Saturday, August 28, 2010

My First Olympic Experience

It has officially concluded. The closing ceremonies have taken place. The flame has been put out until the next Olympic event. It is time to reflect on my time here. It is time to identify the take-aways and moments that I will always cherish.

My name is Erin Kennedy and I am the Young Ambassador for Team USA at the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games. I came into this role uncertain of what I would be doing. I was uncertain of what I would get out of it. I was uncertain of many things. I leave the games now certain. I am certain that my presence at the games was an experience of a lifetime. I am certain that I leave these games a better person than when I entered. I am certain that these athletes’ lives have changed for the positive.

The number one question I am positive that I will receive is, “What did you do while you were there?” I’m not sure that this question can be answered in one easy answer. I did a lot of different things at the games which included logistical, administrative stuff and also hanging out with athletes and fellow ambassadors. I enjoyed time at competitions and participated in cultural activities. I spent time getting to know many of our athletes not just as competitors, but as people.

A while back I wrote a blog about falling in love all over again, specifically with my career. I identified that there were moments in which I took a step back and came to realize why I do what I do. There are moments when I literally fall in love all over again and remember why I work the position that I do. These Youth Olympic Games gave me many moments like the one I spoke about in my blog. Whether it was hanging with the wrestlers at the volleyball game, learning about archery with Ben, Miranda, and Dee, or walking to the dining hall with Jessica - each moment that I spent with an athlete was a chance to relive that nostalgia.

If you ever get a moment to sit down with a young person then please do. What you can learn will amaze you. The passion in Nathan’s voice as he talks about the sport he loves or the motivation that Kaitlyn has to succeed in Judo will be enough to inspire even the non-believers. Being able to talk with Ben about the ‘mental game’ and hearing Lucas say that getting an education is just as important as wrestling when he goes on to college makes you step back and appreciate how motivated and smart these young people are.

Watching Max compete for the gold medal still gives me chills. Seeing him counter throw his opponent and then drop to his knees in pure astonishment that he had just won was incredible. He remained calm and collected as he finished protocol before jumping into the arms of his coach, Serge. As I type this there are goose bumps all over and a soft spot in my heart that feels this moment over and over.

Michael was in 4th place going into his 5th and final dive of the night. The only way to win was for the Italian diver to score 6.0’s and 6.5’s and for Michael to nail a solid 7.0 dive, which would secure the bronze medal. My heart beat faster and faster as my nerves grew – this was his moment. I do not have any children, but seeing Michael nail his last dive and watching the 7.5’s light up the screen made me incredibly proud.

I have only mentioned a few athletes in this post but each and every moment and each and every conversation is one I will cherish forever. These games were about culture and education. I have made new friends from around the world. I have had great moments experiencing cultures outside the U.S. But what surprised me the most was learning about my own culture and making friends with people from my own country. Within each sport and within each state of the U.S. there are cultures all in their own and each day I spent in the Youth Olympic Village was a chance to learn more about these.

Did you know that Judo players are traditionally called Judo Kas (Not sure if I spelled that right)? Did you know that Modern Pentathlon encompasses Fencing, Swimming, Running, Shooting, and Equestrian? Did you know that there are three different styles of wrestling? Did you know that two standing 8-counts in one round of boxing is a technical knock-out (TKO)? Did you know that archery encompasses the best of five rounds and that the weight of the bow can be balanced on one finger? Maybe you knew. I did not know these things until the games. I learned them from athletes. I learned them from teenagers.

The Youth Olympic Games were created as a way of educating young people on culture through a universal language: sport. Have they succeeded? In a heartbeat. Ask any athlete that participated in the YOG and ask them what the best part was. Reverberating like a drum you will hear: culture. Different for every one that was in attendance, the common denominator was cultural immersion.

Can the YOG create world peace? Can the YOG solve the problems of the world? Maybe not, but it is one heck of a starting point. Like a springboard in diving or a starting line on the track, the YOG serve as a catalyst for achieving things that we never imagined possible.

Call me Polly Ann but I believe in world peace and I believe in the YOG…

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