Culture

Why I’m More Invested In The Olympics Than Ever Before

Our Marathon Maniac contemplates what it’s really like to consistently aim for greatness.

Illustration: Marisa Morea
Illustration: Marisa Morea

There are two types of people in this world: those who watch every single Olympic match as if it were a religious experience, and those who couldn’t name two of the 10 events in the decathlon. I am one of the former. Call me an Olympics evangelist if you will, a zealot if you must, but make no mistake about it—come Aug. 5, 2016, I will be glued to my couch with my face painted in the colors of the American flag and extremely strong opinions about the archery team’s chances for success this year.

Although I’ve always been Olympics-obsessed, I got my first glimpse of Olympic life as a lifeguard during holiday breaks from college. The Italian Olympic swim team practiced at our pool during the winter. Since I worked the early shift, I watched them swim back and forth for hours. Every single day, they finished lap after lap and then headed straight into the gym for another hour or more of weightlifting. Sometimes, they came back in the afternoon for a second swim workout. I was exhausted just observing.

Still, despite hours staring at the pool from my guard chair, I didn’t come to appreciate even a tiny fraction of the dedication required to accomplish something of that magnitude until I  started running. Obviously, I’m no Olympian—and that is precisely the point. After I passed through the halcyon-beginner days of run-walk intervals and regular PRs, I started to realize how much mental work it takes just to get out the door each day for your scheduled workout—never mind seek improvement. This can feel like a Herculean feat when life, work, stress, kids and other obligations get in the way. To push yourself to the point of constant forward progress, like it takes to become an Olympic athlete? That’s a totally different kind of commitment.

But while I can’t pretend to comprehend the concentration that’s required of a sport like archery, or the explosive power seen in Olympic weightlifting, I do know a little bit about distance running. Although I’ve never run a 5-minute mile (and I’ve definitely never run 26.2 of them in a row!), I’ve trained hard, watched my nutrition and prayed that I would peak at the right time. I’ve crossed the finish line with my arms raised in victory and my head hanging low in defeat. The unpredictable nature of racing means a perfect training cycle may turn into a terrible race day, and vice versa.

Perhaps that’s why now, when I turn on the television, I’m more invested than ever before. Olympic athletes are no longer simply heroes to me. From Aug. 5 to 21, I will not just be watching Amy, Desi, Shalane, Allyson and Sanya, the American idols, although they certainly deserve that title. I will be watching Amy, Desi, Shalane, Allyson and Sanya—my friends. Don’t worry, I’ll bring enough face paint for everyone.

5 Reasons Why I’ll Never Be an Olympian

1) Hugging: Olympians are constantly being hugged by people—coaches, teammates, friends, family and competitors. I’d fulfill my yearly hug quota in five minutes if I were an Olympian.

2) Altitude training: I live about 1,000 feet above sea level and running is hard enough as it is, thank you very much. Forget living in Flagstaff or Boulder and trying to do hard workouts—I’d be lucky if I could walk.

3) Limits on wine: I believe this speaks for itself.

4) Sponsors: I’ve had actual nightmares in which I was an Olympic athlete and got sponsored by a brand whose shoes I turned out to hate. Too much pressure. #runnerproblems

5) You can’t wear face paint as a competitor: Again, I believe this is self-explanatory.

Danielle Cemprola lives in South Carolina with her husband and Rottweiler. When she’s not running, Danielle blogs at trexrunner.com.