Thursday, February 09, 2006

Let the Games Begin

The Winter Olympics have always been a fun event for me to watch. It probably started when I was a little girl. I honestly do not remember the first time I went ice skating though I must have been about 5. Every winter my friends and I would head to the local outdoor rink; it was the cool thing to do even into high school. A lot of my friends also skied. Our family did not ski for two reasons: 1) My mother grew up in Bozeman, Montana with the best skiing in the state. She skied and thought the skiing was so horrible around Helena that it was not worth it. 2) Skiing for an entire family with all of the equipment was expensive and we could not afford it.

Of course, we went sledding on our streets or in the hills. Some people had toboggans and others had inner tubes. I was never very good at skating or sledding because I was too timid to try anything fast or risky but it was always so much fun. Sometimes, my Dad would flood the vacant lot across the street to create a neighborhood rink. My husband actually recalls that he was one of the little kids who would come and skate on my Dad's rink. One would learn to appreciate various ice conditions especially while with my ice-fishing father on Canyon Ferry Lake. I'll never forget skating along over bumps and rough areas to hear scary gigantic cracks. Also, I remember playing with my Dad's ice auger. When he noticed my friends and I were zipping holes in the ice way too fast, he became alarmed and yelled at us to slowly skate back to where he was. Literally, we were skating on terribly thin ice.

Much later, after moving to Seattle, my husband and I took up cross country skiing. We very much enjoyed this less expensive and more peaceful version of skiing. I always knew that downhill skiing would completely terrify me. Skiing and my husband do not necessarily agree, either. At age 12, he blew a knee downhill skiing on the terrible rocky slopes near Helena. Frankly, this is what kept him out of sports the rest of his teen years. And he managed to try downhill skiing on cross country skis at age 27 resulting in a major wipe out that left him with a broken collar bone. We haven't skied much since though we dabbled with snowshoeing once which I like even better. Snowshoes keep my husband from doing stupid stunts and it is really...really...slow. Finally, Lucas wanted to try snowboarding. We outfitted him and sent him on the weekly snow bus from Mukilteo up to Stevens Pass when he was in high school. He is not a big physical risk taker so I am not sure snowboarding is his favorite thing--he needs more time with it.

As a result, I love the Winter Olympics and always have. Watching fearless athletes do everything I never could is mesmerizing. In Junior High my friends and I were all ga-ga over Jean Claude Killy, the French skier. Now, in middle age, I have my favorite athlete to watch: Apolo Anton Ohno.

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"The Iceman Cometh" Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times

It all started four years ago. I noticed there was buzz about this local athlete who made it to the Olympics and his name was Apolo. My family made sure to watch the short track speedskating to support our hometown boy. My daughter thought he was cute. I thought he was adorable and I became intrigued with his story. The personalities behind the athleticism are of interest to me.

Apolo was born in Seattle like my kids and raised by a single father, Yuki, who came here about the same time we did. Yuki's hair salon is downtown not far from where I used to work as an attorney. Yuki would take Apolo out to the Washington coast on school holidays to the same area where we take our kids. Apolo was in a gifted program in elementary school in the Federal Way district not unlike the Mukilteo gifted program my daughter was in. Apolo has long hair with facial additives as does my Lucas. Yuki had some difficulties with his incredibly bright and talented son and managed somehow to channel it all in a positive direction.

Apolo Anton Ohno, the one-time Federal Way mall rat, again leads a small contingent with local ties as well as the U.S. short-trackers, whose mayhem-pickled sport continues to gain TV viewership alongside the traditional hockey/figure skating dramas. [emphasis mine]

Needless to say, not that my kids have become super athletes but I can identify with the parenting struggles of Yuki. I have great admiration for Yuki and for what his son has become. Evidently, Yuki now lives in Edmonds instead of Federal Way in a view home which by definition means he is just down the beach from us. And he probably hears the same trains we do which run along the water down below. Who knows? He may even be worried about mudslides, too.

So, sports averse me is now focused on the Olympics with all of its coverage. Particularly, I am watching Seattle's own Apolo.

The Seattle Times today has a huge article about Apolo written by Ron Judd, one of my favorite columnists.

And some quotes:

For a decade, he has ruled the ice the way a dolphin owns the water....

"Every time I come home, I'm like, 'God, I miss Seattle. I miss everything about it,' " says Ohno, returning from a sushi dinner with friends on Capitol Hill......

...They decided Apolo would stay put at the campus-like Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. They decided he would focus on all the good things and stay away from the bad. It was, in a way, a rerun of a loving-but-firm nudge from Yuki Ohno, a single, Japanese-American parent who sent young Apolo off to speedskating camp at 14, partially to keep him off the streets of Federal Way....

...After a final, December trip to the Seattle area, including a few peaceful days on the southwest Washington coast, he has spent the last weeks before Turin in Colorado Springs, honing body and mind.

Let the Games Begin! Apolo is ready.