Right now, I’m sitting in a cottage on top of a mountain in Cripple Creek, Colorado where I used to perform melodrama. There are so many wonderful things about being back here and so many stories to tell.
Last night, I went out with the cast of the show currently being put on at the theater. They are lovely people, many of whom are significantly younger than I am. We’re all in our twenties, but we could not all have been at elementary school at the same time. I don’t usually get all hung up about things like that, but last night, the generation gap presented me with a wonderful opportunity to tell a new generation about the first time I was fully aware of what it meant to be proud to be an American, inspired by an inimitable moment of athletic prowess on an international stage.
I, like everyone who respects the Constitution and apple pie, love the Summer Olympics for Women’s Gymnastics especially. In July of 1996, The Magnificent Seven were the powerful group of women gymnasts representing the United States on the international stage: Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Dominique Dawes, Amy Chow, Amanda Borden, Jaycie Phelps, and Kerri Strug. America was glued to our TVs as these tiny powerhouses shone in Atlanta in a way that no other American gymnastics team had done in the history of the sport.
The day of the vaulting event was a low point for our stars. Dominique Moceanu fell on both of her vaults. Tensions were high. Kerri Strug, one of the less decorated members of the team, fell and injured her ankle on her first vault. It looked like this could really hurt America’s chances for the gold.
But Kerri Strug, demonstrating the true grit of an Olympic athlete, was determined to do her second vault. As a nation, we sat breathless. As she sprinted down the runway(?) and hurled her tiny body into the air, time stood still. She hit the ground and stuck her landing on one leg. It was not to be believed. After standing for a moment, she collapsed and had to be carried off the podium by her coach, Bela Karolyi. Her score helped America win the All-Around gold and inspired, like, a gazillion little girls to immediately go sign up for gymnastics.
Whether or not these nice twenty-one year old girls were actually interested in my story of Olympic greatness, they listened politely, which I appreciated. It’s always nice to see young people respecting their elders.