When I was a kid, playdoh was great. Dancing around in a tutu making cookies was greater. And Lilia Podkopayeva was greatness. Podkopayeva, overlooked by many due to the gold medal win by the Magnificent Seven by the USA, was from Ukraine. And she won the individual Olympic all-around gold in women’s gymnastics at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. She was my superstar.
As a child, I loved the Olympics, and still do. A hardcore competitive gymnast growing up, I attended the ’96 games (as an observer) where I saw Podkopayeva achieve what I thought was the unreachable and untouchable – greatness. In this case, that meant the gold. Seeing both Podkopayeva and the USA women’s team both capture gold medals, I hoped to follow in their footsteps.
Like any girl after ’96, my dream for Olympic greatness quadrupled, and my love for the sport escalated. I cut out every single news clipping from women’s gymnastics coverage in Atlanta and plastered my room in posters, photos and news clippings. You could say it was a Mag Seven Heaven.
Overlooked by the Mag Seven by many, Podkopayeva was a combination of grace, style, elegance and talent. My favorite coach even nicknamed me “Mini-Lilia” because he thought we looked alike, and had similar talent: grace and style.
However, fast forward 12 years, and I will never receive an Olympic gold medal, but I still reach for my Olympic dream in the horizon – greatness. And so can you.
Every four years, athletes converge together to compete for world titles, Olympic golds, world records and – greatness. But, each of us maintains the home court advantage. We can achieve greatness in our own communities, everyday. Though I’m no longer conditioning, flipping and twisting on the apparatus’, I like to think that I’m still developing my craft – all the while growing in grace and evolving my style.
For what is greatness? As a kid, a gold-medal gymnast defined greatness. For me today, people who live with conviction define greatness. People doing the work that no one else want do = greatness. The single mother working two jobs to give her child a better life, is greatness I only hope I can mimic. As we grow, how we define greatness evolves. Today, my ‘greatness’ role-model is my mom. It’s also my dad. Nedra Weinreich. Andre Blackman. Kivi Leroux Miller. Beth Kanter. Marc @ Osocio. Mike Newton-Ward. Stephen Dann. The Unsung Hero.
See, these are ordinary people, and they are infecting greatness everyday. I only hope that one day I can join their team, and we together, as a team, can achieve greatness. For greatness, just depends on how you define it.
“There are countless ways of attaining greatness, but any road to reaching one’s maximum potential must be built on a bedrock of respect for the individual, a commitment to excellence, and a rejection of mediocrity.”
– Buck Rodgers, American Baseball Player 1938