Centennial Olympic Park
Maybe it’s because this was an Olympic year and I just introduced my daughter to the joys of binge watching the best gymnasts in the world blow everyone’s minds. Maybe it’s because it was the twenty year anniversary of the night Keri Strug wowed us all with her stellar commitment to herself and her team. Maybe it’s just because I like parks…
My favorite part of Atlanta – the city, not the trip – was Centennial Olympic Park. I had to walk through it every day to get to the Vendor’s Hall for Dragon Con; and I am so glad I did.
Atlanta as a whole had a wild, unkempt feel to me, sporadically blasted with moments of finely controlled beauty. I’d walk from Joseph E. Boone, where the grass I think, had never been cut, to stepping into the symbol of perfection itself: Centennial Olympic Park.
Honestly, I enjoyed the contrast. As an environmentally friendly foraging hippie, I loved that the lawns were more like meadows. I found joy in poking along overgrown sidewalks with the opportunity to inspect local wildflowers. I even found a luna moth one morning, something I had never seen in person before.
But as a lover of community parks, I also found myself drawn to the twenty-eight million dollar completed project. City cleaners sweep, scrub, and constantly pick up trash, keeping the park immaculate. The statues seem to gleam, both from their artistic beauty and the city’s over all effort to maintain “curb appeal.” I found myself wondering what was there before 1996 and learned that it was a city block of old industrial buildings, some abandoned. The difference to Atlanta citizens when the park was first erected must have been startling.
I stopped to take pictures of some of the statues when I was there. I got some curious looks before people started stopping and taking pictures too. “Sheep” my friend called them, but I think it just takes someone noticing something beautiful before others stop and look up. And the monuments there are very beautiful.
Each morning I would cut across a paved walkway made of engraved stones to get to John Portman Blvd. During the park’s construction a donation of $35 got you a stone and a message. When I return to Atlanta, because I plan to, I’d like to pay more attention to those engravings. There are stories there, I think.
The weather was gorgeous. People (Yankees! Haha) kept talking about how hot it was. I was wearing a sweater most days, not the afternoons, but definitely in the mornings. My morning walks were the most refreshing parts of my day. I meant to stop and eat breakfast at the Waffle House right outside the park, but never managed to wake up early enough – or if I did, I found myself dawdling in the park instead. So, I spoiled myself and got coffee at the Starbucks in the AmericasMart. I kept looking for a local Non-Starbucks coffeehouse, but didn’t find one; again, next trip.
Title: The Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power
Author: Travis Hugh Culley
Publisher: Random House
Length: 324 pages
My bike club went camping this weekend. I love bikes and I love camping, so it was excruciating knowing I had a pre-Halloween event at my store, bills to pay, and a general inability to leave my husband and child to go on a frivolous trip that would inevitably involve a lot of drinking and riding.
I love books more than anything, and I adore Chris Rogers (the author we had in the store Saturday), but my mind was off in the distance with my new friends – family really – their tents, their bikes, and the dirt and grit far away from my rows and stacks of books.
This isn’t about me whining about not getting to go on a camping trip, though. This is about the discovery I made because of where my mind was not and my body was… in the city, longing for my cycling friends who were partying it up and having a blast.
The stars aligned, the shelves at the store all seemed to point me in one direction, and a copy of The Immortal Class seemed to fall from the heavens.
So overly marketed as to appeal to the counter culture, zine reading crowd, The Immortal Class is one of those small square-shaped trade paperbacks. With phrases like “adrenaline-spiked” and “frenzied rawness” slapped across a black and grey jacket in egg-yolk yellow.
Months after becoming obsessed with the world of cycling and setting goals to really hunker down, figure it out, and join this world – I discovered this weekend why it appeals to my soul so completely.
“[T]he world down here was remarkably organized. Even if it was loud and bombastic, rebellious and unconventional, the people were often fixated on levels of personal status. With one another, messengers were highly cooperative, and yet competing against one another, they were fighters to the bone. It was a tight society where one could promise lasting respect and recognition for what one could offer to the community.” – pg. 230
Of course this appeals to me – this whole world of simultaneous independence and camaraderie. I grew up in a Kung Fu studio. I trained, I relied on muscle memory and instinct. I know so well the feeling of not remembering what it feels like to not be sore somewhere. I built very specific familial relationships that were directly tied to how much blood, sweat, and tears were spilled in each others’ presence.
I still do my work outs. I still teach occasional students. But I am no longer that kind of fighter. I remember when I knew I would never go back in the ring – at least not in the way I used to. It wasn’t the hairline fracture on my sternum. It wasn’t the broken and busted fingers. It wasn’t even the shin injury that twelve years later hasn’t seemed to heal just right and still swells up when it rains. It wasn’t any one thing, really. It was actually before I got my third degree, something I only got because I promised myself I would. It was actually a summer before that when after working out no less than 55-60 hours a week for months on end, after more than a decade in uniform and sash, I realized I was tired – mentally and physically. My mind was ready for something new and my body needed a break from the routine.
I started running more avidly. For a few years I ran 3-5 miles a day. I enjoyed that thoroughly, and I still run periodically. (You may remember a post about Born to Run, a book on barefoot running that kick started the running bug again recently…) But there’s always been something missing from my running – speed. A rush I can’t manufacture on my own two feet, that I used to get in the ring, has been absent. Running didn’t fill the void Kung Fu, my years of being a tournament junkie, and finally the days of bleeding for money had left behind when I said ‘Enough.’
Cycling, though, cycling has suddenly lit up my world and started to warm my soul in a way I haven’t been warmed in a long time. Probably since I fell in love and got married… yes, it’s that good of a rush! Seeing all that I have to learn excites me. Inspecting bruises from crashes and the act of getting to know my bikes (or loaner bikes until I own my own, rather) fills me with the pride that though I am a far, far cry from being any good at this sport – like a white belt dropped in the midst of advanced ninjas – I am at least one step, one bruise, and one fall closer to the perfection I seek.
I have no illusions of grandeur. No presumption that I will be great at this. I’m pushing 30 and my body feels 50, but I’m sure as hell going to try.
I dare you to read The Immortal Class and not get the urge to hop on a bike. I dare you. And just remember this: The more you ride, the more you’ll want to ride.
Title: Born to Run
Author: Christopher McDougall
Publisher: Vintage Books
Length: 282 pages
I love to run. I used to run 3-5 miles a day in college. I loved every minute of it, but I’ve never been very good at it. Fighting an arrhythmia, uncomfortable shoes, and a host of other things that make me tap out at 5 miles even in the best of shape – I’ve always longed to go much farther than my body allows.
Post baby… way post baby… like, she’s old enough that being a mom is no longer any kind of relevant excuse to carry around the extra ten pounds I’ve had on me – I discovered that barefoot running is a thing. How convenient. I grew up in a Kung Fu studio, doing everything barefoot, as a child when running races I was always faster without shoes. Now, finally, someone told me I was allowed to do that. It was ok. After all, Ancient Olympians ran this way.
So I started running again.
Then, someone passed me this book.
And I started LOVING running again.
When you read this book, you can’t help but have a passion for movement while you do. You can’t help but move around. Read it on the treadmill, read it on the Gazelle, read it in the plank position, read it while stretching. You CAN’T read this and just lie in bed or cozy up on the couch. You just can’t.
Instead, it inspires you. You want to go marathon in the woods. You want to register for every Color Run, Tough Mudder, and Spartan Races you can find. Arrhythmia and all, you actually debate sucking it up and running head first into an electric shock obstacle. This book makes you want to be the athlete goddess you used to aspire to… I mean, heck, I used to hold Kung Fu stances for three minutes a piece, run 5 miles, do 100 full body military style pushups, 300 crunches, 300 full sit ups, then go back for more. I have a black belt. A third degree black belt. I need to get back to that lifestyle.
I lost 5 lbs. reading this book. No kidding. And it didn’t even hurt.
“You don’t have to be fast. But you’d better be fearless.” – Born to Run, Christopher McDougall
Thanks for reminding me.
“The heroes of the past are untouchable, protected forever by the fortress door of time – unless some mysterious stranger magically turns up with a key.” – Born to Run, Christopher McDougall… I didn’t realize that one of my heroes of my past was just… me.
Bright and early this morning, I went to my best friend’s house to watch the Olympic Trials (old news, we were watching what we missed of the Women’s Gymnastics Team Trials on the DVR). It had been pouring down rain most the night and well into the morning, keeping my sweet baby asleep much longer than usual. So by the time I was heading over for some Olympic goodness, kiddo still cozy in her pajamas, the streets were quite flooded. It was a delightful morning, sipping coffee, hanging out, watching the best athletes in the country do their thing. It set me up for my whole day.
First, while watching Gabby Douglas rock day two and Sarah Finnegan do that fancy beam skill she shares with Terin Humphrey (Click to see the awesome beam skill I’m talking about: Sarah, Terin), I heard a commentator say something that got me pretty curious about Olympic rules and regulations I wasn’t familiar with already. They were talking about how young Sarah was. Young? I thought. Dominque Moceanu was young. This girl is normal… right? Nope, not anymore.
Dominique Moceanu was the youngest to win nationals at 13. She was allowed to compete because she would turn 15 during the Olympic year, which means she was actually 14 during the summer Olympics when the Magnificent Seven awed the world. That was 1996. In 1997 the rules were changed. Instead of gymnasts being required to turn 15 in the Olympic year, the eminent “they” that makes important Olympic rules added an extra year to that requirement, and now girls must be 16 (or turning 16). So Dominique Moceanu will remain the youngest for quite sometime, because it will be impossible for any equally talented 13-year-old to even have the same chances to prove themselves. In addition to that, there are rumors that the age may be increased to 18! I, personally, am not a fan of these rules. Yes, our children should be protected, but I think there is a higher risk of injury for training that intensely after an athlete has peaked. No, I was never an Olympian, but I am very familiar with peaking as an athlete and then things going downhill from there, no matter how hard you train.
Of course, I discovered all this and formed all these opinions today during kiddo’s nap time, while also polishing off my assigned reading for the day:
Title: The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games
Author: Tony Perrottet
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Sports, Ancient History
Length: 214 pages
Perrottet takes an already fascinating subject and presents it in the form of riveting history. I was surprised how much detail had been discovered regarding the ancient games, and was impressed at how well Perrottet presents it step by step, without leaving anything out. There were so many things included in the games back then, beauty contests, poetry readings; it wasn’t just for athletes, it was an all out ancient world pagan party honoring Zeus and Eros. A lot of this information (though it makes perfect sense and fits right in with what I already knew about the times) was new to me.
I was fascinated by how often names I knew popped up in the commentary… Plato, Socrates, Herodotus… I didn’t expect them at the Olympic games! I also was ignorant of the role the Nazi’s played in our modern view of today’s Olympics, and the lighting of the torch. An interesting tidbit about the Nazis being so fascinated with Sparta kept popping up, along with tales that put shivers up my spine.
Regardless of the Olympic Games origins and history, and how much of it goes against my personal world view and moral standing, I still find the Olympics wonderful. Should you purposely breed Olympians? No. But if someone has the drive and talent and has a passion for it, competing in the Olympics is a beautiful dream and an awesome thing to behold.
Perrottet has done a great job portraying the Olympics for what they are, presenting a well-rounded quick study of the origins of an event which everyone is already familiar. As I plan to educate kiddo classically, I think this would make a fun optional read during the summer games when she hits her teens. I see us doing what we did today, eating tomato, avocado, honey mustard, parmesan cheese sandwiches on toasted wheat, sipping coffee, watching the trials, and doing some research. It could be a fun study/ study break from regular school assignments.