The Olympic Games are the human experience writ large. The Winter Games, in my opinion, are always particularly dramatic. There are tales of great expectations and surprise victories; family drama and international intrigue; wardrobe malfunctions and Johnny Weir's hair styles; crashes and bonks and athletic triumph and defeat at their finest. But I think what I find most interesting are the comeback stories.
Canadian skaters Moir and Virtue returned to the rink and the top of the podium after a hiatus and their performance was breathtaking. Shaun White came back in spectacular form after a disappointing competition in 2014. And the US Women's hockey team beat top-ranked Canada on their way to a surprise gold medal, their first in 20 years.
The Olympics also mark an anniversary for my own comeback story.
Twelve years ago, I watched the 2006 Winter Olympics games in Texas. I was at a crossroads in my life and I'd traveled to The Lone Star State to run a half-marathon with a group of friends and then to visit with my dear friend, Kathy, at her home in the charming town of Goliad. We walked around the town square where I bought petin pepper jelly and saw the historic courthouse building. We ate chicken fried steak the size of a hubcap and I bought gorgeous cordovan leather Lucchese cowboy boots.
Each night after dinner we'd snuggle up for our Olympics fix. As everyone does, we'd become instant experts on the twizzle and the finer points of luge steering. In between events, we'd talk and though I'd been there a few days, we really didn't talk about Why Was I Really There. I was enjoying the vacation from my life and Kathy, an experienced Mom and Grandmother, knew better than to ask.
One day we were out in town, and we came across a couple of locals. We chatted and they sized me up as the city girl I most certainly was. They were big men, weathered a bit by age and hard work and few extra pounds around their significantly belt-buckled midsections. Their voices were gravelly, softened with the lilt of their rolling accents. They told me a bit of the history of the town, teased Kathy in the way that small town people feel obliged to do in the company of strangers. One gentleman, the one they called Big Boy, for obvious reasons, reached into his pocket and handed me two sharp U-shaped pieces of metal.
"Know what those are?" he asked.
I had no idea of course.
"Those are barbed wire staples." When he pronounced it, it sounded like, 'burbed where' and it took me a moment to process. "Oh," I said, turning the rusty pieces over in my hand. "Thank you!"
"They're small but they're real tough," he said, nodding his head in my direction. For some reason this made me blush and I thanked him again. I tucked them into the my jean jacket pocket.
That night, my last night in Texas, under the glow of the ice skating on the small television, all of the fear and heartache that I'd tried so hard not to share, and not to burden Kathy with came pouring out. I was scared of moving forward, scared of admitting to making so many mistakes, scared of what others would think, sad for time lost and terrified of the future.
She hugged me and listened. She let me blubber on and listened some more. When I was done and sniffling with jagged breaths, she told me that I deserved to be happy and it was brave of me to try. So many people waste their lives, she said, by being sad and scared. She said that she knew I was ready to do more. I deserved more. I believed her.
The next morning we took the long drive to the airport and I tearfully hugged her goodbye and returned to the Midwest wearing my new boots and carrying my treasures tucked away in my suitcase, lest TSA confuse the metal spikes for some sort of unusual weapon.
The next week, I filed for divorce. Almost immediately after breaking the news to my soon-to-be ex-husband, I was offered and accepted a new job. I changed the locks and my name. It was time for my comeback.
By the 2010 Olympics, I was planning an intimate wedding to a man more wonderful than I'd dared hope to find. By the 2014 games, I was watching the late-night coverage real-time as I nursed our newborn son in the glow of the TV as his big brother and father slept. And this year, just a few days after the most recent Closing Ceremonies, we will celebrate our 8th anniversary with a family dinner of beef stew (his favorite) and an evening of bedtime stories and weeknight routines, and maybe a glass of wine just because why not.
Sometimes a comeback happens on the world's biggest stage, and sometimes it begins with kindness and friendship in a tiny Texas town. But I'll be forever grateful for those who reminded me that I already knew what it was to be strong, and that I also had it inside myself to be happy.
Here's to comebacks: Those who inspire them and those who come through victorious on the other side. Happy Anniversary, Tim, I love you. And thank you, Kathy - I love you, too. You're small, but you're real tough. But you already knew that.