Saturday, March 26, 2011

Riding A Note in Time

Well I’m back on the road. Back to Espana. Back to Erin. Her birthday is this Monday, so I am making a quick trip to see her and celebrate her 27th year with her. Although I was just in Spain a month ago, this is a much needed trip for us as we haven’t been doing so well managing the distance the last few weeks. Hopefully some time together will remind us of good we are together.

But the story of Erin and I isn’t the tale I wish to tell today. Rather, I’ve been thinking about the numerous adventures I’ve been on since I turned 18 and left the safety net that is home. It sometimes boggles me how all my trips to different cities, states, countries and continents blend together in a thick, hazy misted memory. Yet, what is amazing is discovering the random triggers not only lifting the fog to reveal a bright, vivid image of what was….but enabling you to relive and feel a stolen moment from time.

Much like Harry Potter falling into the pensive, you’re transported back to a frozen still of memory reenacted where you simultaneously become audience and participant in the memory itself. As such, a flood of emotions wash over you as suddenly as a Pacific tsunami, and you are overcome with familiar emotions of a remembered past. Yet, you are enlightened by new perspective on an old tale, enriching the moment all the more.

I came across this feeling more than a few times recently. For me, the item most often serving as the port key to a forgotten past is music. More to the point - specific songs. So here are six songs that often act as mileage markers along the road that maps my travel in and through life.

Song: “Mainstream”
Artist: Outkast
Album: ATLiens
Moment in Time: October, 1996. Trinity Cross Country Team Travel to Memphis
Feeling: Overwhelmed, lost, floating, searching. But comforted by the music.

I list “Mainstream” mainly because it was the one song from this album that came on with the shuffle feature from my iPod, but most of the non-radio songs from this album take me back to this time. If my life was like the movie Inception, then the ATLiens album was my go-to talisman. It kept me grounded in reality when I felt like I was living through a surreal dream world that was the Trinity Bubble.

While I had always grown up around white folks, going to school at Trinity was definitely a culture shock. I had never been surrounded by people who didn’t share similar interests, ideas, and backgrounds as mine. I struggled to find an outlet. I didn’t find a spot on the basketball team. I stumbled onto the cross country team. Never in a million thoughts did I imagine myself driving in a 12 passenger van through Arkansas on my way to Memphis, TN to run a 5 mile race as hard as I could with a group of people who had never really had much opportunity to be friends with someone who was black or Mexican, or in my case, both. While I was excited by the opportunity to continue a life in sports through college, I was unsure of the path it was taking me on because it was too new and different from comfort zone. The only thing I could do was slide on my headphones, sit at the back of the bus, and get lost in the contemplative lyrics of Dre and Big Boi, who seemed to be in search of themselves, as well. ATLiens, I knew the feeling well.

Song: “Days Go By”
Artist: Dirty Vegas
Album: Dirty Vegas
Moment in Time: June, 2002. Pentathlon camp in COS, deciding to leave Texas
Feeling: Scared, sentimental, holding on to something but knowing I needed to let go.

I was super depressed around this time period. I just had a really bad break-up with my college girlfriend of three years. I had lost my job. Pentathlon wasn’t going as well as I hoped. I felt lost. And this song summed up a lot of that feeling. Plus the video of an older, professional man in a suit break dancing to honor the memory of an old flame is straight money. Love it.

Listening to this song as I type, I can remember coming to Colorado Springs for a pentathlon camp and deciding to simply not go back to Texas. Aside from my family, what was there for me besides bad memories and hurt feelings? I can recall driving around town during the summer, feeling lost, just searching for something from within, knowing I had less than $50 in my bank account. Even as low as I felt about my predicament, I felt hopeful is some way – bolstered by the decision to move to COS and plunge head-first into the rough waters of pentathlon.

Song: “Beautiful”
Artist: Snoop Dogg with Pharrell
Album: Paid Tha Cost to Be Da Bo$$
Moment in Time: October, 2002. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. First international trip for pentathlon.
Feeling: Eyes wide open, hopeful, overwhelmed with excitement

It’s hard to beat the first five seconds of this lick. Pharrell sets it off and the beat jumps in, setting a breezy, upbeat vibe that completely takes me back to Copa Cabana Beach in Brazil. That fall, this song and video came out just in time see me qualify for my first international trip in pentathlon. Brazil isn’t a bad place to pop your travel cherry, that’s for sure. But more than that, qualifying for the competition was incredibly meaningful for me. It validated the decision I made a few months earlier to move to the Springs despite little success in the sport of pentathlon and even less income. But by the time I was heading to Brazil, I had a new job, a room at the OTC, a new girlfriend, experienced snowfall for the first time in a decade (it was only a dusting but I was still amazed), and my time in pentathlon was looking up after beating the top ranked American to qualify. In short, I had a new lease on life and was very happy to see what I could make of it. Next stop, Rio de Janeiro!

Song: “Stem/Long Stem/Transmission 2”
Artist: DJ Shadow
Album: Entroducing
Moment in Time: Jan/February 2003. Canadian Winter Nationals for Pentathlon, Alberta, Canada
Feeling: Focused, centered, relaxed, ready. In my container.

After befriending a few Canadian athletes in Brazil (that’s a PG way of putting it), I was invited to compete in their county’s winter nationals held in the seemingly frozen tundra of Alberta, Canada. I normally don’t get to see much on competition trips, but this time it was a bit ridiculous. I saw the airport, an airport internment room (I had a little gun trouble with the Mounties), snow and ice, a hotel room, more snow and ice, a rec center, more snow and ice, my hotel room again, and more snow and ice. But I wasn’t in Canada to really see anything , I kind of figured there wasn’t much to Alberta and seemed to be right.

I was there to compete. And this was the first time I felt absolutely at peace and ready to compete the night before. I still had the pre-comp jitters, but I was focused and centered on accomplishing the goals I had set forth. I couldn’t quite sleep that night, so I listened over and over to DJ Shadows’s Entroducing, a critically acclaimed hip-hop album that really propelled the drum-and-base instrumental forward as an art form. And this song had me locked in. The end of the song finishes without a beat and fades more into a melody. Listening to it has you feeling like you are living out a moment set to the soundtrack of the Social Network. The music captures you, pulling you into the moment.

The next day, I had one of my better days as a pentathlete, winning the 3k run, having a personal shoot and swim (at the time) and finishing second in the fence. I finished second overall, just missing out on a win by two fencing touches.

Song: “Trouble”
Artist: Coldplay
Album: Parachutes
Moment in Time: July, 2003. Austin, TX. Just won Fencing Nationals, Div 3
Feeling: Sad. Alone. Questioning.

It seems quite paradoxical to win a national fencing tournament and feel depressed afterwards. But that’s where I found myself at the time. I was competing at US Fencing’s Summer Nationals Austin. I had only been fencing for less than two years and romped through the Division III ranks of the competition with little concern for the feelings of the people I slaughtered. The closest a competitor came to me was in a 15-10 bout. Although the level of competition wasn’t very high, I still was on fire relative to my own skill level in a tournament with well over 200 competitors who all had to qualify to be there. And it was a great feeling to win that way.

But afterwards, I just remember winning and having no one to celebrate with. I had just been introduced to this Coldplay album, so I had been listening to it as I drove around Austin, heading to meet a girl I had recently been introduced to. I remember thinking that if success in the sport remained to be like that moment, I was not heading in a good direction. It made me question the point of it all when you don’t have anyone close to you to celebrate with once the medals have been passed out.

Song: “Incident at Gate 7”
Artist: Thievery Corporation
Album: Sounds From the Thievery Corporation
Moment in Time: August, 2008 Beijing China, Olympic Games
Feeling: Do Work Son!

In the first week of working in Beijing for the 2008 Games, a group of staff stopped in at an American owned pizza and sandwich shop. And for a random lunch spot in the middle of China, the place had some crazy chill ambiance. Patrons could tag graffiti notes in marker, young Chinese hipsters came in and out, placing orders and chilling out with friends. And in the background played some serene, down-tempo, drum-and-base music that had you bobbing your head and swaying your shoulders in rhythm. It was just “cool” personified.

One of the women I was with ran the dining services for our high performance center and she found herself vibing to the beat as well and went to ask the manager about the music being played as she wanted something similar for the dining room. A few days later, the store owner came through with three data discs full of similar music. Heavy in the rotation mix was songs from Thievery Corporation.

The music from the instrumentals is perfect throw onto an iPod and go to work to. And since much of my work consisted of solo duties and back and forth travel to the airport, Thiever Corporation got played heavily. With so many memories coming from my work at the airport, is there a better title to a song triggering airport ops flashbacks than “Incident at Gate 7”? As Bama would tell it at the Hot Spot, “Do WORK son!”

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Me gusta correr en Espana

Well, I've been back in the States for over a week and haven't even updated my blog - have I mentioned how bad I am about writing and keeping track of my travels?  I would make a great writer for a travel magazine someday....

But now that I am here, I want to write about one of the things I truly enjoyed while I was in Spain.  And since I've been following the blogs of a few runners from my Alma mater Trinity University, this topic will tie in well (not to mention I've been running more lately in a desperate attempt to relive my 400m college running days, eeek!).

 
Before I got to Spain, my girlfriend Erin and her roomie Annie talked about an awesome park that is only about a mile away from their apartment. I was excited because after seeing a few pictures, I could totally imagine E and I taking a lazy stroll around the park and stopping to sip coffee and enjoy life, quietly watching people as they canoodled and snogged, not caring who noticed.  It all seemed very romantic.  Kind of like the way Harry and Sally strolled through Central Park in one of my favorite movies When Harry Met Sally (my secret guilty pleasure are romantic comedies.  And I know it will remain a secret because no one reads a blog I rarely update).  Needless to say, I was excited.

So the first day I got to Spain, I sincerely hoped I could take a nice walk around the park and quickly share a romantic moment with my love.  Unfortunately, I forgot that Erin hates to walk.  Or workout outside.  So my bubble was popped...but not completely destroyed.
I was lucky in that Annie's boyfriend Sean, aka Puff, was also visiting and likes to run.  So when he asked if I wanted to run with him at 8 am the next day, I was in.  Who cares about jet lag!

So by 8:10 am we were off (I run on CP time, thankfully Puff was accommodating). 

And we jogged 10 minutes south down Nunez de Balboa, the street the girls live on in a very posh neighborhood to Parque del Reitro.  And it was as gorgeous as the girls mentioned. 

We entered through a large gate and proceeded to take a nice, easy jaunt around the park.  It took us about 30 minutes to complete a loop around on a nice, gravel trail.  Sean and I had only met once before and we got along pretty well, so this gave us a good chance to catch up, compare notes on long distance relationships, and just chat like guys do on a run.  But more than that, it was a great chance to experience Spain through our own eyes. (Check out this Google Map of the park)


And what a great way it was to see some of the city, particularly, the edges of central Madrid.  More than that, it was easy to feel lost amid the chaotic hustle and bustle of a large international city.  The park had a good number of runners, all dressed as if they were ready to race a marathon, wearing the latest Nike wind gear, dri-fit spandex, running gloves, and i-pods.  But in typical Spanish fashion, they were more about dressing the part than they were about actually running hard or fast. 
And I say that not as knock against Spanish culture. If anything, running around the park and seeing so many unexpected joggers along the trails, walkers enjoying the day, and couples enjoying themselves helped me understand how much Spaniards just love to live.  As Americans, we are obssessed with running certain paces to race certain times and distances, meanwhile, the Spanish seem to run because it is a part of living a healthy, enjoyable, and fulfilling life.

Who cares about running 9 minute miles when you cruise and enjoy the beauty surrounding you and fell all the more invigorated afterwards.  How great is it to run and feel alive after a long day's work and not overtaxed by the need to complete a hard tempo run.  Or to simply take a lazy stroll through the amazing trails in the park with your love because that's what people who love life do. 

Annie and Erin talked a lot about how Spaniards just love life and don't obsess over work and many of the things we Americans do.  And spending a day in Spain, you can clearly understand that.  But taking a 30 minute run through the park helped me see the finer side of that laid back lifestyle.  And I have to admit, I was jealous.  It was one of the few times I could see myself living in Spain and leading a similar life. 

On my last night in Spain before I departed for home, I felt the need to take in parque del reitro one last time.  And it was awesome to see it at night.  Apparently, Madrid has an incredibly low crime rate, so running in a darkened park with little light is no big deal.  The trails are dimly lit on the south side, and lamps aren't needed because the surrounding city provides more than enough light to find your footing.  But I was amazed at how many more runners were out at 8 pm!

I knew that Spaniards start and end their days later than Americans, so it would make sense that people would knock out their after-work running between 7 and 9 pm.  But I was still surprised at the amount of running groups!  Old and young, men and women, all doing slow group runs, running drills, yoga stretches - it was a sight to see.  So much for Erin and Annie telling us that people in Spain don't work out, which I think has more to do with the fact that they don't really workout, so of course, how could they tell if any one else does?  Hahah....but in their defense people in Spain, men and women alike, are very slight in build.  But I think that goes back to what I have been rambling about.  Mainly that Spaniards workout to enjoy a healthier life, not to necessarily look like a cast member on the Jersey Shore or the cover of Runner's magazine.

Anyway, I have rambled on long enough.  I need to head to bed so that I can workout in the morning.  Or at least to get to work by 10 am like they do in Spain.  :)  Until next time....

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Rain In Spain Falls Mainly On The Plain

Wow, it has been almost a year since I have tried to do any writing on my various travels. Definitely terrible for someone who claims to enjoy writing.

In any case, my most recent travel finds me in Madrid, Spain, visiting my beloved girlfriend Erin Greene for Valentine’s Day and a much needed vacation. Erin moved out here with her college friend Annie Rennebohm, a little over a month ago. Erin has always wanted to live abroad and lead a charmed international life of travel, wine, food, etc, etc. I think the experience has been a lot different from what she expected in a number of ways, but also very satisfying in others. She will be living here for a year teaching English, perfecting her Spanish, and learning about life. And she is well on her way in all three areas.  To follow Annie's and Erin's adventures, check out their blog "It's All Happening" (also linked to the right). 

But I digress, this isn’t a blog about my girlfriend, I’m, too selfish and egotistical to write about something other than myself when it comes to a personal blog.

My trip started with an early flight out of Colorado Springs - caught an OTC shuttle to the airport around 4:45 am for a 6:30 am flight. I was very happy to leave COS as it was under 10 degrees for the umpteenth time this year. Anyone who knows me understands that I don’t deal well with cold weather. And I define cold as anything less than 60 degrees….

On to Atlanta for a 7 hour layover before catching a direct flight to Madrid. Luckily I had my work computer with me and was able to knock out a few emails and work on a few projects (Glen, if you are reading this, can I use that as time worked and have it not count against my vacation time? :-)). One thread that took up much of my time that I thought pretty interesting was an email exchange with an acquaintance from Brazil whom I met in Athens, Greece. He is researching programming for athletes during the Olympic Games and other major competitions. I imagine he will be trying to implement some of this programming for the 2016 Games that will be help in Rio de Janiero. 10 years ago I was life guarding at Trinity University and now I find myself traveling the world and trading emails about creating programs to educate Olympic athletes…funny how life works. When I stop and think about the random twists and turns in my life and how at each turn I’ve been able to enjoy some amazing experiences I could never imagine, I can’t help but smile and feel blessed.

Sure, I live in a dorm, have more debt than I prefer, make much less than $50k a year, have a girlfriend who lives 5,000 miles away, and experience annoyances with work like anyone else, but for the most part, I love my life and appreciate the journey I have taken. Life can always be better, no doubt, but I fully enjoy where I’m at and who I am because of where I’ve been. I’ve been able to visit a foreign country every year since 2002. Spain marks the sixth European nation I’ve been fortunate enough to visit (I think, could be more, can’t remember at the moment). But I have also been lucky enough to visit every continent outside of Australia. Maybe someday….

Back to my current adventure – I should note that this trip could not happen without the help of Erin’s mother. Ms. Martha Greene, employee of Delta Airlines, was kind enough to help me out with a “Buddy Pass” that provided a sizable travel discount to fly to Spain. And not just fly, but fly in style and comfort. Since the “Buddy Pass” essentially puts you on stand-by for flights, most open seats are likely to be Business Class….so…yeah. I flew Business Class to Spain, complete with mimosa’s, wine, fine dining, socks, my own TV set, a seat that reclines 80% horizontally – all complementary. What a great way to fly.

Fast forward 7 hours and now I'm in the Madrid airport waiting on mi novia. Haha, fast forward another two hours and Erin and I finally catch up with each other. I won't go into details as to why mi amor was late, but let's just say a “non-wild” night out until 5am kept her from being on-time. And sober. But I'm not bitter. Apparently that's the Spanish way of living, or so I'm told. :)

But no matter, now, I am finally in Madrid with the love of my life and happily enjoying the few days we have together. I haven't had the chance to explore much of the city of Madrid (I arrived Friday and it is Wednesday), so I am off to trek around and see for myself what the Spanish have to offer while Erin teaches. I always love this part of traveling, just walking around, getting lost in the moment and the urban atmosphere and seeing what interesting tales a city has to tell – almost like meeting someone new and getting lost in conversation because of the wonderful stories your new found friend shares.

I know this blog wasn't as exciting as some of my past tales.  But I'm a little rusty and pressed for time.  I'll defnitely make time to write more often this week and share a few photos.  But for now, necesito dormir! 
And with that, I bid you nos vamos!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Next stop - Vancouver

Well, it has been far too long since my blog, so a little house cleaning to bring you up to speed.

It’s the first day of March and I am on a United flight venturing towards Vancouver, BC, Canada – sight of the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. I will be working as part of the US staff delegation form March 1-24th. The Games themselves do not start until March 12th. So why head out so early? Well, my main responsibility with these Games will be to work at the Vancouver airport, YVR, helping take care of athletes, coaches, and staff as they arrive and depart from various parts of the US. It’s a similar assignment to one of the many roles I played in Beijing during the 2008 Games (which seems like just yesterday, can’t believe it was a year and a half ago!).

The main differences this time around:

- Working with 50 paralympic athletes as opposed to 600 able bodied Olympians
- Working with about 75 staff members versus hundreds
- Working by myself at the airport with the support of the VANOC staff (Vancouver Organizing Committee), as opposed to working with another USOC employee and a translator. Although Canadian English might be tricky, I don’t know how I can navigate the “ya know’s”, “a-boot’s”, and “eh’s”.

I also seriously doubt I will have to contend with scores of media trying to get the first pictures of our athletes.

Although the Paralympic Games have been around since 1960, there is little fanfare surrounding them in the US. Most people immediately think of the Special Olympics, which is nothing like the Paralympic Games. Rather than working with mentally challenged athletes, Paralympians are athletes with physical disabilities like missing limbs, spinal injuries causing paralysis, and various other degenerative diseases that limit and/or challenge an athletes physical capabilities.

The Winter Paralympics feature far fewer events and sports – you have sled hockey, curling, alpine skiing, cross country skiing, and biathlon, that are spread over 10 days, as opposed to 17.

Rather than being housed in high performance training center built entirely for the US team like we had in Beijing, I will be living in the Olympic/Paralympic Village this time around, which I am pretty excited about. I didn’t make an Olympic team as an athlete, so this will be the closest experience I get to actually being an Olympian/Paralympian in the Village. We’ll see if all those rumors about vending machines for prophylactics and Caligula style orgies are true – or at least extend beyond the Olympics and feed into the Paralympic Games.

As for Vancouver, I love the city. I had the opportunity to visit in October last year and found it to be one of the most beautiful, enjoyable cities I have ever been to. The city is relatively small, only about half a million in population, and the layout resembles an older suburb. Not many highways or interstates. The downtown area sits on an island and is all high-rise glass. This gives a futuristic, Jetson vibe. I half expect to see cars zooming through the air, spitting out kids in glass shoots heading to school. But alas, not quite yet.

The social scene seems pretty cool and young. Great restaurants and bars. Although, I doubt I will see much of that scene during my time in Vancouver.

In any case, I plan to keep a running log of all that I see and experience here. Stay tuned. Follow some of my live-time updates on Twitter – www.twitter.com/T_Fools2000. For more info on US Paralympics, visit http://www.usparalympics.org/ and/or www.teamusa.org/Fanguide (a site I helped create!).

Enjoy and be well my friends!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Neoclassical Time Traveling

I'm sitting on a bus heading to Olympia, Greece and silently laughing to myself. There is a guy in front of me who is from Singapore and has a haircut similar to what Ron Artest was sporting in the playoffs. He is playing American pop music through portable speakers (which I need to purchase pair, by the way) for a chica from Paraguay who is eating it up like a fat kid at a birthday party.

Behind me sits a guy from the Maldives who I enjoy chatting with about basketball. He loves the LA Lakers and called me Justin Timberlake last night when he saw me in a linen suit.

I can't get over how random my life is at times. I'm currently on the outskirts of Athens, Greece on a coach bus writing this on my Blackberry and marveling at how sport has significantly shaped my life.

As a kid, sports were central to my existance, but like nearly every person, I assumed at some point I would grow up, get a job, and leave the games for kids of younger generations to play.

Yet somehow, sport has remained a fulcrum point in my life.

I remember always being one of the better athletes growing up - not quite the best, but always a standout. However, where I rose above the frey was through my work ethic and intelligence. And that kept me in the game, so to speak. My willing to bust my ass when others wanted to look cool helped open doors, allowing me to extend my sporting life.

After high school, I figured I might have a chance to play college ball at a Div III school as a walk-on, but I was more concerned about my education and was resigned to simply becoming a full time fan of sport and drunkenly taking part in intramural activities. But during my first few days at Trinity University, I was lucky enough to meet some great folks who talked me into running cross country.

And that ended up being a perfect fit for me. Running is a beautifully elegant, yet simple, straight forward sport that rewards a talented person with limitless drive and a bloodthirst for competing. Fast foward 4 years and I found myself competing at the NCAA Track and Field Championships after, capping off a surprisingly successful collegiate career.

But after a supremely anti-climatic final race, I wasn't quite ready to be done. I was in great shape and just realizing my athletic potential.

Lucky for me, one of my closest buddies and teammates was training to make a run at the Olympics in a sport called modern pentathlon. It just so happened the sport's national governance was based in San Antonio, TX where I attended school.

The year was 2000 and the Olympic team for pentathlon was entering its final few months of training. My buddy invited to the facility to check out some of the workouts. After attending a couple of fencing practices, I was invited to try it out for myself - against the Olympic team. Oddly enough, I found that I was able to hold my own and beat some of the females. And with that, a new door opened...

2 years later I found myself moving to Colorado Springs, heart broken, $20 in my bank account, but full of hope. I made the commitment to giving my all to the sport of modern pentathlon and training full time at the Olympic Training Center. I didn't have residency yet, but I had a group of teammates who were supportive and willing help me make my place (for which I am forever grateful).

Although I was green to the sport, within a few months, I was breaking through and managed to make my first international team and travel to Rio de Janero, Brazil. And I was hooked. It was amazing being able to travel to a foreign land to compete and interact with people of different cultures. But because of sport, we had common ground to come together.

4 years later, I was a seasoned world traveler, gallavanting through Italy, Poland, Hungary, Guatemala, Great Britain, Egypt...

I had been to places I only dreamed of visiting as a kid, bought custom suits from foreign tailors, and made friendships with people from countries I had never even heard of. And all because of sport.

By 2008, I was a retired athlete. I didn't accomplish my dream of making an Olympic team, but I was able to extend my involvement in sport by taking a job working for the US Olympic Committee. And as chance happens to favor me from time to time, I was selected to work at the Beijing Olympic Games for 6 weeks; which was an awesome experience that words can't cleary portray.

And now its 2009 and I am on one of 5 buses heading to visit the ancient birthplace of the Olympics.

Several weeks ago, I was blessed to be selected to represent the USOC by attending the 49th Session of the International Academy for Young Participants. The IOA is an arm of the Olympic Movement that celebrates the ideals of sport and Olympism as expressed through the founder of the modern Games, Pierre de Coubertin.

Every summer, the IOA brings together athletes, staff members from various national organizing committees, students, and people who passionately value the Olympic spirit, the beauty of sport, and the belief that athletics is a unifying platform for cultures and peoples.

Set in Olympia, Greece, we will spend 2 weeks discussing the state of Olympic sport and the health of the Olympic Movement with special attention being paid to the ideals of Olympism.

I arrived about three days ago in Athens, where the group first convenes. Within the first night, me and my 2 co-workers, Lisa Sweet and Carlee Wolfe, met a bevy of people who traveled from all parts of the world to attend the conference. Despite being exhausted from 20 hours, I happily joined a group of kids who wanted check out the city center, get a drink or two, and get to know each other.

It was a bit of Motely Crue with people from Austrailia, Bolivia, Brazil, Greece, and other lands. And we had a blast chilling out and learning about how Olympic sport exits within cultures outside of the US.

The next day we were up early to tour the ancient Acropolis of Athens. Being the nerd that I am, I was thrilled to be able to visit this amazing wonder. And the people Greece are obviously proud of their heritage as they take care of the area and are working at restoring many of the structures on the hill including the Parthenon.

After the tour, we used the rest of the morning to visit the Greek Museum of History and the Olympic Stadium that was original built for the first modern Games in 1896.

After a loooong and much needed nap, the group reconvened for the opening ceremonies of the IOA. The ceremony itself was uneventful as much of the program was spoken in Greek, which made it hard to follow. However, the setting for the ceremony was breathtaking.

We sat on a hill called the Pynx, where we were told was the birthplace of democracy. The hill sat above a beautiful tree lined park facing the Acropolis. And as the sun set, the scene was stunning.

Following the ceremony, we headed to our dinner reception which set on another gorgeous site. This time we looked out upon the Mediteranean, enjoyed wine, and danced the night away. Its always amusing to travel thousands of miles across continents only to dance to a mix tape from 1998. But you know you're in for a good time when over 100 people from all over the world can cram together and heartily sing and dance to The Village People's "YMCA."

Now, as we are trekking through of the beautiful mountains of a land that gave birth western civilization, I am bid all adieu. Time to stop writing and reliving the past to enjoy the moment.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Bye Bye Beijing

I just lived through the longest, and yet, fastest 6 weeks of my life. I am sitting on a plane en route to the United States, typing to keep my fear of flying at bay as we streak across the Pacific Ocean. I’m sitting and thinking back on the past day, week, month, etc…and find it hard to place times with events that happened during my time in Beijing.

On my last night in China, I sat at a swanky jazz bar in Beijing with two friends and the scene was wildly surreal – the Chinese jazz band (with a female songstress) effortlessly, but with funk, covered melodies from Miles Davis and John Coltrane; the drink menu was listed on a 2 foot tall cylinder in code that was only decipherable by a red cover that moved up and down the illuminated tube; liquor bottles were shelved in human sized bird cages; and for my first time in Beijing, the wines were more expensive than what you find in the States for the same drink. The club was at The Hilton, where our marketing and executive staff stayed and rooms ran close to $800 a night during the Olympics, which somewhat explains the posh atmosphere.

As we drank our libations, we noted how we would recall an action or event and think it happened days or weeks ago, only to realize it occurred that very morning. Days were looooong, but weeks were swift.

The 2008 Olympic Games are over, yet even The Movement continues forward. Although most of the USOC staff have departed and returned home, a few have stayed to work the Paralympic Games which begin in a few days and will be held at the same venues employed for the Olympic Games. A whole new set of amazingly talented athletes will descend upon Beijing, but with much less attention unfortunately.

It’s hard to process the experience at the moment – it is all too fresh. As my boy Adam noted, we’ll look back on things that angered us in a few weeks and laugh and realize the gravity of the adventure we just completed.

But for my friends and family who faithfully read my stream of conscious scribed across the wireless galaxy, self-actualized processing needs to be immediate and uploaded! So I will do my best, after all, I am sitting on a 12 hour flight in business class (a perk for working at the airport with our extremely helpful United peeps). After all, I am here on this work trip only to serve….

The Beijing Soundtrack

Anyone who knows me knows two of my passions are music and movies. They also know one of my obsessions to over analyze life. Combine all three and you get what I call musical soundtracks to my life if certain portions were turned into movies. I never said I wasn’t a little special. Without further ado…my Beijing soundtrack, volume 1.

Shook Ones by Mobb Deep
The Message by Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five
“Don’t push me cuz I’m close to the edge. I’m just trying not to lose my head.”

Working an Olympic Games is hard work. Your days are extremely long, you live in small quarters (at least the folks at BNU and the Village did), you get minimal sleep, you are away from friends, family, and the culture you are used to. Everything is different. You don’t get days off. You work not for yourself but for a larger goal that you see others easily forget. Its rough. For me, I didn’t have one responsibility I could focus in on. I was assigned to several tasks that were very diverse from each other, which was tough. And honestly, I don’t think many people can do it. You could see it on people’s faces towards the end. Some people crack, others shine. We all got testy. I relied on people back home for inspiration (thanks Mom and Lindsay, you guys saved me in ways you never know). Other times, small things got you through the day. Amazing how a smile or pat on the back or watching an incredible race got you through the next couple of 15 hour days.

Can You Feel It by The Jacksons
The energy surrounding Beijing the days before and after the Opening Ceremonies was incredible. I can’t think of a more perfect song to describe it. And just like the video, we all hoped and looked to athletes larger than life to make it rain gold.

Beautiful Day by U2
The rain in Beijing always cleared up the skies and cooled off the temperature. And it truly illuminated how beautiful the city is. Lush green mountains, towering high rises for miles, clear skies…truly picturesque.

What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye
The Chinese do business very differently from the way we do business in the States. That isn’t they are wrong and we are right, or vice versa. It is a statement of fact. And this fact made work for us challenging on more than a few occasions. At times, you couldn’t worry about winning “the battle.” Sometimes you had push and compromise and swallow your pride and do what was best for the team, even if that meant more work for you. But before coming up with new solutions to resolve conflicts or hurdle obstacles, we were all left shaking our heads trying to figure out what the hell was going on half the time.

Eat It by Weird Al Yankovich
This was one of my favorite songs as a kid. I would stay up late at night just watch the video come on MTV back when they actually played videos. So this song comes to mind with all the various food options I cam across. Although I never at a fried scorpion, I know friends who did. I did eat more McDonald’s and KFC than I imagined I ever would in Asia. The food at BNU, thanks my man Adam and Miss Terri who I think secretly runs at least a pocket of Beijing, was ridiculously incredible. And healthy.

But my favorite memory comes from the time I had dinner with Jacque, Adam, and Beth and bit into a dumpling – only to realize (a little too late) that it was filled with not only pork, but also some type of vinegar sauce. As I bit down on it, I heard it squish and pop and watch out of the corner of my eye as juice sot out across the table nearly scalding Jacque’s face. We all shared a food laugh.

You’re So Vain by Carly Simon
One of the disheartening things about the experience was the number of people I came across who weren’t athletes, yet completely thought the Olympic Games were about them and for them. Maybe I’m just a sport purest and think the Olympics are about excellence in sport performance on the world’s grandest stage. And I realize that with the support of fans, friends, family, staff, etc. the Games wouldn’t be the extravaganza it is. But ultimately, it all comes back to the athletes and their experience. They come first. And when I saw people push that concept aside or not take that into consideration at all and instead place the fulfillment of their desires first, I would find myself shaking my head. It certainly causes the Games to lose a bit of the luster it attempts to illuminate.

Inner City Blues by Marvin Gaye
Staying at BNU gave us a chance to see and experience much more of the culture of Beijing than what would have been experienced had I stayed at the Hilton or what was seen around the competition venues. The culture of Beijing is very different. Although the people of China were extremely nice and generous, there were just so many things about the everyday of life of the populace I couldn’t get used to. Now I never saw any of the abject poverty I imagine may exit in the country provinces outside the city and most of what I saw never made me sad, just uncomfortable.

People spat with regularity, whether outside or inside. And they let you know it was coming as they hawked them up from deep down, gutturally calling to their ancestors to bless their phlegm. Infants usually didn’t wear diapers; instead they wore pants with slits in them and no underwear. And when nature called, they went. Sometimes the parent lifted the child above a trash can and helped them shake it out. Other times, they joined them in the process and merely squatted along with them.

Because of the socialist system(my guess), most Chinese people you worked with never made decisions. And if you needed to solve a problem that arose, it was often a painful process to get taken care of because you always had to go through some immense bureaucratic process, or talk to 12 managers to receive authorization 10 days later. We found that if you became very aggressive (but not violent or threatening) and asked a lot of questions, you could out last that person’s patience and get what you wanted. This also worked with haggling at the various markets. Unfortunately, this brings out an easily agitated and flippant disposition in me that I did not enjoy. I am glad to be leaving that behind.

There were also very dissimilar ideas of what was considered hygienic to our own. People washed their underwear in the street. Some shop owners sold items wearing only pants. Folks were always moping, but never changed out the water. Beijing city life was interesting, but not for me in the long run.

Mathematics by Mos Def
· China was going after 119 overall medals and won 100 (51 gold)
· The US set the bar for 45 golds and earned 36 (110 overall)
· Over 100,000 Chinese volunteers were employed and could be found everywhere.
· The US had the largest team delegation with 594 athletes
· I stayed in China from July 17th through August 28th
· 6.8 rmb = $1
· China spent over 2 billion dollars on their sport performance plan
· The USOC budget is generally around $100 million per year
· An estimated 14 million people live in Beijing
· Over 350 million people in China don’t have access to clean drinking water
· The US has approximately 300 million in population
· Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals or 22% of the US Team’s gold medal haul, he now has 13 overall
· Someone lifted more than 550 pounds over their head to win a gold medal in men’s weightlifting
· 9.69 and 19.30, the times Usain Bolt flashed through the 100 and 200 meter dashes in world record time
· 20 - number of hours I slept over the course of 6 weeks, 20,000 - the number of hours I worked (both wild approximations)
· 50 – the number of hours I will sleep this weekend
· 0 – the number of hours I will work this weekend
· 2 – the number of suits I had made in Beijing
· 2 – the number of Chinese women I found attractive
· 1 bike purchased in Beijing
· 350 – the amount of rmb spent on said bike ($51 American)
· 2 – the number of glasses of wine in now takes me to become intoxicated

For the Cool in You by Babyface
Superstar by Lupe Fiasco
American Boy by Estelle with Kanye West
The Chinese love Americans. I had my picture taken daily. Seriously. I know I’m pretty, but even that was a bit much. And Beijing went bonkers for Kobe Bryant, Dwane Wade, Michael Phelps, anyone who was blonde or African American, gymnasts, Jenny Lang Ping, and pretty much anyone on Team USA.

The World Is Yours by Nas
The Olympics really catered to the athletes competing. The Athlete Village was amazing. BNU was incredible and we went above and beyond expectations to provide an incredible training environment and an even more memorable experience for our athletes.

But the Games belonged to the Chinese more than anyone. The Opening Ceremonies were ridiculous. 51 golds! Wow. They were winning everywhere and everything. The venues were breath taking. They truly opened their doors to the world and proved they are a force to be taken seriously.


I Miss You by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes
For all us of who were away from our families and loved for such a long time. This trip also makes you realize how much you really love American culture and your material possessions and so many little things we take for granted. Like English, telephones, washers and dryers, coffee, good plumbing, pedestrian right of way, running trails, 8 hour work days, weekends, and so much more.

Jigga What by Jay Z
The album version of this song is also called Nigga what, Nigga who. And the two words I most often heard in mandarin were jiega and niega. But there pronounced jigga and nigga. They mean “this” and “that.” And I could never get used to hearing “that” in mandarin.

Midnight in a Perfect World by DJ Shadow
The lighting of the Torch during Opening Ceremonies was incredible and took place during the midnight hour. No one could have imagined how insanely cool that would be. London and Vancouver have their work cut out for them.

Too Hot by Kool and the Gang
During the days when humidity was at its peak and the sun was shining bright, the temperature inside and out was stifling. Even for a heat lover like myself it got tough. Those first few weeks were impossible to stay hydrated. You were sweating out everything you took in. And most buildings had poor cooling systems, so you were always sweating. Working out was tough. The days I was on the track with former teammate Eli Bremer, we were drenched 10 minutes into our warm up.

Even though I'm now back in the States, I'll keep throwing out a few post Beijing thoughts. I still have to document my Walmart and Hooters experiences, as well as my visit to the Great Wall and other notable stories. So stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back at the airport

I can't believe I am in the stretch run. Almost 5 weeks in the book. The Games are winding down and I am heading back to the airport - this time to make sure everyone gets back on to the plane and back home.

After that first day at the airport, I never properly talked about how crazy it was. It got soooooooo packed with media. It got scary at times. And it was draining. Just look at the throng of people waiting for Team USA to come out of baggage claim. One glance and you can see why we had to "sneak" Michael Phelps into Beijing. It was normal practice to bring 4 or 5 of our biggest staff members to serve as body guards as we escorted athletes to the Village buses and away from the crowds.

Check this series of pics to see how packed things got. I only hope it doesn't get this way the second time around. Wish me luck.


















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