NEW YORK -- Olympic rings and torches decorated the lobby of P.S. 133, and balloons in the five Olympic colors festooned the school’s auditorium stage. About a hundred students aged from 4 to 12 years old filed in, many laughing and fidgeting with excitement. But when the nine visiting Olympians and Paralympians talked, they were all ears.
One by one, the athletes told them their favorite things about competing at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
“For me, everything was unbelievable,” Joss Christensen, slopestyle skiing gold medalist, said. “If you have a dream, don’t think you can’t accomplish it, it can happen. Set your goals as high as you can, and if you put enough effort into it, dreams come true.”
Paralympian Rico Roman, attending with sled hockey teammate Nikko Landeros, introduced students to his sport and showed students two things: his prosthetic leg, and his gold medal. Gracie Gold, bronze medalist in the figure skating team event, told of dreaming of the Olympic Games since she first took to the ice at age 8. Maddie Bowman said after winning halfpipe skiing gold in Sochi, she “couldn’t stop smiling.”
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Four members of Team USA’s silver-medal-winning women’s ice hockey squad — Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight and twin sisters Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson — relayed some of their adventures in the Olympic village.
“When I was 5 years old, I turned to my grandmother and said, ‘I want to be in the Olympics,’” Knight said. “Fifteen years later I was there. You can do big things, too, if you dream big.”
“Working with my teammates and my sister to try to make someone else’s day better is my favorite part of being part of Team USA,” Lamoureux-Morando said. “Whatever you want to do in life, put your best foot forward.”
The visit to P.S. 133 (also known as the Fred R. Moore Academy), a grade school (pre-kindergarten to fifth grade) in Harlem, was a centerpiece of the Team USA athletes’ whirlwind Wednesday in New York City marking the one-year countdown to the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
The day began with a visit to NBC’s “TODAY” show at Rockefeller Plaza, where skiers and snowboarders demonstrated halfpipe and Gold performed an exhibition number at the iconic rink. After visiting P.S. 133, the athletes moved to Times Square to ring the NASDAQ closing bell.
But for many, sharing stories with the students at Fred R. Moore was the day’s highlight.
Roman, a retired U.S. army staff sergeant who lost his left leg in 2007 while serving in Iraq, hopes his words left a lasting impression.
“I want to showcase that even though we may have a disability, we are all doing sports and we’re all having fun and we’re all part of a team, and getting a chance to represent the USA,” Roman said.
“The biggest thing for the kids to take home is that no matter what the obstacle is, whether it’s losing a leg or something very small like having a hard time on that homework, you can get past it and still strive for greatness and what you want in life.”
The auditorium session featured a donation through the United States Olympic Committee’s Team for Tomorrow community outreach program of basketballs, soccer balls, jump ropes and other athletic equipment. From there, athletes moved to the gym, where the hockey players led a demonstration of stretching and strengthening exercises and discussed the importance of proper nutrition.
“We’re hoping to make an impact on them, and hopefully they take one thing from what we’ve said today,” Lamoureux-Morando said. “We’re trying to use our platform to help others, maybe encourage others to do amazing things in life. … The skills we’re talking about carry over into everything you do in life. If the kids can really take those to heart and apply those to everyday life, they will be successful.”
It all added up to a day Patricia Balbuena, principal of P.S. 133, will never forget.
“It’s such a privilege having these Olympians visit,” Balbuena said. “We strive to show our students what leadership looks like. We always talk about (Sean Covey’s) seven habits of success, and to be able to show the kids that success live — not through a picture or a smartphone or a book, but live — is just overwhelming.”
Lynn Rutherford is a sportswriter based out of New York. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.