It was my ninth birthday and I finally was having the Chuck E. Cheese party that I had always wanted. I had invited the girls from my class at school and church. Most of them asked me what I wanted as a gift and, without hesitation, I responded the same way to each of them: The Olympic Gymnast Barbie.
The overall quality of this commercial makes me feel really old...
This wasn’t just a regular Barbie. She came with a gym bag, a medal, a “magic tumbling ring”, AND her knees and elbows bent which was great for doing stunts. Well, of course my girls came through for me. I got three. And after the party when my mother asked if I was interested in returning two of them in exchange for a different toy, I declined. I needed enough to have an Olympic team. I didn’t have quite enough to actually represent each of the 1996 Magnificent Seven US gymnastics team who, at the time of my party, were dominating the scene in Atlanta, but I had enough to represent Shannon Miller, Dominique Dawes, and Kerri Strug – my favorites. And of course Barbie’s bendable knees were perfect for reenacting the moment when Kerri Strug landed a near-perfect vault on a broken leg to seal the US team’s gold medal.
The swimming and running and volley balling and ping-ponging all impress me. But the gymnastics? They have always absolutely captivated me. Which is why I haven’t missed a minute of the Fab Five’s 2012 Olympic competition. And when the team won gold on Tuesday? I cried.
I am not a gymnast. I used to be a pro at walking around the house with a book balanced on my head (my sister’s friend told me that models trained to do the cat walk that way, so I practiced it a lot), but other than that, I have no marketable skill. If I were to try to perform on the uneven bars, I would likely just jump up, grab a bar, and hang there. If I tried to vault over a pommel horse, I would probably run at it full speed, come to a halt a few inches away from it, and just stand there staring at it. A floor routine full of somersaults and dance elements? Not likely. A back hand spring on a 4-inch wide balance beam? Ha.
These gymnasts captivate me, but they also represent me. Not me, exactly. But my country. My right to dream big. The dream to do something extraordinary with someone ordinary. The dream to accomplish something bigger than myself. The dream to defy odds and astonish crowds and inspire a nation. A world, actually. It’s their stories, combined with their accomplishments, that make us fall in love with them. It’s the reason why laundry detergent and breakfast cereal and credit card commercials touch our hearts. It’s the reason that the national anthem is on replay in our minds during the games. It’s the reason that I needed three identical Olympic Barbies.
It's knowing that you are in the presence of greatness. And that's what changes us.