Newfound love for Olympics

I’m embarrassed to say that until Saturday night, I was not an Olympics follower. In a complete lack of patriotism caused by utter laziness, I had passed this once sacred event over completely. During a time when many otherwise un-athletically inclined Yalies were tuning in to support our country’s best winter athletes, I, a self-proclaimed (and published) sports fan, could have cared less about the events in Vancouver.

And then, something amazing happened.

On Saturday my teammates and I competed in an all-day club volleyball tournament at Northeastern (third place, in case you were wondering). Despite having woken at up 5 a.m. for the drive, I had opted to fight through the fatigue and party hop that night. One stop involved an unexpected viewing of the Olympics, women’s moguls in particular. Having been a softball catcher for more than 13 years, usually I can barely stand to watch this event as my eyes fixate on the knees of the participants as images of torn ACLs, MCLs and meniscuses flash through my mind. But Saturday night was different.

Instead of just watching, we were rooting.

Rooting for whom, you ask? Hannah Kearney, sister of Yale hockey player Denny Kearney ’11 and, ultimately, the winner of the United States’ first gold medal of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

This event marked a lot of sports firsts for me.

This was the first time I could actually identify with an Olympic athlete personally. Knowing that Hannah Kearney is related to someone in my own residential college made her more real, accessible and relatable. If softball were still an Olympic sport, I would have many friends from Texas competing in the Games, to whom I would be able to relate. As it stands, softball and baseball are still less legitimate than curling, and I’m still pretty bitter about that, so I won’t diverge just now. Maybe next week’s column.

Saturday was also the first time I had rooted for a U.S. athlete for reasons other than nationality. Hannah Kearney’s story and her journey were so compelling that the entire room of viewers applauded. The stories that take athletes from rock bottom, in this case self-proclaimed “utter failure” in the 2006 Turin Games, to the top of the top (Olympic gold, if you were following), are what I live for as an athlete. In fact, they are the hope and faith of every athlete who has ever been the last out in a game, the last error in a match or the final competitor in an event. Anything is possible.

And lastly, this was the first time being at Yale has brought me closer to sports. Personally, Yale athletics and I have had a turbulent relationship at best. This was no more apparent than when I made the difficult choice to leave varsity athletics last year. It seemed, so far, that my time at Yale had been characterized by a waning of the athletic intensity that had me playing high school volleyball and softball, while juggling simultaneous travel teams in both sports as well.

But this time, Hannah Kearney’s connection to Yale and my identification with her really renewed my love for sports and my faith in athletic competition. “Rags to riches” has never been more meaningful.

So, hopefully my epiphany, which may be entirely over-exaggerated and dramatized, will inspire you to remember just how great athletics can be. And when it does — which it should if I’ve done my job well —go out and own that renewed intensity in whatever way you like best. Play IMs, watch the Olympics, support Yale Athletics and get back into that childlike spirit you used to have. Start believing again.

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