(Photo: Beijing bound U.S. Olympians Kevin Tan (Gymnastics) and Misty May-Treanor (Beach Volleyball) trying on shoes during Team Processing.)
They looked like average, everyday people. Well, not the type that might waddle out of McDonald's with a Big Mac and fries. But the sort you might see doing free weights at the health club. Sure, the beach volleyball players were exceptionally tall, the distance runners lean, and the divers tan with strong legs.
Yet, as I stood watching them work their way around the room picking up their Team USA podium-wear, village-wear, and opening and closing ceremonies attire, it was hard to remember that these people are Olympians.
Of all the athletes in America, only 600 or so had earned the right to get and to wear these clothes. They hadn't just registered and paid an entry fee to compete. They had each worked hard - fought hard - for the right to compete in Beijing. They had sacrificed social lives and family relationships, educations and jobs for this opportunity. For 17 days in August, they would be like reality TV stars. Some already are stars in their sports and beyond. How many magazine covers has Michael Phelps graced this year?
Still, it was hard to remember that each athlete, disguised in street clothes, had such talent. I wondered what separates them from us. Perhaps it's the years of training. Or maybe they just have the right genetic combination. Could it be just their mental focus or an outlook that keeps them going when others wilt? What is it that makes them different? What is it that makes them Olympians?
Then I remembered that over the past two decades, I've had the honor of skiing a couple runs with 1952 Olympic double gold medalist Andrea Mead Lawrence, 1968 Olympians Susie and Rick Chaffee, and Betsy Shaw who competed in snowboarding at the 1998 Nagano Games. And over the years, I've pedaled a few miles with a handful of the world's top cyclists.
Each time, I noticed that they seem to have a different relationship with gravity than I did or any other regular human, for that matter. It was something I hadn't made note of while watching them from the sidelines. But trying to keep up was another story. Their feet (skis and wheels) didn't seem as glued to the Earth's surface as mine. As they danced from edge to edge on their skis and snowboard, or accelerated up the road, they had the light feet of Fred Astaire while mine seemed more closely related to Herman Munster's.
I left Team Processing, and when I reached my hotel, took the stairs two-by-two. I'd show gravity what I could do! Then in my room, I did push-ups. Until - you guessed it - gravity pulled me to the floor.
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This blog was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.