Writers Write

The Olympian

Flag of New Zealand

A few weeks ago, Cherry and I wandered into a gallery in Fredericksburg, Texas. We expected to find stained glass and pottery. We discovered an Olympian from New Zealand. Cherry was wearing one of her high school swim team shirts. It’s a clever riff on The Hunger Games, a conversation starter.

The woman, who was the shop owner, wanted to know about Cherry’s swimming. “What stroke do you like? What event? Do you enjoy relays?” It’s not often an adult takes a considered interest in a high school athlete, who doesn’t play football. One of her employees mentioned the Olympics. From there, we found out she was a runner,  but no longer a competitor.

“I swim now. It’s easier on the knees.” Her crisp British dialect was unusual in a the heart of the Texas Hill Country’s geographic twang. “My granddaughter has just accepted an offer to play volleyball at Texas Tech.”

We made small talk over the art glass in her shop. Then I asked, “What year were you in the Olympics?”

Embarrassed, her eyes darted to the left when she smiled. “A million years ago, 1964. I was 22. We went to Tokyo. It rained the whole time we were there.”

Simple math told us the woman was 73 years old. She easily passed for 50. She stood tall and straight. Her blond hair was styled in a bob. She looked like she could swim or run a mile today without a hard breath.

After we bought a knick-knack, she wished Cherry luck, and we said our goodbyes. On the sidewalk outside, Cherry said, “Goals, mom.”

“What goals? The Olympics?”

“No. I want to look as good as her at 73.”

I want to look like her at 60.