I want to be an Olympian. Oh, not just any run-of-the mill, best-in-the-world athlete, mind you. I want to be an NBC Olympian. I want to embody the Olympic spirit on a flat screen TV in high definition.
I want to be a finely chiseled twenty-two year-old without hair on my shoulders.
I want to find out where “the zone” is and how I get into it.
I want to look with anticipation at the results board with my chest still heaving before my fists explode skyward and my tonsils bulge in slow motion, open-mouthed exaltation.
I want to covet my gold medal on the podium with tears welling in my eyes while I mumble the words to the Star Spangled Banner.
And finally, as the crowd cheers in recognition of my crowning achievement, I want to break into a smile as wide as the country.
Of course, it will not be easy. I will have to brush my teeth.
For those of you like me who are inspired by the Olympics on TV, let me remind you that being an NBC Olympian is not all iPods and tweeting and interviews with Al Roker. It takes a lot of dedication and hard work.
And if you watch the Olympics on prime time, then you know that to become an NBC Olympian you must be photogenic. And you must have lived a life of dreams, determination, and sacrifice, which can be turned into a compelling three-minute video. And of course, you have to be an American.
And if that weren’t enough, you must also be the best in the world at something. To become an NBC Olympian you can’t just be some poor slob like me who is great at throwing tantrums or running amok or jumping through hoops.
So it is clear that to be an NBC Olympian I will need to find a sporting event, preferably one without a dressage horse or a three thousand dollar bicycle or a form-fitting Speedo. Preferably a sport without competition.
Fortunately, given what I have seen to date on the outer reaches of cable, there are a lot of obscure Olympic events to choose from. Personally, I am thinking of men’s synchronized shaving. With a mirror as a partner, no one can beat me.
Then there is the matter of drug testing to worry about.
You laugh, but my desire to be an NBC Olympian is not fleeting. I have wanted to compete in the Olympics ever since the opening ceremony last Saturday. You see, I am a sucker for magisterial pageantry set to tympani and trumpet fanfares. It moves me.
For a long time I wanted to be Luke Skywalker.
In reality, I have no illusions about becoming an Olympic athlete. Or being featured on NBC for that matter. I am comfortable knowing that at this point in my life I will never be the best in the world at anything.
Heck, I can’t even win playing Solitaire.
But watching the Olympics with all its edited drama reinforces an ideal I have clung to all my life, an ideal which I share with millions of others in this country: if I work hard enough I can accomplish anything. Even being best in the world.
Still, I understand that Olympians have a few things that I don’t have: talent, unrelenting drive, and lots of muscles. Even as a kid I lived Olympic dreams based on achievements that were a little more attainable.
Once I held a High Jump record in my grade school. Since I was among the first to attempt the modest height, I didn’t hold the record long. But for ten minutes I was the champion of the fourth grade. I was best in the world.
As I grew older I earned other fleeting honors, but by then I fully understood the concept of a bigger pond and learned to accept my sporadic successes in relative terms. I was not best in the world, but it still felt pretty good to win some very distant qualifying rounds every once in a while.
About this time I also learned the virtues that come with losing: humility, graciousness, respect, and renewed effort. I learned that character could be defined more by how we handle failure than how we handle success.
At least, that is how the self-help books doled out solace.
Still, as valuable as these second fiddle life experiences continue to be, I would rather be learning about modesty.
As an adult my goals have changed. My Olympic dreams are now for my children. I want only to be judged as person, a husband, and a father. And as an NBC Olympian, I would be happy and proud to stand on the podium in front of millions of people clutching a bronze medal for being pretty darn good.
So long as I can still aim for gold.
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