Thursday, August 2, 2012

My Own Olympic Medals: Collecting Dragonboating Bling

   My cat, Anakin Skywalker, admiring my dragonboating medals.

The London Olympics are in full swing, and the world is watching.

Images of athletes standing on the victors' podium and proudly wearing their gold, silver and bronze medals around their necks fill our computer and TV screens and our newspapers. The athletes kiss their medals. They are so overcome with emotion that tears well up in their eyes. Heady stuff!

Now that I am a seasoned dragonboat paddler who has paddled in 13 races in three dragonboat festivals this summer, I can relate better to the elation of performing in an athletic event and having my coach ceremoniously drape a medal around my neck. It's a feeling of accomplishment recognized.

This summer, I have collected three medals--gold, silver and bronze--for my team's performances in dragonboat races.

One of my editors at work asked me to bring my medals to our weekly team meeting. I did. I felt like a school kid during "show and tell." No one clapped or cheered. But my fellow journalists dutifully passed around my medals and said "cool" and other affirming adjectives.

I don't have a trophy case, so at home I have draped my medals from an antique floor lamp visible as I come through my front door and enter my living room. My friend Lee has been dragonboating for a few years and has collected an impressive array of medals. He is a woodworker and has made a large cutout of a dragon boat which he has secured on his wall. From this dragonboat hangs his collection of colorful medals. It's very cool.

Why are my dragonboating medals so meaningful? They are the only athletic medals I've won. Ever.

I'm not known for my athletic prowess. The only other time in my life I've been recognized for an athletic accomplishment was during my freshman year in high school when I received a track and field trophy for "most inspirational." I did not receive this trophy for my astounding performance. It's a pity trophy.

With my friends BaLinda and Linda, I had joined the track team for our rural high school. Anyone could join the team. The coach needed bodies to fill the events and qualify for track meets. No one was turned away. No one. Not even a 95-pound nonathletic farm girl.

I did like to run. Let me clarify the difference between enjoying running and being an accomplished runner. I never won a race. But I always showed up for practice and track meets, performed to the best of my nonathletic ability and cheered on my teammates. For this, I was awarded a trophy. Yes, it's a pity trophy, but it has a figurine of a girl running and is engraved with my name. More than 30 years later, I still display it on the bookshelf in my bedroom.

Most adults will not feel the elation of competing in an event and having a medal ceremoniously placed around their necks. I suggest that adults would be happier if medals were awarded for accomplishments we perform as parents, as employees and as citizens.

Why don't we have a gold medal awarded for the hours performed carpooling kids to their soccer games and standing on the sidelines for hours--year after year--in the relentless rain?

Wouldn't it be satisfying to receive a medal for all the nail-biting hours of teaching a teenager to drive? That's certainly a medal-worthy life event. The teenager is awarded with a driver's license and freedom, but all the parent receives are an increased insurance premium and sleepless hours late at night awaiting the safe return of the kid and the car.

What medal-worthy accomplishments have you performed? Give yourself a pat on the back. Then imagine yourself standing at the victors' podium, a medal draped around your neck.

Let me tell you from my own experience. It feels amazing.

Photo: Here I am with my dragonboating team, the Mighty Women, proudly displaying our bronze medals at the Kent Cornucopia dragonboating festival.

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