Dreams, reality, and mortality

Into every life come moments when you realize a path has been permanently closed to you – in fact the option may have been irretrievably lost some time before, but the acknowledgement still hits like a brick hurled into the chest. This week the Winter Olympics started in Vancouver, BC and I have finally, deeply realized that at 50, I will not fulfill my fantasy of gliding across the ice in a frothy confection of Spandex and wowing the international crowd with my grace and agility. The XXII Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, will likely go on without me in 2014.

In the 1972 Games, the gymnast Olga Korbut captured my imagination and despite that fact that at 12 I was already 5′-8″, perhaps a foot taller than the Soviet wunderkind, I was determined to be an outstanding gymnast. Truthfully, I was pretty decent for my size. I could do most maneuvers except for back handsprings. I can’t to this day figure out how I did aerial cartwheels, but I did. Then one November day, the pommel horse was my undoing. I was attempting a pretty standard vault in gym class at school, and since all of my classmates were smaller at that age, a springboard had been placed in front of the horse, which I did not need and launched me so high, I barely grazed the equipment with my palms as I flipped over it – soaring past the rear mat and landing in perfect form, arms up and toes pointed – on the terrazzo gym floor, breaking my right foot.

Fast forward to the 1976 Winter Olympics – now Dorothy Hamill is America’s skating sweetheart. I am 5′-10″, with size 10 feet than mean a hard time renting white ladies skates at the ice rink at the local mall (the opening of which coincided with the figure skating craze that Dorothy started) and sometimes have to wear the black men’s skates. I once had my own skates, size 8-1/2, but when I grew out of them it was difficult to get new ones. In those days many women ordered size 10 shoes from catalogs, unless you were willing to pay full boat at Marshall Field’s or Carson Pirie Scott. Despite my determination, and in part because the foot I broke in pursuit of gymnastics glory has never been stable enough for me to balance on it, I was less able to become a decent figure skater. I did, however, faithfully copy Dorothy’s bob haircut, even the color.

Every time the Winter Olympics roll around I would watch the skaters, and wonder if there’s still time – if I quit my job, hired a really good coach who had some incredible faith in my latent talent, practiced every day – could I make it to that level? Even when Tonya Harding’s ex-husband bashed Nancy Kerrigan’s knee, and the sport seemed to be populated with contenders from the Jerry Springer realm, I clung to my little fantasy.

I am an optimist by nature. Once I read a letter in an advice column, it may have been to Ann Landers, where the writer agonized about going to medical school because given the 10 years it would take to finish training, he or she would be 45 years old before they became a doctor. The columnist’s response, “How old will you be in ten years if you don’t become a doctor?” I often thought about that advice when contemplating embarking on something. It’s never too late, do what you really want to do.

And while I try to come to terms with letting go of my little dreams, along comes someone like Susan Boyle, the Scottish lass whose life took a decidedly upward turn after she opened her mouth to sing on “Britain’s Got Talent”. Of course, she knew she could sing. It has already been established that I cannot skate very well. In fact, I fell on the ice – just walking – last winter and felt the pain in my tailbone until May when I finally succumbed to getting an x-ray. When I ponder all of the irreparable damage I could do to myself whilst figure skating, this is a dream that should be viewed through the rear view mirror of life.

During a planning session at work last week, the meeting leader asked us to contribute an item about our personal and professional goals for 2010. The professional ones are easy to formulate, they follow a trajectory that I have been on for most of my career. It was the personal ones, when I wrote them down, I could not bring myself to share with the predominantly 30-something group. Some were just so inwardly focused that they would take too long to explain. Others, though, made me face who I am, at this season of life, like “monitor my sodium and cholesterol”. This earthly vessel is fragile. On the bright side, I am still working with OEM parts (my younger hubby has replacement ligaments from the departed). But other than my fellow travelers, who wants to hear that? It’s like my Dad is in the habit of telling people he is 76 and has all of his teeth. No one but his peers get the significance.

But…acknowledging our mortality and human fragility is not the same as giving up. It’s still very cold here. There is an outdoor ice rink two blocks away. Size 10 ladies skates are easy to come by. I’ll take my husband and can fall on him if I slip – he is so over the stigma of replacement parts…


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