Wednesday, September 03, 2014

My three songs

My pal Heather of the fantastic Fuel Friends blog tagged me on Facebook today to pick three songs that most accurately speak to who I am. This was a way, way harder assignment than I would have imagined. And if you ask me tomorrow the songs will be all different. But it was really fun. Here are my three songs. 

Fast Car-Tracy Chapman

There is a photo in my baby book of me sitting on the floor, enough of a baby that sitting is probably all I knew how to do yet, listening intently to my dad play the guitar. Music was on all the time in our house and I had parents who made sure we got a good variety of it in our little diets. There are a lot of artists that I loved as a kid and then discarded but one of the few who made it through to my adult life is Tracy Chapman. Even today, when I hear the first few bars of “Fast Car” I can instantly put myself back onto my white wicker day bed in my bedroom wallpapered with pink striped and a ballet slipper border. Even though the theme of the song was probably more adult than I understood, the song was wistful, and wistful is what you are looking for when you are 12 and you want to feel things and dream things.  I didn’t really listen to her again until college when I bought her album and it’s feminist and racial storylines started to make more sense to me. Her next few albums were far less political but she writes intense, deeply emotional songs and she seemed to release one during all the major eras of my young adult life. For someone who has often been described as both intense and deeply emotional, I suppose it makes sense that she is one of my favorite soundtracks.  I finally got to see her play after my mission and it’s still one of my favorite shows, nothing flashy, just Tracy playing song after song I knew by heart.

Fake Plastic Trees-Radiohead

I moved to California for a job when I was 25. I arrived full of the naïve expectations of anyone whose sole experience “moving away” consists of the relatively safe perimeters of college and an LDS mission. Which is not to say I didn’t know what it meant to feel crushing homesickness or loneliness, or “what they hell have I done-ness”. But both missions and college share the safety net of being surrounded by people also going through crushing homesickness and loneliness, friend-making, distraction-providing structure and a firm expiration date. Showing up in LA with a car full of everything I owned there was no Welcome Week to attend, no cafeteria full of fellow nervous missionaries. No one knew I was coming and no one would have cared if I turned my little Honda around and drove straight back to Utah. A friend who had made a similar move a few years earlier told me it was a good opportunity to figure out “what you are like when no one is telling you what you should be like”.

I was miserable for months. But he was right, with no one around to influence me, I figured out what kinds of movies I wanted to go to when I was the only one deciding, discovered what kind of friends I would make when there was no way to tell who was “cool”. I formed a relationship with my faith that wasn’t based on everyone around me being Mormon too. I was 25, a college graduate, a returned missionary, and had just worked on an Olympic Games and yet it felt like I was just starting to settle into my adult self.

One of the defining factors of that little era was a huge shift in my musical tastes. I made some friends who had varied ears and liked making mixes so I was constantly listening to new things. I was training for a marathon and in those days pre-iPod that meant hours and hours of the same 12 songs on a Discman. Someone put “Fake Plastic Trees” on a mix and although I feel like the ultimate cliché even writing this, it was on those long runs along the beach that I fell wildly, deeply, hopelessly in love with Radiohead. I wasn’t cool at all though, I bought “The Bends” instead of Kid A and listened to “Bulletproof…I Wish I Was” and cried about boys like it was my job.

I am not the first girl to move from Utah to California and fall in love with Radiohead. Probably not even the first one to do it while training for a marathon. But I can’t look back on time of my life without nearly passing out from the weight of all the nostalgia.

Islands in the Stream-Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton

When I was a little girl and I would think about God, which was a lot because I was a little Mormon girl, I thought He looked like Kenny Rogers. Truthfully, as an adult when I try to picture God, He still kind of looks like Kenny Rogers. My dad liked Kenny Rogers and I had every word to the The Gambler memorized at a younger age than I probably should have.  And then there is Dolly Parton.  Some day I will get around to writing my piece on my “Board of Lady Directors” about all the women I would seat on my Board of Life and you will see all the many and varied reasons she would be the Chairman of this Board. But for the purposes of songs that describe me, Dolly gets a nod for being a smart, talented, unapologetically ambitious woman but also managing to be funny, generous and positive. There is some trickiness to being a woman in the world of sports and I’ve never wanted career success to come at the expense of remaining the nice person I hope is the real me. You might be surprised to know how often I think "hmmm, what would Dolly do?". 


Also I chose this song because although I’ve never been one of those girls who daydreams about her wedding, I’ve already asked my friends Jed and Rebecca to sing this at the reception should that occasion ever arise. So there. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Up up and away

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.

However.

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.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Call It Magic


I have a wise coworker who has been working in Olympic sports since the early 80's who has two sayings I tend to repeat as mantras at every Games. One is "some days you have fun, some days you build character". The other is "fun isn't always fun."

For the three months leading up to the Games I found myself clinging to those words. The Sochi Games would be my fourth Olympics. If I had to pick a mindset for each Games it would go like this:

Salt Lake: Too young and dumb to realize what was really happening
Vancouver: New and excited and maybe still a little dumb
London: Overconfident and ripe for a fall
Sochi: Dread. Overwhelming dread.

I have been relatively open about the fact that London shook me up a bit.  OK a lot bit. Overall it was a positive experience but I came home from that summer, wrote a list of all the things that didn't go well that I felt I could fix and over the 18 months between Games (yes, there are only 18 months between the Summer Olympics and the next Winter Olympics. If that sounds brutal, think about what it must have been like when Winter and Summer were in the same year. Death. That's what it seems like.) I tackled each one. From ordering to volunteers to venue space to athlete flow I worked really hard to make sure I wasn't waking up in a cold sweat at 2 am worrying about how many mediums we had. I found great venue partners and I put together a team I was really confident would be fun to work with and also do their jobs well. I had plenty of reason to be calm.

But I didn't feel calm. I knew in my brain that I was prepared, that I did everything I possibly could to be ready. That like our athletes, I could trust my training. But my confidence was bruised. I went into London just a little too cocky. We had plenty of mishaps that were out of my control but there were things I definitely would have done differently and all of it swirled around enough to make me sort of a mess.

I went to Utah for Christmas about three weeks before I left for Munich. I slept a lot. I went skiing with my brother. I played with the baby girls. I saw old friends. I went to yoga classes. I avoided conversations about the Games. The night before I left I asked my brother for what we Mormons call a "blessing." It's basically this nice little prayer that someone else says on your behalf and it tends to be really personal and this one was lovely and emotional and made me adore my little brother even more than I already do. I came home, managed to work up some excitement as the team started to get named and made sure every last little detail was in place. I had promised myself that I wouldn't leave for these Games as already tired as I left for London so I also made myself go to the gym, eat good food and get to bed at reasonable hours. I went skiing the Saturday before we left and pushed myself harder than I usually do then spent my second to last night making a fabulous playlist and laughing myself sick with my friend Jess.

We had a 6 am flight to Munich which is kind of terrible but also kind of awesome for team bonding. We were all bleary eyed and tired but everyone was excited and ready to get to work. I relaxed into Event Manager mode, handing out Red Carpet club passes and making sure everyone remembered their passport. I have a healthy amount of respect for the faces in this photo and their enthusiasm was contagious.

In the United Lounge on our layover in Washington DC I got a call from our freight company saying that instead of being safe and sound in a warehouse in Germany, our entire shipment from Colorado Springs was stuck somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean due to a freak combination of weather and engine trouble. Every single shred of Ralph Lauren apparel as well as our IT equipment, office supplies and signage was in that shipment. I called a quick team meeting, let everyone know what was happening and I got a whole chorus of "no problem, we'll figure it out," which made me want to cry and hug them all. I didn't do either but I went into the bathroom, shook my head, said a quick prayer and felt oddly calm about the whole thing. 

We landed in Munich, we toured the venue, we went to the Hofbrau House and everyone except me and the mormon intern drank really big beers. We said cheers. We talked through the schedule for the next few days. Then we went home. I took a long shower. Listened to some quite music, said my prayers and went to bed. 

Jet lag woke me up early but worry didn't. The day went by quickly, the news came that our shipment was delayed even further but our Nike shipment was on track and pretty soon the place looked like this. 


It might just look like boxes on shelves to you but to me it's a beautiful portrait of progress and organization. The team got an unexpected afternoon off and when the shipment FINALLY arrived our fabulous volunteers helped us unload 1000 pea coats in record time and we were ready to rock when our test group arrived on the day before we opened for athletes. 

I think it was about day three that I let myself think, "ok, this is working. I might actually have this thing under control." I felt good. I wasn't waking up at weird hours with irrational worries. My team was taking initiative and figuring out solutions to things. I was actually having fun. 

Fun. I remembered that I love this. That I'm pretty darn good at it. I was excited for the athletes to show up and to see them react to this spectacle we created. 

The Bobsled and Skeleton team arrived the next day and from there it's all a complete blur. I know there was a lot of laughing, a lot of silliness, a whole bunch of work and definitely some character building. But one major thing happened that completely changed my perspective on the entire experience. 

One evening I left the hotel with some of the sponsor folks and a few of our staff to go meet my friend who was in town for dinner. My phone died while we were out but I was with people so I knew I was reachable. We were finishing up with dinner when my teammate Aron pulled me aside to tell me he had gotten a call saying that the aforementioned wise old coworker had collapsed in the office and was en route to the hospital. We immediately left and when we got outside Aron told me that Doug had had a heart attack. I felt guilty for being gone and we went back to the hotel as quickly as we could. 

The good news is that the hospital in Munich was terrific and Doug was treated well and was ok. His wife was on her way over within hours and because we had a down day the next day I was able to go over and see him. He was cracking jokes and asking for his computer which was a giant relief.

HOURS before this whole thing happened we had been joking that Doug was some kind of robot. He's in his 60s and he runs circles around the rest of us. Doug is sending emails before any of us get up and he's in the office after we all go to bed. The man climbed Mount Everest last year. Yeah. Let that sink in. Mount Everest. So going to a hospital in the middle of our event to visit him flipped a switch in my brain. It didn't make me stop wanting to do a great job. But it did make me realize it wasn't worth getting my heart in a twist over an ill fitting tee shirt or a misplaced piece of signage or even over a boy who broke my heart once and made the team and was coming to Processing on the last day. 

Everything is heightened at the Games. And things that wouldn't happen in the course of six months in real life happen in the space of hours. You have already forgotten about your chit chat with Kristi Yamaguchi by the time Vernon Davis is trying to smooth talk his way in to the USA House after hours. You go from watching someone you kissed right on the lips win an Olympic medal to ringing up hockey jerseys for tourists from the Midwest. So the good stuff is SO GOOD and then the bad stuff is THE WORST and you can find yourself careening from one extreme to the next. When there is an issue it has to be solved IMMEDIATELY and when you do, indeed, solve it (because you always do, you just always do), you feel like a freakin' rock star. It's part of why I love it and it's definitely why it takes weeks to recover. It's a very concentrated experience and if you don't come home at least a little changed, a little more confident of your skills and a lot more aware of things you need to work on, you weren't doing it right. 

So I still believe all of that, and I think for me the Games will always be stressful and hard and awesome and thrilling. But I don't think I will ever again allow myself to wake up in a cold sweat, panicking over something I've invented. All kinds of things have gone wrong at events and nothing has ever actually been as awful as what I imagine at 2 in the morning. 

We wrapped up Team Processing, my team went home and I went to Russia to work in the USA House store. The store is it's own kind of bananas and there are always apparel questions and issues that come up so my time there was still busy. I've been around this world long enough that it was fun to see old friends from past Games and I even made it to a couple of events. And then it was time to go back to Munich for Paralympic Processing. 

I had one really glorious day off before anyone else got there. I slept in and went for a run in the English Gardens. I ate a meal without checking my cell phone. It was wonderful. 

The next morning my sister called. It was too early in the German morning to be anything but a middle of the night Utah call and I said when I answered, "whatever you are calling about it can't be great." She said that it was not, in fact, great and that my Grandfather had suffered a heart attack and they were on their way to the hospital. He has been sick and the last time I saw him he was so frail, nothing like the strong, funny grandpa I've known my whole life. Still. You don't want to be on a different continent when you get that phone call even if you know that phone call is going to come. I called my boss, tried and failed to keep my composure and he told me to do whatever I needed to do. I needed to go home so we got a ticket booked, I briefed the staff that had arrived at that point on what to do for the next few days and beyond if I couldn't make it back before Processing opened. 

I left the next morning and in what felt like my grandpa's first act watching over from above, the team was coming through Munich to go home and my close athlete friend was boarding in the gate next to mine. I got to see a friendly face and get a big hug before I headed home which was an enormous blessing. 

I got to Utah and got absorbed into siblings and in-laws and nieces and nephews. My mother has a very special relationship with her dad, one that I have always envied, and as soon as I saw her I was glad that I hadn't pulled any kind of stupid "I have to see this project through" B.S. that you might read about in a really, really dumb leadership book. 

I have a lot of great moments from the Games that I'll hit in my traditional "highlights" portion of this post but I have to say, the best part of the entire six weeks was sitting in the hotel lobby eating breakfast with a bunch of wiggly kids and every single one of my brothers and sisters and their spouses. I would have been happy to just sit there and eat waffles and tell grandpa stories until our regular lives finally realized we were gone. 

The funeral was very sweet. It's not hard to say nice things about my Grandfather. He was good and he was kind and he had a good life. He was possibly the most devoted husband I have ever seen and my grandparents were still flirting with each other well into their 80s. He was successful pretty much any way you want to cut it but I kept thinking that no one really mentioned much about his job except to note he was a hard worker. They talked about what kind of person he was. At my sister's wedding a few years ago I said something teasing to my conservative Mormon grandpa about being his old maid granddaughter. He just took my hand and told me he was so proud of me and all the things I was doing.  And that boys were really, really dumb. He never missed a chance to say he was proud of us and everyone kind of felt that had reason to believe we might be his favorite. My grandfather is my first real loss in my 37 years. Grief is unfamiliar to me and I am still figuring out how to do it. My suspicion is that it's something you don't master. 

I went back to Munich the day after the funeral and was down the Processing room about 15 minutes before the athletes arrived. The team had done a fantastic job getting everything together and although we had some bumps, things went well. 

I felt really good on the plane coming back to Colorado. Proud of what we did. Grateful for all the good people in my life, thankful for my abilities and the opportunities I get to stretch them. 

A few highlights:

-We were very, very lucky to end up at the Munich Olympic Park for Team Processing. It is a beautiful place and the history of the place is palpable. These two goofballs were our venue managers and they were 100% delightful. One of my favorite things about working an operational role at a Games is how many times I am in a country that is not my own and the locals turn out in force to help our team. Between the volunteers who worked tirelessly and provided excellent service to our athletes, to all of the behind the scenes people at the airport and the hotel and the transport company-the Germans treated us like their own team. I love that cooperation more than I love medals counts. Our last day I slipped over to the memorial in the former athlete village to the Israeli athletes that were killed in 1972. After our own joyful experience in Munich I was overwhelmed with peaceful feelings that even when evil really tries, good and right are just always going to win. 

-Thanks to a dear friend with good connections I have been to Opening Ceremony for the last few Games. Being in a different country meant I this time I watched it from the lobby of our hotel. However, getting to watch the team come in with this wonderful crew of people who made that happen was one of the sweetest parts of the experience. We all groaned together at a few missing hats and it prompted all kinds of great stories about what really goes on behind the scenes.  
-Speaking of that lobby-the restaurant and bar were both right in the lobby so every night you could walk through and see this crazy mix of team processing staff, volunteers, sponsors and athletes and team staff all hanging out together. It was a unique set up and provided quite a few fun and interesting interactions. The last day of Processing everyone was down there until the wee hours. A few of us even rallied and went out dancing which is exactly what you should do when you are young and hopped up on adrenaline and you just finished outfitting a whole bunch of the greatest athletes on the planet. 
 -A little over a year ago I got a really nice email from a speed skater who had somehow stumbled upon this blog. He reached out to say how much he enjoyed it and of course I was delighted. We got to know each other over the course of pre-Games events and in December I got the pleasure of watching him make the Olympic team. My whole crazy career started in speed skating so was super fun to have him come through Team Processing as a first time Olympian. Full circle you know?

-All athletes go through a program prior to the Games that teaches them about how to be a good representative of Team USA and it's always presented by an Olympian. Typically they have done the program before they get to Processing but we always have a few who still need to do it. We lucked out and Derek Parra was the gold medalist who spent a few days with us. He is a lot of fun and we spent a fair amount of time swapping stories about trying to date in your 30s. His last day he had a few hours to kill before he went to the airport and that is how I happen to have a photo of an Olympic Champion stomping on boxes in a garbage container in Germany. The team behind the team. 
-Are you ready for one more speed skating highlight? I got a ticket to Short Track one day and it was my first time back in a rink since 2002 when I saw every single race. It's a different experience to be in the stands of course but love that little sport dearly and was so glad to get to go. 
-So maybe you heard this story-once upon a time this guy missed making the team and went to the Olympics as a wax tech. A wax tech who kept hassling me to hang out with him and I kept saying no until finally his friend won a gold medal and I met up with him at the USA House and gave him my REAL number. Some dating and some not dating and some not talking and some hard work to be  friends when more than that didn't work out and I got to be in the stands when he won the Bronze Medal in Men's Boardercross. I've watched him work and sacrifice and grow and work some more over the last four years so if you want an Olympian your kids can look up to-this one's for real. I'm so proud of him. I stood in the rain for two hours to see him on the medals stand and it will forever be one of my favorite Olympic moments. So will eating McDonald's at 4 in the morning with him and his coach the night before I left because those are the things that happen at the Games. 

-Another Games, another picture with my pal Paul who used to sit across from me in 8th grade english class. He has a big fancy IOC job but always makes time to come hang out. This time his wife brought this little guy and their BRAND NEW BABY all the way to Sochi so if anyone deserves a gold medal in being an awesome mom, it's Kim. 
-Since working at the Olympics is in no way as glitzy as we all make it look on social media, what keeps us coming back? It's because these two ladies used to sit on my floor in 2002 when unbeknownst to most of you, the Games were being executed by a whole bunch of eager twenty somethings with little experience and lots of wide eyed optimism. There was a layer of adult supervision of course, but most of the worker bees were a bunch of kids. And now these are women with fancy titles and lots of responsibility and I think we all wonder how the heck we got to be the grownups. I adore them and I squealed like a teenager when they walked into the store. What keeps us coming back? Each other and the bonds that you develop when you live and work together for weeks and months and years doing this big, crazy thing that the world is going to watch and then will be over in a blip. If the glamour is why you came, it probably won't keep you. 
-I almost never interact with families at the Games. I cry at the Thank You Mom ads from P&G just like the next guy but my world rarely crosses paths with an actual mom. The day of Alex's race I was in the bleachers with some family members and because the race was delayed and then postponed, I ended up helping out a little with some of the scramble to get tickets changed and hotel rooms rebooked. One particular mom and cousin of one of the athletes were so much fun and we ended up hanging out quite a bit during the rest of their stay and I just fell in love with them. Mary's kid didn't end up doing as well as we hoped but there she was, cheering for the other guys and being positive and upbeat. There just wouldn't be Olympics if there weren't families in the background supporting the heck out of their kids and I really enjoyed getting to see a whole new side of the Games. 
-One day I was in the shuttle on the way to my store shift when I got a note from a press officer saying that a gold medalist only had his shoes but could not find his medal's stand uniform and they had just a few hours before he was receiving said gold medal. I pretty much leapt out of the car when we arrived at the Olympic Park, ran into the store, stripped a mannequin and sprinted across to the Today Show set where the athlete would be arriving in a few minutes. I got there early and thanks to my lovely coworker and a nice cameraman, I got to take this quick shot from the anchor desk. Then the athlete showed up and after glancing at his feet I asked where his shoes were. "These aren't it?" Nope! So I sprinted back over to the store, discovered to my relief that the mannequin wore the same size and back I went to the other side of the Park juuuuust in time to escort the athlete and his girlfriend to a green room where we did a quick private fitting and all was well in medals land. I won't say who the athlete was but he *might* be my 2014 athlete crush. I am a professional and I don't really get star struck but this guy is a deadly combination of nice and handsome and scorchingly talented. So it didn't hurt my feelings to lose an entire afternoon to solving this particular apparel crisis!

I could go on and on but this post is already too long so I'll wrap it up. Oddly enough this was probably my favorite Games experience since Salt Lake. I love my job. I'm grateful for it every day, I get to have experiences that my young self wouldn't even have known to dream. I work with people who are talented and driven and good. I still believe that being part of something bigger than myself is important and that conviction makes what I do very fulfilling. 

But. 

(You knew there was a but right?)

I also know that I don't want my job to get the very best of me. We didn't talk about Grandpa's job at the funeral. Doug's job didn't fly to Munich to sit by his bed. I will always be a person who spreads herself a little too thin. There are too many people to love and experiences to have and places to visit and stuff to try and that is the way I like it. But I want my job to be ON that list, I don't want it to BE that list. Being part of the "team behind the team" really is an honor, but when you stand there and watch your friend-who is super talented and a hard worker but still just a human-achieve a dream he's had since he was a kid, you do start to wonder what your own gold medal dream equivalent is. And if you are on the right track to get there. 

So that's where I'll be in 2014. Worrying less. Priority shifting. Dreaming. 



Sunday, October 06, 2013

Countdown

I just got home from a pretty cool event. It's the USOC Media Summit and for three days we bring in a bunch of Olympic hopefuls and pretty much every sport media outlet in the country and everyone gets loads of interviews and other content to use in the run up to the Games. It was my first time going and it was a really fun thing to be part of. Any given night you could walk into the bar and end up having a conversation with someone vying for their second or third Olympic team. People with X Games medals and World Championship titles. I went up to our office one night and happened upon Bode Miller sprawled out on the couch watching football in his socks. My sister brought baby Nina up one night and she wouldn't let go of Louie Vito's finger when he came over to say hello.

It's not normal this world that I live in. The travel, the experiences, even the actual work that I do is nothing I ever would have imagined for myself. I went to my dear friend's wedding this summer and happened to be seated next to a guy who was Billy Joel's drummer for 30 years. After I peppered him with questions about THAT amazing career he asked what I did. And when I told him he thought MY job was cool. It's gratifying every single time I tell people what I do and it impresses them but there is more than a little part of me that can't help sound a tiny "don't get used to this" warning. Your cool job doesn't say anything real about you except that you are enormously blessed. 

But also. 

I came home from a trip a few months ago. It was late. I couldn't remember where my car was parked. I wandered around the airport lot for awhile and then tiredness and lateness caught up to me and I couldn't stop crying. It all seemed so pointless to have spent all this time building a career and a network and then having no one to pick you up from the damn airport.

I'm turning 37 next week. I'm sad to report that all those annoying things your parents always said about how they still felt young are true and I look at that number and can't understand how it applies to me. The 20 year high school reunion planning committee has formed and like it or not, I'm on the downward spiral to 40. An age I remember my parents turning. And age that sounds like an expiration date no matter how many ways we want to call it the new 30. Remember when 30 also sounded old?

So. 

This brings me to a point of my career and life where I am rethinking everything I ever imagined about what it means to be successful. All the arbitrary thinks I thought would mean I had "made it" when I was sixteen. 

I want to keep growing and challenging myself at work and I hope that means that I continue to have more responsibility and make more money. No question. A fulfilling career is important to me and I'm not going to feel bad about being ambitious and wanting more, no matter how undatable that seems to make me. But I never want to feel that my job or my salary is any indication of what kind of person I am. 

I am also smart enough (most of the time) to know that my relationship status is not a measure of success either. If I were to be a wife or mother then for sure I would want to be really good at those jobs as well. But again, I don't think having cute kids or a rich husband says anything fundamental about who you are anymore than having a LOT of cool stories from the Olympics does. 

A few months ago I got to teach a class to some sport and business management kids at the local university. My friend Garrett teaches there and had asked me to come share some thoughts on sports marketing. I love love love talking to students so I was happy to take a morning off work and spend a few hours answering questions. At the end of my presentation Garrett got back up and said, "I hope you all got some good things out of that and we'll certainly talk more about her points, but what I really want you to get out of Katie's presentation is not what she does but how she does it. That smile and that energy that she has? That's not an act, you'll see that on Day One of the Olympics and it will be just as sincere three weeks later when she is tired and worn down and you'll see it when everything is falling apart. It's really who she is and that is a far more important quality to have than any of the strategy we can talk about here." I almost started to cry. It might have been the best compliment I have ever gotten because it completely nailed that thing I really, really want. My own personal measure of success. Get ready for the cheesiest thing you will read on the internet today but when I die, the only thing I want anyone to talk about at my funeral is not what I did, but how I did it. 

These big events like I went to this week are always an interesting study in human interaction. You take a whole bunch of people at the top of their field-not just the athletes but the journalist who come, the agents who represent them, the sponsor reps and the people from my own organization who are pretty darn good at what they do-and you put them in a little bit of a pressure cooker and true colors tend to spill out all over. 

I have no problem with anyone owning their own success. I like confidence. So I don't have any issue with people who act like they belong at such an event. I don't expect everyone to walk around in a wide eyed "golly gee can you believe this is happening to little me" haze the whole time. But it's always fascinating to me to see the ways people treat each other there. Folks who cannot be bothered to say thank you or acknowledge the person talking to them if it's just a lowly volunteer or intern. People who you have to reintroduce yourself to seven times because they have deemed you unnecessary. Or my personal favorite, people who have zero interest in you until they hear what you do and then suddenly they are super interested in getting your card. And conversely there is nothing cooler than seeing someone with a closet full of trophies being cool and approachable and nice (I don't like to name names but if you need an Olympian to follow this pre-Games who is as delightful in real life as you think he is on TV, Louie Vito is your guy.)

I always come away from these things trying to be a little bit more aware of how I treat people but for some reason this one hit me particularly hard. One night I happened to be in my room when the maid came by to do turndown service. Don't get me wrong, I love turndown service. I absolutely love coming back to my room after a long day and having the lights low, music playing and chocolate on the bed. It's awesome. It makes you feel a little bit like a big shot. But somehow it was kind of embarrassing to be putting on makeup while a real person was turning down my bed just because the circumstances of our lives meant that I was the one staying in the fancy hotel and she was the one cleaning it. I have been out in the world now long enough to know that the line between the two of us is thinner than you think. I gave her a big tip and was overly effusive with my thanks. She probably thought I was a nut. 

So that's it. That's my goal going into 37. I want my life to be more focused on how I do things than what I'm doing. So if I'm running Olympic Team Processing or I'm teaching the five year olds at Church, I want the way I act to be the same. I have a healthy respect for accomplishments, it's important to work hard. I have a much healthier respect for integrity and kindness no matter the situation. 

I've used this quote before here and I always say it to young people asking my advice but I am trying to figure out how to get tatooed on my body because it's just the best thing. 

"Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen"

Conan O'Brien usually knows best. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Dry Cleaner

Over the Christmas holiday I went to visit my brother and sister-in-law in St. George. Three of my favorite nephews live there and it's warm when everywhere else is cold and after the wacko year that was 2012, I was very much in need of the high dose of family and chaos I always find there. Christopher cooks things that you can't imagine and takes me on bike rides, Tasha teaches me how to do my hair and dares me to wear things I don't think I can and the boys are goofy and crazy and they make their Aunt Katie WORK to impress them.  I love it there.

The first day I went to hot yoga with my sister-in-law. I hadn't been to yoga in awhile. When we got to the end of class and we laid on the floor and did a supine twist I was grateful that the sweat on my face covered up the tears that the twist was wringing out of me. It had been an incredible year but it had also been an incredibly hard year and as is often that case after a Games, I come home and spend months trying to figure out if I have another one in me. Tasha said, "do more yoga, the yogis love you. It will help you."

We did more the next day. And then the next day I met my tall, handsome friend Lex for a 6 am class because who doesn't want to get out of bed at 5:30 in the morning for peace, balance and sweaty, shirtless guys in great shape?  We did yoga every single day I was there. I drove up to Salt Lake and found a yoga studio that was open on Christmas Eve and it chased away that creeping dread I have been feeling the last few years as more kids drop into our family that I'm the old maid crashing someone else's holiday.

I got plenty of sleep and family time in Utah. The yoga though, the yoga flipped some switch I'd been looking for. I bought a pass at the studio near my house and put yoga into my regular life.

I went on a business trip to New York in February and over dinner my friend Lindsey and I were discussing our hectic schedules and lack of sleep. She told me to go to bed earlier.  I rolled my eyes. "What are you even doing after 10:30 on a weeknight? Just go to bed! You'll feel so much better, " she said. I have a sheet of paper from my doctor next to my bed that says "go to bed by 10:30." I have looked at it and laughed at it a million times because who goes to bed at 10:30. And then over table side guacamole, Lindsey, who is fun and cool and brave and interesting says "just go to bed".

And I tried it. And I felt better. And life didn't get less fun.

I had come home from Christmas to my company opening a gym on the second floor of our building. A gym with a studio and towel service and soap in the showers. On the second floor of the place I go every day. The gym practically takes your hand and leads you to it. My friend at work started really working out seriously. She wanted to do the Insanity videos and needed a partner. I never liked working out at lunch. Packing a gym bag, bringing snacks, taking two showers every day. Laundry. How do you do your hair after you sweat like a pig for an hour? And things are busy and I don't even take lunch most days. But I packed a bag. And we did a week. And then we did two, three, four. I went to LA for work and we did spin classes and drank cold pressed juices. I came home and we did the entire two month Insanity cycle. I didn't miss a day. I didn't make excuses. Some days I didn't want to go and Lisa made me. Some days I made her. My new afternoon hairdo became the top knot. We got a weight training routine and I learned my way around the free weights. I did squats. I saw muscles appear I had never seen on my body before. Someone made a comment one day about my "guns" and I almost fainted.

I felt better. I got just as much work done. I stopped staying late.

I was sleeping. I was working out. I was eating way, way too much junk. My friend Jennise was raving about this cleansing system she uses and one day in a fit of frustration after too many nights of fast food I texted her. What is this cleanse? Will you help me?

So I bought it. It wasn't cheap. But it seemed like a good investment given the enormous time and energy commitment I had already made to being healthier.

It was nine days. Five days of shakes and four days of fasting. I eat handfuls of M&M's at 2:00 in the afternoon and make nachos while I'm downloading music at midnight. Shakes and fasts and salads in a jar are not my lifestyle. But I spent a lot of money and I made a committment to a friend so I tried it.

Day 1 was not hard at all. Day 2 my friend Jess and I organized a girl's  night that started at Buffalo Wild Wings and ended in movie popcorn. I was tempted. Wings and movie popcorn are two of my happy places. I didn't eat any wings. I sat next to popcorn and was grateful that Melissa McCarthy kept me laughing and forgetting and I survived.

The fasting was a little harder but something happened in the second day of the fast-I wasn't craving Chipotle or grocery store frosting cupcakes (I know, I know, I'm disgusting), I wanted salads. I wanted a chicken breast. And I wanted to keep wearing all the clothes that had gotten a little (lot) snug since the days last summer when they were hanging off my stressed out Olympic body.

I went to parties for the 4th of July, I baked a cake I didn't eat. I went on dates. I didn't cheat. The 8th day I went to the Farmer's Market and the direct from the ranch store and I filled my fridge with good things. I made soups and quinoa and homemade hummus. I didn't plan out the first Diet Coke I wanted to have when it was over, I didn't put a cupcake in the freezer for the next day. And when it was time to be done, I made a shake for breakfast in my shiny new Vitamix. And I had a salad for lunch. And chicken and asparagus for dinner. The cleanse didn't solve all my problems but it made me mindful of when and why I was eating things. It felt good to feel some control. I bought another kit, for later, when I forget. When it's hard again.

I have had this fantasy for about two years about getting into really good shape. I don't have any kids, no one lives in my house asking me to make time for him so there is no reason I shouldn't have time to work out and cook meals and go to bed on time. But it takes work to do those things. It takes discipline. It takes not worrying about your hair after 1. It means sometimes you miss a house show because you listen to your tired. It means you don't have to always eat the cake at the going away party. And it means that you change your life, you change your choices, you commit. These are all things I am not great at. I like to fill up my life with too much-people and music and treats and caffeine. I love to say yes. I hate to say no. I said no for a long time out of fear and out of worry and then for a long time I only said yes. And now it's time to balance.

It's not revolutionary to figure out that true change is really hard. It's so easy to do what you've always done because it's comfortable and it's a known entity and also it's not very hard. But then you are 36 all of the sudden and you realize you don't want to give in to soft middles and sensible haircuts. I don't want any "glory days", I want every year of my life to be better and richer than the ones before. So if 2013 is the first time I have strong deltoids and can do a headstand, then I feel like that is far better than remembering the distant past when I used to be fit. So I pack the gym bag, and I make a week's worth of salads on Sunday night. And I get up for yoga on Saturday instead of sleeping in.

I feel better physically than I have in a long time. But the secret is that all this changing and growing has less to do with zipping up my skinny jeans without laying on the ground and holding my breathe-although that is marvelous. Especially when my 36 year old skinny jeans are skinnier than my 26 year old pair. It's way more satisfying to know that real change is possible at any stage of your life. I have a heart stopping fear of getting stuck-in a job, in a relationship, in a city-and the big lesson of the last few months is that I'm the one who chooses that. I get only get as stuck as I let myself. My job, my friends, my church-none of those things are in control, I am. And if I feel too tired or too stressed or too chubby-those are all places I can get out of when I decide to. The only barriers in our lives for most of us are the ones we choose to put up ourselves. Mine come from fear and worry and sometimes sheer laziness. But I am tired of them and kissing some of them goodbye is just what the yogis will tell you to do. "They love you. It will help you," Tasha said.

So I did. And they do. And it does.