Sitting in my family room watching the best athletes in the world give their all on the Olympic stage takes me back to so many memories. The stories of the athletes and their journeys are what help us all feel connected through our screens to individuals we will never meet or know.
This year's Olympics was different on many levels, but there was one difference in particular that captured my attention - it fell exactly 25 years after the 1996 games. Twenty-five years ago I sat in the stands in Atlanta, Georgia and watched my friends, former teammates and representatives of the United States win a gold medal in the team synchronized swimming event.
Having just retired three years prior, knowing that my Olympic journey would never happen, I sat in the stands of the aquatic center full of pride, excitement, yearning and envy for the experience that was unfolding in front of my eyes.
I watched my childhood friend and duet partner from the 1992 Olympic Trials swim a flawless routine with a handful of my former teammates.
I watched my former duet partner, who first came to our club in California from Japan to train for and eventually compete with the Japanese Olympic team, step onto the podium for her bronze medal.
I was physically present, yet felt invisible. I was experiencing so many emotions and layers of experiences at once. These women were connected to me in so many deep ways - we shared so many experiences, learnings and history together. I was having an out of body experience. Part of me was in the water with my teammates and friends and part of me was far away in the stands looking on.
This was a potent, stark reminder that my identity had shifted from athlete to spectator.
As the Olympics bring both celebration and reflection to my consciousness, I want to acknowledge the athletes who’ve made it onto the World stage and earned the spot to share their talents and gifts with the world. But I also want to recognize the thousands of athletes who get so close and don’t quite make it. You may have found yourself, or at some point find yourself, sitting on the sidelines looking in as an outsider. In those moments I encourage you to dig deep and be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Stand tall and demonstrate who you are and what you’ve learned being on the outside. You serve as a powerful beacon for the majority below the cutoff.