By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
Every four years I have a Walter Mitty moment – I fantasize that I am an Olympic Games contender. This past week I’ve been watching all of the USA Olympic team trials and, as always, think that with a little more effort I could have made the team. This is totally delusional, of course. I did swim for my high school and AAU teams but I think I was more interested in how I looked in my Speedo than my split times. I also participated in gymnastics in school, but soon realized that my “thunder thighs” were not compatible with elegance, grace or balance. So I have the utmost admiration for those who are talented and dedicated enough to take their skills to the try-outs, putting it all on the line to make the American team. There are hundreds of competitors, but a few have stood out for me this week.
John Orozco – In 2012 it looked like the sky was the limit for this talented gymnast. He made the Olympic team and was heralded as a sure thing for a medal, an athlete with a fairytale story. Born to parents of little means, his mother drove him a hour each day from their home in Brooklyn to the gym in Chappequa. Early on they slept in their car when they traveled to competitions. A lot of hard work resulted in his Olympic dreams coming true. But those dreams turned into nightmares at the 2012 games. Uncharacteristially, he had two disastrous pommel horse routines and then fell on one of his vaults. He was routinely chided by the critics as a huge disappointment. But he kept plugging along. Then in 2015 he was hit with a double whammy – his beloved mother died suddenly and he tore his Achilles’ tendon. Everyone wrote him off for the 2016 team. But John believed in himself and wanted to honor all the sacrifices his mother made. During the trials last week he summoned the courage and fortitude to perform at the highest levels. He was not error-free, but was good enough for the selection committee to put him on the team. He cried throughout the induction ceremony and anyone who watched his interview and didn’t tear up is just not human. No matter the outcome in Rio, John Orozco is a winner in all the ways that are important.
Troy Dumais – Not everyone’s Olympic dreams come true. Troy Dumais has been a premier diver for the USA since 1996, participating in the past four Olympic Games. Think about that – he started his Olympic career when we could still leave our shoes on at the airport. He dubbed the trials this year as his “Dive for Five”. Unfortunately, at 36 years old, time had caught up with him and he was in fourth place going into the final round, well out of Olympic team contention. He has contributed so much to his sport that when he climbed the ladder to perform the final dive of his career, the audience gave him a standing ovation. They continued to clap and cheer, forcing Dumais to pause and take it all in. He broke down, then summoned the composure to execute his dive almost flawlessly. He said afterward that he knows it’s time to retire. He is now married with a family and said that it’s difficult to cobble together enough income to support them. And that’s the thing that is so admirable about most of these athletes – they do it for the love of the sport. For every Michael Phelps and Shawn Johnson who rake in the big endorsements, there are hundreds of Olympic-level contenders that have to scrape by just to make a living. I have untold admiration for their dedication and purity of purpose.
Kevin Cordes – I’m going to admit up front that I’m a bit biased when it comes to Kevin Cordes. I’m a friend of his grandmother and have been following his swimming career for almost ten years. He attended University of Arizona, where he was named the Pac 12 and NCAA swimmer of the year – twice – and in 2015 was named the Pac 12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year, completing his degree in Business with a 3.4 GPA. Today he is the American record-holder in the 100m breast stroke and if you Google his name you will see a very long list of his awards and medals, both national and international. But what makes Keven so admirable is his discipline and comportment. At the 2012 trials he came in third, just missing out on a spot on the Olympic team. But he took that disappointment and built on it. He has dedicated his life to being the best possible swimmer while remaining a good and humble person. Sadly, that can’t be said of all of the “glamour” athletes we see on TV. As testimony to Kevin’s reputation, last week when he won the 100m breast stroke event, finally becoming the Olympian he had dreamed about, an observer noted that during the medal ceremony all of the lane judges stood up and gave him an ovation – the first time that had happened. In Rio Kevin will be competing in both the 100 and 200m events as well as the relays. I know his family is extremely proud of him, not only for his achievements in the pool but also for his behavior outside of it. He is truly an All-American in every way.
I can’t wait for the Games to begin. I have reconciled that I will never make an Olympic team, unless eating and knitting become competitive events. Instead, I will root for John and Kevin and all the other Olympic athletes who are so hard-working, dedicated, honest and a tribute to our country. I’m proud that they will be representing the USA. I wonder if we can get one of them to run for President?