1972: my first year of swimming competitively for the Lamarlins. I was an 8-year-old who was a bit afraid of the water, but my friends were on the team, so I tried it. Swimming breaststroke all the time (I hadn’t learned the other strokes yet) allowed me to swim with my head up, and I refused to open my eyes in the chlorinated water. No one wore goggles back then.
By the end of the summer, I learned to put my head in the water (but closing my eyes when I submerged) and was swimming faster. I tied for 4th in the 8-under 25 meter breaststroke at the state summer club championship. (Guess which girl I am in the picture.) I was so proud of my bronze medal! But even better, I was having fun with my friends and made new friends on my team and others.
Then I watched the Olympics for the first time. Mark Spitz became my hero, and Shane Gould ignited my fascination with Australia, and I later had a pen-pal from the country. Both sparked my Olympic daydreams. I pinned the four medals I earned that summer on my shirt and proudly wore them around the house. I drew pictures of myself on the Olympic medal stand, winning gold of course!
Along with introducing me to great athletes, the Munich Olympics introduced me to two harsh realities of life—terrorism and hate. I don’t remember the conversation my parents must have had with me when I watched the horrible events occur in the Olympic village. I’m sure it was a difficult one.
My fellow Lamarlins were a diverse bunch over my years of swimming—black, Native American, white, gay, lesbian, kids from big houses, kids from small houses, farm kids, town kids, immigrants kids: Mexican, Japanese, German (me)—the only thing that seemed to make one swimmer a lot faster than another was a combination of big feet and hyperextending knees with a desire to work hard. (I swam behind one such swimmer in workouts and her kick was mighty powerful!) In the innocence of childhood, society hadn’t yet taught me who I was supposed to hate, and I cheered for all who wore the same suit as me. I didn’t know that some of us weren’t supposed to be able to swim, because of not being allowed to swim in public pools.
I watched a lot of history unfold in 1972, but am most thankful to have watched history unfold in Rio on August 11, 2016. I cried when I saw Simone Manuel realize she had won the gold and set an Olympic record. The image of her face as she saw the results will be in my mind forever, and it provides the antidote to the images of terror and hate that scar my memory of Munich.
In less than one minute, Simone fulfilled her Olympic dreams and became a beacon of hope.