying when the winner is someone who kept grinding along, year after year, just outside the spotlight. Especially when you also know that person is a good dude with a kind heart. It was cool and bizarre and completely surreal that people back home were texting and emailing me to say “wait was that YOUR snowboarder friend who won that medal?”
My Munich experience was everything I had hoped it would be. I felt like I had accomplished what I came to the USOC to do and to top it off, here I was, watching one of my closest friend standing on a podium in a uniform that represented so much work and pressure and stress over the previous 18 months. It was a lot to process, so I started to cry. I watched my friend’s cute face, lit up in a way I’m not sure those of us who have never spent our whole lives chasing a singular dream and then realizing it can every actually understand, and knew I was having a pinnacle career moment of my own. Right there, soaked to the bone in Sochi, Russia. I wouldn’t even have known how to explain what was happening to a younger version of myself, this moment was so far out of what I ever imagined my life would be. I thought to myself that I could go to a million Olympics and probably never top how that felt, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to try.
I flew back to Munich a few days later to get ready for the Paralympics. I had about 24 hours to myself and I slept, and I went running and I spent way, way too much time thinking about what to do with my life when I got back. Then my grandfather passed away and I went home and it all went by in a blur of emotion and activity. I went back to Munich to finish up my project, completely spent on all fronts but grateful for a few more days of distraction before going back to the Springs and regular old reality.
I use the term “reality” sort of lightly. The truth is I came home, spent four days enjoying eating in my own kitchen and sitting on my own couch and then it was up to Portland to look at Rio product, off to DC to outfit the teams to meet the President, over to NYC for more debriefs and then hopping to London for a friend’s wedding. It was May before I took a deep breath and went back to the conversations I had with myself on the running paths of Munich’s English Garden.
When I first got to Colorado Springs I spent about two months staying in an apartment owned by a woman who had recently left the USOC and I remember thinking, “who leaves the USOC? I’m going to die here.” As much as I always felt sheepish when people were impressed by what I did and would try to emphasize that I spent as much time staring at a computer screen as I did shaking hands with Olympians, the truth is, I had an extraordinarily amazing job even at an organization full of cool jobs. I got to travel the world, make friends with fascinating people, work with world class brands, do interesting projects, and be part of one of the only big events left that the whole world pays attention to. Realistically, I probably could have stayed there forever and been pretty happy.
The problem with jumping up and down on the photographer’s stand while you watch your friend get his Olympic medal is that you can’t help but think, “what’s my medal equivalent? And am I remotely on track to win it?” It’s really cool to be the “team behind the team”, to be part of someone achieving their goals. But when I was honest with myself, I had to admit that I had dreams and plans beyond watching someone else’s podium moment, I wanted one of my own.
I wasn’t entirely sure what that moment would be. A book with my picture on the jacket? A company with my name on the top of the org chart? I know a wedding ring and baby clothes factor into this dream for sure. But somewhere in May, it became really clear that staying in my comfortable job, in my comfortable apartment, in my comfortable social circle probably wasn’t going to get me any closer to figuring it out.
I talked to a friend who had left our little pack a few years earlier. She was happy. She was energized. She was encouraging.
So I made a list. Places I want to work. Cities I want to live in. I found an intersection. I dreamed big. I applied.
It worked. And now six months after that rainy night, everything in my life is new. I’m not convinced I know what that “medal” is quite yet, but I know I’m braver and more capable than I thought I was then. I know that I’m willing to act, that I’ll take a really big step even when it honestly scares the shit right out of me.
If you want to know my favorite Olympic moment, it’s the one that made me realize that you don’t have to get on the podium for the Olympics to change your life.