It was an afternoon jog with my friend Peter, down a quiet dirt road winding through the hills in the beautiful Eastern Townships of Quebec one day this summer, that reminded me of just what spawned the birth of my Olympic dream some fifteen years ago.
When I was ten or eleven, we stopped for gas at Petro Canada on the way home from the cottage one weekend. I happened to notice that Petro Canada was staging a Canada-wide campaign to find torchbearers to run in the Olympic Torch Relay leading up to the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary.
Instantly, in my mind’s eye, I could see myself running, effortlessly, like a gazelle across the plains of Africa, with a blazing torch held high. I was inspired. I picked up a ballot and filled it out immediately. There was little doubt in my mind that I would get picked, but just to make sure I picked up another handful of ballots to fill out at home and drop off later.
That night at the kitchen table I meticulously filled out nineteen additional ballots. I was certain; positive in fact, that I would be chosen. It was the kind of certainty that only a child whose imagination has been captivated can have. It was the kind of immovable faith that let you believe that if you really wanted to, you could build castles in the sky.
From then on, every time we passed a Petro Canada, I thought of the leg that I would run. I dreamed about the jacket I might get to wear, who would pass me the torch and the hoards of fans that would line the streets to cheer as I ran by. Checking the mail became the highlight of my day. I could even see the letter, addressed to me that began with the words, “Congratulations Kristina! You have been chosen…”
A few weeks later at the cottage, my dear sweet mother, who surely must have cherished my childish dream, suggested that, if I were in fact going to be carrying the torch in the relay, I’d better start training for it. “You know,” she said, “the torch is going to be pretty heavy and you’re going to be running for quite a while, maybe you should go for a run to practice.”
So off I went, just a tiny wisp of a girl with a big dream, down the dirt road at the cottage, running all by myself – with a hammer held high in my right hand like a blazing Olympic torch. There was no jacket, no one to pass me the torch and no fans along the side of the road, but it might as well have been the actual Olympic Torch Relay, because I sure felt like I was running in it. I felt silly and self-conscious, but at the same time I also felt exhilaration and gushing excitement. My arm got tired pretty quick so I took breaks along the way, and if any cars passed by I was sure to hide the hammer down by my side so no one could see.
It came as a surprise to me I did not get chosen to run. It wasn’t the kind of surprise that happens instantly, but the kind that slowly dawns on you, as you realize that maybe the letter isn’t coming after all and anticipation dissolves into disappointment. It’s the kind of surprise that washes away a small piece of precious childhood. But somehow, even though none of my twenty ballots made it into the hands of the powers that be, something about the Olympics took hold of me and never let go.
A few months later, glued to the television, I watched legendary Canadian speed skater Gaetan Boucher race his final Olympic race. Speed skating became the sport through which my Olympic dreams would take flight. From the first day I skated, one cold and blustery day in February on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, I knew somehow that I would race in the Olympics. Last winter I realized that dream and competed for Canada in speed skating at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.
It wasn’t until I went for a run this summer, down that dirt road in Quebec; a road that looked just like the one at the cottage, that reminded of how it all got started. And then it made me think of just how beautiful a thing it is to be inspired.