The upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics hosted by Russia will make idols out of a deserving group of gifted young people as it also puts Sochi on the world map.
Riverside, Conn., however, is not on the world map. It is a postal address for an eastern section of the town of Greenwich. It is also where our family lived for 35 years and home for some time to another person well known in sports: Dorothy Hamill.
Hamill burst to the forefront of the skating world by winning the gold medal at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. She not only was a talented figure skater but vivacious and pretty as well. She developed a new move based on an idea her coach had, later dubbed the “Hamill camel.”
Hamill's win caused an ice-skating frenzy in our town. The ice rink on the west side of Greenwich in an area called Byram was renamed the Dorothy Hamill Rink after the Olympics.
Dubbed “America’s sweetheart,” she became every young female figure skater's idol, but particularly those in Riverside, where she lived before heading to Colorado to train.
Starting at age 9, our only daughter, Melissa, began taking skating lessons. A year later, when Hamill won her medal, Melissa had grand visions about being the next Dorothy. Melissa was late to the game, but she took her lumps and falls and got around the ice very well in a short time.
Hamill came back to Riverside for a parade in her honor after capturing the gold. After the parade, any figure-skating Girl Scout who wore her uniform could meet Hamill and get an autograph.
Melissa was in heaven. The next week she chose to cut her hair like her idol. It was probably not the best move she ever made. Because her hair was so curly it looked completely different than Hamill's, but she was happy.
The summer after all the excitement of the Olympics, we joined a family-friendly swimming and sailing club in Old Greenwich just a few miles from our home.
Melissa loved everything about swimming and made the hard decision to give up skating. It's possible one factor contributing to that decision was that we were not willing or able to spend the up to $20,000 a year Dorothy’s father had paid for her training — a number equal to about $85,000 in 2014 money.
Melissa excelled at swimming, and she and three of her Greenwich High School teammates became high school All-Americans for their relay time.
She took a break from college to try for the 1988 Olympics. Her times in the trials were close, but we all learned how elusive those top magic numbers can be. A body reaches a limit and that is it.
Now a mother of five, Melissa told me training for both sports was not a waste of time, especially skating. She can still wow her kids by skating backwards and doing a waltz jump.Comment on this story
Our granddaughter Andie married Brady Wells last June. Brady swam for Brigham Young University and qualified to compete in the Olympic trials in spring 2012 for the 100-meter breaststroke. Because fractions of seconds make a difference and his times didn't quite qualify him automatically, he knew someone else would need to have a bad day for him to make the team. Still, he counts it as one of the great experiences of his life to be able to meet the other swimmers and bask a bit in the Olympic flame.
Wilma Rudolph, winner of three gold medals at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, said, “Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.”
The potential for greatness does live within each of us, and we achieve that greatness one day at a time in our own way. When we watch the Olympics, realizing the time, money and physical effort it takes to participate and how talented the athletes must be to qualify, just tuning in is rewarding.