By Lisa Barr
When I was a little girl I had two babysitters who alternated Saturday nights — they were high-schoolers and sisters: Linda and Lydia. Linda was beautiful. Hair to the end of her back, and she always had lots of boyfriends. She used to wash my very curly hair, blow-dry it straight — and all I wanted was to look/be/act like Linda. Lydia was sporty and hip. She would throw us around, let us stay up late, and always came to the house in sweats or shorts. When she wasn’t with us, Lydia was ice skating — speed skating that is. Every morning up at 5 a.m. at the ice rink. Unlike Linda, Lydia lived a single-track existence: Skating was her whole world.
I used to watch her from my backyard running with heavy weights around her legs and wrists. Training for what? I wondered … And then we got word that Lydia, My Babysitter, was heading to the Olympics.
And then tragedy struck. A few weeks (if I remember the dates correctly) before Lydia headed off to fulfill her Olympic dream, a neighborhood dog attacked her — tearing apart her legs, and turning her dream into a nightmare.
I remember crying so hard when I heard the news. But what came next would stick with me my whole life: Lydia did not let her serious injuries stop her. She took the necessary time to recover. She then trained fiercely, and four years letter at the age of 23, she made her comeback. She competed in the 1984 Olympics in speed-skating in Sarajevo. She didn’t win the 1000-meter race, but she was ranked 13 worldwide. She later went on to have a huge career in sportscasting.
From Defeat to Victory. Fighting to regain her dream against all odds was my babysitter’s true medal.
This year, I have been glued to the Summer Olympics, particularly gymnastics. When Aly Raisman, captain of the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team, got up to perform her floor routine to the traditional Jewish score of “Hava Nagila” — I nearly jumped off my couch. I was so proud of her on so many levels. In a world filled with Anti-Semitism, this young woman was giving the performance of her life — flipping, tumbling, dancing, prancing — to the most notable of all Jewish melodies (played at weddings and bar-mitzvahs) in front of the whole world. And the crowd was clapping with her. As a proud Jewish Mamma, every fiber in my body was cheering on this young woman, to what would become her gold-winning victory.
Aly knew she was on the world’s stage and was making a statement. She later revealed that she chose that particular score as a tribute to the Israeli athletes who had been murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympic games. This year marks 40 years since that unforgettable terrorist tragedy — that the International Olympic Committee, let’s just be honest here, made a horrible executive decision to ignore. Not even a mere “minute of silence” to commemorate the event? Shame on them.
Aly Raisman, in her greatest personal victory, gave the Olumpics’ greatest ‘defeat’ the honor it was due. She did it HER way.
She wasn’t the only one. The IOC’s refusal to permit a minute’s silence provoked a protest from the Italian team, who staged a minute’s solidarity silence outside the Israeli team’s sleeping quarters.
A French swimmer found his own unique method of commemoration, and went Outside of the Box. Fabien Gilot, a member of the gold medal-winning team raised his arm in triumph to reveal a tattoo in Hebrew. In English it read: I am nothing without them. He explained that the tatoo was a tribute to his grandmother’s Jewish husband, Max Goldschmidt, an Auschwitz survivor and a huge influence on his life.
These stories meant something very deeply to me personally. But there were so many truly amazing “back stories” in these games reflecting a wide array of athletes’ heroics: Those who came from complete poverty only to overcome huge obstacles to get The Win. Racial barriers were broken. Athletes who trained their whole lives and fumbled in the Moment of Moments only to come back and take “It.” And perhaps the most glorious and moving of all victories belonged to South Africa’s double-amputee runner Oscar Pistorius, known as the “fastest man with no legs.”
It is the stories behind the medal — the scars — that truly propel these athletes to work harder and achieve their dreams.
The Olympics marks the best of the best — athletic greatness traversing all boundaries, hatred, and prejudices. Endurance, determination, and passion prevail in the ultimate mind-over-body contests. What happened in Munich was a reminder of the ugliest part of human nature — it is no wonder the Olympic Committee would prefer to keep it in the closet.
As parents, many times we wonder, how some of our friends “allow” their kids to miss so much of “normal kid life” to instead go to gymnastics practice five days a week, hockey — all week long, etc. Who wants “it” more, we may wonder, the parents or the kids?
Yes, there are instances in which the parents are living vicariously through their child’s successes. But many times, it is those kids who’ve discovered their deepest passion at such a young age — who push themselves. They may not make the Olympics, but they, too, have the same unyielding belief in their abilities: This is what I love, and I want to take it as far as I can. They learn through trial and error the art of competition. Sometimes they win, sometimes they don’t, but ultimately — they will give it all they’ve got.
There’s a personal story I tell my kids. It is my small story, not one of Olympic measurement, by any means. It goes like this: I was a freshman in high school, and I had come from a private Jewish Day School, and attended a public high school. All my friends went to different schools, so basically I was the “new kid” — meaning, I didn’t come into high school with a group of friends or any “clique” support. I wanted so badly to make the Freshman Cheerleading Squad. I knew every inch of the routine, and I even dreamt about it.
The tryout came and I was beyond ready. I got up there, saw the judges, and I blanked — I literally froze right there in front of everybody. It was beyond humiliating, and I was so profoundly disappointed in myself. Sophomore year came around, and I still hadn’t gotten over that shame. I let the tryout slide by, acting like I didn’t care — but I did. Junior Year rolled in, and though it was late in the game in the cheerleading world, I knew that the same girls were probably going to make the squad. And yet … I needed to prove I could do it for me; I had to break the freeze.
The tryout came. I took a deep breath, and I focused on the only image that I knew would take me to the finish line: Lydia
I not only made the squad, but also I earned the highest score, and they made me the squad’s co-captain. Defeat to victory. This incident at 16 has guided me the rest of of my life — never taking NO for an answer. That freshman “defeat” was excrutiatingly painful, but the best thing that happened to me. When I was told I wouldn’t be able to have children: Lydia. When I went through a terrible divorce and never thought I would come out from under it: Lydia. Any moment when I thought I just can’t do it: Lydia.
Winning the Gold is NOT about the medal — tell your kids — it is the culmination of every NO in that young person’s life that he or she turned — through perseverance and sheer determination — into a YES.