Of the 12 hours a day that I've been watching Olympic coverage, none of them have been of Taekwondo. This is not my choosing but some apparent programming glitch meant to piss me off. It's a gross overlook as far as our house is concerned especially since there has been a lot of gas about the sport's royal family,The Fighting Lopezes. I mean, all four siblings are in the Olympics! Three fighters, two brothers and a sister, and the oldest brother is their coach. You'd think NBC would be all over that feel-goodness, but no, I'm reduce to watching fractions of matches on the interweb. We wanted to see Diana Lopez fight so badly! And I'm not sure who Beach Volleyball had to sleep with to get 8 of those 12 hours of coverage, but I'm over it already. God. Is that just for the west coast, the beach volleyball virus on my TV? Or is the east coast bombarded with different more relevant overkill like field hockey and lacrosse?
Nonetheless, I'm bananas over the Olympics. Straight nuts. I sop it all up -- the stories, the metaphors, the sensational highs and lows. I cry at all the key moments. I love every single athlete when they are up or when they are down, when they are shy and soft-spoken or when they're cocky and shit-talky. I love every family member that sits and watches and frets. I'll cry for way too long when the parents cry, especially. Or when illness plays a part of a story; or poverty, or any hard-won triumph for that matter. When an athlete says that no one believed they could make it except them, I feel punched. I understand that struggle, I just never did make it as a successful athlete. I see the other sports-related struggles coming up for my own daughters. The type that are personal hurdles for every athlete: Is it all worth it to get to the point of greatness? The hours and the grief and the set backs, the pain? In the void of training, that answer always teeters on a big fat No, but in the up-sweep of an international warm-and-fuzzy forum like the Olympics I can't imagine the answer being anything other than the resounding Yes. Hell yes.
A couple times I've found myself just a few degrees separated from the Olympics. When I was 16, I swam for the Santa Monica city team. We often would train with another group at the Culver City pool and once we found ourselves training at the same time with Dara Torres and her crew. That was the year before she went to her first Olympics, and we were star struck. In high school, I only dated one boy. We were so shy and awkward about it all, but holding hands was nice. He really was a great guy, and he was best known as the star of the volleyball team. Soon after high school he became a shining and popular player on the U.S team that won gold at the '88 Olympics and bronze at the '92 Olympics. And most proudly, there's my BFF Betsy. I often talk about her. She went to the '92 Barcelona Olympics as a member of the women's crew team. How hot is that? Her most shining crew moment though was when her national team won gold at the Pan Am Games held in Cuba. Fidel Castro himself put the gold medal around Betsy's neck. She said, "Buenos juegos" to him and I said, "Good thing you didn't say, 'Buenos huevos.'"
Speaking of Taekwondo, we went by the studio yesterday to get a schedule for Mina. Husband and I decided that Mina should keep on with Taekwondo at least until she earns her black belt, only two belts away. We prepared a big pitch for her, bracing ourselves for the resistance, telling her she's so close and that no one can take a black belt away; it's a huge accomplishment, and on. She said, "Ok, cool." No resistance at all, and she meant it. Then she said, "I want to fight." And Husband and I looked at each other, thrilled. This is something we've always known about Mina: Sparring was always her favorite part. Maya likes the structure and camaraderie of class and the forms, but Mina enjoys mixing it up in the ring. She's a very good fighter in fact, considering her size and age, even if her focus is out the window at any given moment during class. Good ol' Mina!
We entered the doors of the studio and when Maya's coach, Master N, saw us he broke out in his full-face chronic grin and yelled out in English heavily slathered with Portuguese, "OOhh, I'm so glad to see you!" We were glad too. We had missed the studio, and we all glowed a bit, our hearts skipping. Maya most certainly does not want to go back to train, but her affection for the sport and Master N is still undeniable. Her departure from Taekwondo wasn't dramatic or resentful. The nail in the coffin for her however was summer basketball camp. She's a baller now no doubt, no longer a fighter. This doesn't mean a hyped-up, persistent coach can't try, right? After the greetings, Master N immediately sang out, "Maya! U.S Open is in February! We can get you ready!" Maya back pedaled, nearly hiding behind Carlinhos, Master N's protege here on a visa from Brazil to train. Carlinhos said in his improved English, "Yea, how much do you weigh?" Both of them were calculating which weight class she could enter. Maya flushed from the attention that still didn't interrupt her glow and said, "Naw, I'm not going to the U.S. Open." Master N said, "Sar-ee-us?" which is how he says "serious". We love this about him, so much so that we've incorporated it into our own vocabulary. I'll say, "The bus is running late." And Maya will say, "Sareeus?" There are many more Master N-isms that have squeezed their way into our hearts and vernacular. "How 'bout teaching, Maya?! I still need help with the small kids' classes." And the thought of getting her teaching job back instructing the little white belts perked her up. She is a fantastic lil-kids coach. She said, "Yea, I'd like that." I said, "Actually we're here for Mina. She's coming back." He yelled, "Sareeus?" His eyes were closed from smiling so broadly. "Oh Mina! Are you ready to fight?" "Yes sir," she said. Then he figured out aloud by when she'd earn her black belt, and then I'm sure he wondered how long it would take to get Mina ready for national competitions.
I leave you with this picture. It's of Mina's first tournament. She competed only in forms, no fighting yet. I think she was six. My little pistol is standing up to a row of old judges.