JUNE 17, 2011

Growing up as an only child wasn't so bad.  I was lucky to have a young, active dad to play with and challenge me athletically.  Though my dad jokes that the mailman is actually my real father, he can't deny that my height, physique, and natural strength were inherited directly from him.  Since I can remember, he's been testing my strength and my flexibility.  I didn't have an older brother to be competitive with, so it was my dad who had to step up to the challenge.  When I was little I remember my mother being concerned that my dad would accidentally hurt me when we were chasing each other or wrestling but I always insisted that I was having fun.  I never gave up even when I was twisted like a pretzel, I was still trying to get out of my dad's strong grip.  Only when I really was pinned was it time to call for Mom the referee to break up the match.  As I got older though, I definitely put up a good fight.  My dad still insists that I should have been a wrestler. 

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My dad has always been around as my athletic challenger but he's also always been my biggest supporter.  Early on I banned my mother from attending my basketball games because she screamed too loud from the bleachers, often waving wildly and shouting louder than the coaches.  To curtail further embarrassment, my dad was left to be my mild-mannered cheerleader on the sidelines.  After the games, he always patted me on the back and told me I did well, even if I missed every shot, let the ball slip through my fingers on passes, or sat the bench for most of the game.  It didn't matter that I wasn't very good.  As long as I was trying my best, he was proud.  And of course as my most loyal supporter he would ask me if he should hit the coaches with a 2x4 or slash their tires if they were mean to me or unfair.  Though he wouldn't have actually done either of those things, it cheered me up to hear him suggest it.  

When my athletic career turned from sitting the bench to going to the Olympics in 2008, my dad was there for me every step of the way.  He no longer had to drive me to 
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and from track practice or sit through my basketball games but now he had to fly all over the world with my mom and aunt to watch my rowing races.  My mother was finally allowed to shout loudly (and now my father was embarrassed) but I couldn't ask for a better cheering section!  Leading up to the Olympic final, I wanted more than anything to make my family proud.  I also thought about how my dad didn't have the chance to compete in sports as a youth, though I know he could have been an amazing athlete, probably an Olympian.  In my heart I dedicated that Olympic final to my dad because of the chance that he never had.  It made me so happy to win a gold medal for him!

After the Olympics, my dad went right back to being my competitor.  He still challenges me to pull up competitions, seeing how many full one leg squats from the ground I can do, or lifting things (not weights, just random heavy objects).  His favorite is to see who can swim the farthest in one breath.  The only exception is now when he beats me at those things he jokingly chides me, remarking, "looks like the old man beat the Olympic gold medalist!"  It kind of annoys me but deep down inside, I'm proud of him.

Thanks for everything Dad!