As I wrote a few days ago, every athlete here at the Vancouver Olympics arrived on the world’s biggest sports stage thanks to a small army of friends, family, and fans who have buoyed them and bolstered the practical support provided by coaches and technicians.
Those armies are now being honored by the Olympic athletes themselves.
Thirty-nine US athletes have nominated an influential person in their life for the O.C. Tanner Inspiration Award. Each nomination comes with a short first-person essay, written by the athletes, and they're all posted on one Facebook page where you're invited to vote for the best story. More than 600,000 votes have already been cast.
Some of the same athletes you heard from in our story, including Noelle Pikus-Pace, are featured. But there are many others. One of my favorites was from Bill Schuffenhauer, who competes in 4-man bobsled:
"I was introduced to the difficulties of life at a young age – foster care, juvenile detention and living on the streets of South Salt Lake. Through the insecurity of being passed back and forth between biological parents, foster parents and homelessness, Grandma Sadie was always there. There were times she came to pick me up from the detention center, and others when she helped me when I was homeless and had no food to eat. Her motherly care was precisely what I needed in those difficult times, and she referred to me as 'mi hijo,' her son."
Figure skater Mirai Nagasu, who skated to an outstanding fourth-place Thursday night (read more on that here), in her posting on the Facebook page, expresses appreciation in the contest for a "super-mom." In addition to supporting a daughter's skating dreams, her mother was also supporting her husband’s dream of owning and running a successful Japanese restaurant, she says. The tribute also depicts a life off the rink that wasn’t as glitzy as some might assume for a sport as popular as hers.
It wasn’t uncommon for me to sleep in a storage closet while [my mother] worked at the family business. After cleaning and closing we’d return home at 11:00 pm, to wake up a few hours later and drive to ice skating practice at 5:00 am.... She kept this grueling schedule to support my dreams. Sleep deprived and worked to the bone, she has inspired me to never give up. Watching her sacrifice for me inspires me to push forward. How could I see my mom wearing clothes with holes in them so I could afford lessons, and not be grateful?
For some of the athletes who are married or who have become parents, it’s their new families who inspire them most. US biathlete Jay Hakkinen gives a shout-out to his daughter Stella Amalia.
Because of her, I compete with a lion’s heart – brave and bold on my Olympic journey. When we play together I ask “Stella, what sound does the lion make,” and she musters a courageous roar… I want to make her proud and succeed for her.
Three contest winners – selected by the US Olympic Committee, O.C. Tanner, and the public voting via Facebook – will receive a 14k gold commemorative ring featuring a laurel crown and the words "Inspire, Olympian and Mentor" in Greek.
These are just a few of the stories offered by US athletes. Check out the rest for yourself. It may even make you want to roar as you watch them compete in this final week of events.