The first Olympics I remember watching was the 1984 Los Angels Summer Games. That was the summer between fifth and sixth grade and I was glued to the TV, enamored with all the sports but particularly amazed by Mary Lou Retton, the then-16 year gymnast who took gold in the women's All-Around. Heck, I even got my long hair cut to look like hers.
Granted, I never took gymnastics nor could do anything more complicated than a cartwheel-roundoff combination but Mary Lou and the entire Olympic experience allowed me to dream.
And then, life happens.
You get older and often the wisdom of age is tempered by cynicism. While I've been awed and amazed by Micheal Phelps, understanding completely that I've been witness to athletic history, I've had more than my fair share of cynical Olympic moments.
My biggest rant involves the sponsorship of McDonald's, particularly the commercial which begins by showing a series of athletes spouting off one-liners about the dedication of training and the pursuit of a dream -- all to sell McDonald's deep-fried chicken breakfast sandwich. (Note: You will not get that washboard stomach the track athlete has in this commercial by routinely eating breakfast at Micky D's.)
But there are moments in these games that inspire me, even more so than the exploits of King Phelps.
And one of those came over the weekend in the women's marathon.
For the record, while swimming has been my biggest challenge in triathlon, running was new to me, too. My previous running experience was a series of "learn to run" programs which would alternate running with walking. Until I started triathlon training, I had never run for more than 15 consecutive minutes. The mere concept of running a marathon remains pretty daunting to me.
It was a 38-year old woman from Romania, Constantina Tomescu-Dita, who won the Olympic marathon. She became the oldest woman to win the gold in the marathon and did so by taking a huge risk -- pulling away just over an hour into the race.
The sentimental favorite,34-year-old Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain, had another anguishing finish. She suffered a stress fracture in her leg just 12 weeks ago and felt the pain of the injury and the reduced training by the midway point. Four years ago in Athens, health issues kept her from finishing but this time, she was determined to cross the line, finishing 23rd.
For the record, 13 women did not finish the race.
Seeing this women take chances on themselves -- seeing them excel well past the age traditionally seemed as appropriate for athletic success -- is inspiring, whether your goal is to finish a 5K or return to school or change careers or start a family.
The only restrictions we really have in life are the ones we put on ourselves.