BY JON LUJAN
|Me at the Lincoln Memorial|
Myself and the First Lady of the Marine Corps Bonnie Amos
at the Best of U.S. Awards
Me and Rico Roman at the Best of U.S. Awards
The fab five! Julie Chu, Sage Kotsenburg, Mikaela Shiffrin, me and Stephanie Jallen
Mikaela Shiffrin, me and Stephanie Jallen outside the White House
We collectively as a team (the U.S. Paralympic Team and the U.S. Olympic Team) had the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C; while there we attended the Best of U.S. awards, went to Capitol Hill to meet our senators and, finally, capped it all off with a visit to the White House that included meeting the president and first lady! As far as an epic few days go this ranks right up there. I arrived late Tuesday evening and finally got to the hotel around midnight local time. The next morning we had to go through processing and get our team gear and to my surprise me Sochi ring was ready! Apparently they wanted me to have it to wear on the red carpet at the Best of U.S. Awards! It was a pleasant surprise.
Some of my teammates had never been to D.C. so I took them on a tour of some of the monuments. We started over by the Washington Monument and ended up at the Lincoln Memorial where we just sat on the stairs and listened to a high school band! It was a pretty relaxing day and it was cool to spend it with some pretty cool teammates. We did need to get back and shower and put on our suits for the awards dinner that night, so we headed back to the hotel.
My room had a fantastic view of the Pentagon and it was pretty cool to just look out and see it, the Washington Monument and some of the other buildings around D.C. It was sort of like I was meant to be there at this place and time! Little signs like that validate everything I have done and reiterate to me that the path I am on is the right one!
Anyhow, we got dressed and headed over to the Team USA Athlete Celebration supported by BP and I was able to see quite a few VIPs from some of the sponsor companies, government employees, the Chief of U.S. Paralympics Charlie Huebner and of course the members of Team USA. It was a very neat experience; we all had appointed times that we were supposed to be sent over to the red carpet and, as with all planned out activities, things didn’t necessarily go as planned. I did end up walking the red carpet. The only people they interviewed on the red carpet were the medalists, but this is one of the things that may fuel my fire for winning a medal in Korea. The main thing was that I was there to see some awesome performances that were being recognized and I got to hang out with all of the members of Team USA! It was also pretty spectacular to see everyone all dressed up in suits and cocktail dresses. Before the awards started I was introduced to Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers and also got to see the Commandant and First Lady of the Marine Corps. The awards show was nothing short of spectacular; it was so very cool to hear how humble each and every one of the winners was including two of my teammates, Mark Bathum and Stephanie Jallen. At the end of the show one of the coolest things was seeing Olympians seeking out Paralympians and vice-versa for pictures. Witnessing the equality was very cool to me; and being viewed as equals is a big step in my opinion.
The next morning I went with the Colorado delegation to see Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet and, to our surprise, some constituents from Colorado that were there on vacation. The senators are very busy men and graciously spent time with each of us and then had to get back to work. We spent the rest of the time talking with staffers from CO and the constituents and taking pictures and just enjoyed telling our stories. During this time, I got to spend time with Mikaela Shiffrin and I have to be honest I was so impressed by the way she carried herself; she is one of the most gracious, polite and surprisingly shy athletes that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I was honored to be able to spend time just chatting with her and I know that if she continues to stay grounded and humble (like she really is) then she will no doubt go very far in her career. Kudos to you Mikaela and remember to always start your day off with a banana!
The next step was the White House visit and it was so cool to be there, throughout the whole day there it was really neat to see all of the athletes in awe at the fact that: 1) We were in the White House, and, 2) That we had the honor of meeting the president and first lady! At one point during the tour I was told that I needed to be available at a certain time for an interview with a few members of the press corps. I was like, ‘No problem.’ Well when the time came it was Sage Kotsenburg, Mikaela Shiffrin, myself, Stephanie Jallen and Julie Chu. The kicker was that it wasn’t just a few members of the press corps; it was the press corps! And we went through the White House into the West Wing and out the door to about 15 cameras and 25-30 reporters. WOW, once again I was very proud of how all of my fellow Team USA athletes represented during the press conference. Steph and I even got a compliment from one of the athletes afterwards that I thought was very genuine. It was so very cool to be in the West Wing and sit there and think about all of the history that has taken place there!
Well the big moment was upon us, everyone was lined up and the receiving line began. I had known for about a week that I would be presenting a gift along with Julie Chu to the president and first lady. We would be towards the end along with Lieutenant Commander Dan Cnossen. This part is actually funny because they sat us on a couch in the Red Room and as people were filing past us we made up stories about how we had gotten in trouble for trying to steal something from the White House. We all got a pretty good laugh out of it. Meeting the president and first lady was really special; regardless of your political beliefs you still have to honor the institution, and for me and Dan, the fact that he is the Commander in Chief. In my opinion the president is the leader of the free world. Being the last three in the line afforded us a group picture with the two of them and I can say if the White House photographer gets a copy to me I am going to have it blown up and it will hang in a place of honor in my home. Dan and I have had a few chats and I wouldn’t say we are best friends; but he is a brother in arms and a really humble warrior. Julie is definitely a hall of famer, and the president and first lady are just icing on the cake for that photo.
They announced the president and first lady then Julie and I took our places on the stage with them. Some of my teammates had no idea that I would be out there on stage and you should have seen the open jaws when I looked out among them! The first lady and president both gave their speeches and I have to tell you a little behind the scenes secret, THEY BOTH put what the speech writer had written into their own words and still got the exact point across! To me that was pretty impressive. I’m sure their speechwriters hate it but to me it was another unique experience. Julie and I presented them with flags that were signed by all of the athletes and our time at the White House had come to an end! We went out and caught our bus to the airport — after all I had to get back to Denver to throw out the first pitch at the Colorado Rockies home opener!
Thank you to all of you that have supported me, read my blogs for the last year and cheered myself and the rest of Team USA on. It has been my honor and privilege to share my journey with you and I hope to be able to do so again in four years!