I’m pining for the moon.
And what if there were two
Side by side in orbit around the fairest sun?
Every time the Olympics come around I make the same joke: I’m gonna move to a small island nation and take up a sport and that’ll be my free ticket to the big event. And I think there would be other advantages to living on a small island. Vanuatu for instance has a cool volcano—actually a really hot volcano, which is kind of the point. And Tuvalu is less than eleven square miles, so pizza delivery must be really fast there, and its capital is Funafuti and it would be great to live in a place that starts with “fun”. Sure there are disadvantages like not being able to find a decent pool hall or eventually being swallowed up by rising oceans, but every place has its ups and downs. I thought about this the other night while watching Olympic competitors swim—specifically the butterfly stroke, which, believe it or not, used to be my event back when I was part of a swim team. Oh yeah, believe it or not I was part of a swim team.
I wasn’t exactly a good swimmer, although I was pretty good at the butterfly stroke which is really challenging, especially over long distances. At least I was the only member of the swim team good enough to do it in competition so they put me in. It seems strange to me now because I never really did care about being part of the swim team. It was when we were members of the Dolphin Club, although calling it a “club” was a stretch. It was a plus-sign shaped swimming pool in a field on the outskirts of town, past a small collection of warehouses and auto shops that I’m pretty sure would be happy to take that car of yours that you “lost” the keys to with no questions asked, but that’s another story. There was a weedy tennis court with a rotting net next to the pool that I think was the only thing that qualified the place as a “club”. And the membership was small enough that the swim team really needed all the members it could get, so even though I was a mediocre swimmer who didn’t really care and never won anything I was never in danger of being cut. You may be wondering why I bothered with being a member of the swim team in the first place, especially since I did feel kind of self-conscious about my diving ability, or lack of it. All my teammates and fellow competitors could dive cleanly off the starting blocks into the water, but I never got the hang of that and could only just sort of flop, and by the time I got oriented and going I’d already be eating everybody else’s watery dust. But the swimming season wasn’t that long, especially since the Dolphin Club never made it to the semifinals or playoffs or Swim Series or Swimmerbowl or Swimmly Cup or whatever the big finale is in swimming. And I liked to swim and being part of the team meant getting into the pool early, before the crowds—which at the Dolphin Club meant about a dozen people—arrived. It was also fun on hot summer mornings to jump right into the cold pool and do a few lazy warm up laps, twisting my body around under the water, thinking about humpback whales migrating from the iceberg-laden waters of the Arctic to the tropical regions every year. That was worth humiliating myself in competition every Saturday because, in case I haven’t emphasized this enough, I really didn’t care about competing.
Anyway my wife pointed out that being from a small country isn’t enough in itself, that there is a minimum requirement of ability needed to qualify for the Olympics, so even if I did pack up everything and move to a small island in the middle of nowhere I still wouldn’t qualify for a free ticket to the big event even if I could finally learn to dive.
And I don’t want to treat the efforts of the athletes from these countries as a joke. Every athlete who goes to the Olympics has worked hard to get there and they all want to win. For the ones from small counties, the ones with delegations of a few athletes, or the ones who are only sending one athlete, the chances of bringing home a medal may be slimmer but the stakes are so much higher because so much attention is focused on them. They’ve made incredible efforts just to be able to qualify.
That is something to care about.