Sunday, August 24, 2008

Life's manual

Every human who has graced this Earth has probably, at one time or another, wished life came with a manual. A document in which we could turn to for answers, directions, guidance. It would be there on page 97 exactly what you are supposed to do with your life.

But the unfortunate joy of life is that there is no manual. We are our own tour guides and the path is strictly up to us. Installed in all of us is the power and talent to achieve even the loftiest of dreams.

For me, this is where a life manual could come in use. If only I knew what my dreams were, then I would surely do everything in my power to see that they were achieved. I just need the ending point and I will take care of the hard work to get there.

My life goals seem to change with the season. One day I want to be a reporter who travels the country telling the greatest stories ever told. The next day, I want to travel the world doing whatever I can to save it. Tomorrow, I might want to use my love for writing and designing to help a non-profit somewhere raise the money it needs to function. Next week, I am struck by the idea of returning to school and getting a master’s in counseling. The week after, well, I will want to be a reporter who travels the country telling the greatest stories ever told.

When I settle on a dream to achieve, I usually change my mind or something occurs that forces me to change my mind. Months ago, I planned on the Peace Corps as my next move, but a phone call from my recruiter the other day shattered that plan. Now, I staring at a blank canvas labeled “Heather’s Future.”

This back and forth debate about my future drives me to tears. In fact, it’s having a physical effect. Lately, I can’t sleep through the night and am awaken by nightmares of mine or someone in my family’s death. My stomach usually aches and my mind rests in a seemingly permanent fog. I worry that if I don’t figure something out my health will continue to slip.

So I’ve derived a plan to have no plans at all. My whole life I’ve schemed and planned what I thought my life should look like without any consideration that those plans would fall through. But they usually do. No matter how many times I cried myself to sleep while living in Idaho I never imagined that I would be back in South Dakota eight months later. I didn’t plan to be happily single at 23. And I certainly didn’t plan to have so much uncertainty in my life.

It’s time to surrender any and all plans and just live in the now. I find that when I do have plans, I invest everything in them. Whenever I find a snag in life, I assure that myself that all will be calm once I am in the new life I planned. I assumed peace would come once I moved to Idaho. It didn’t. I figured I would find it in Brookings when I moved back. I didn’t. It’s probably a good thing the Peace Corps route fell through. I was already beginning to put too much hope into that life.

The best thing for me now is to find happiness in the life I currently live. It won’t be easy, and I imagine shedding a few tears along with creating a few laughs. But I might just find what I am looking for.

If life came with a manual, I would have to burn it. What my life needs now is no script, no direction, no ending point. That’s equally scaring and exciting, and probably the reason God didn’t draft a manual when he created life. This is more fun.

Dreamers love other Dreamers

I've followed Michael Phelps' career since we were both 15. Many people time and again ask me why. It's not because of his tremendous accomplishments or his fame. Instead, I saw something in him that other athletes don't possess. This is why I will always be a Phelps Phan.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Olympics

My father and brother swear by baseball. Each year, they eagerly await the day that pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Their enthusiasm doesn’t wane much through the long summer days and the ups and downs each team endures. But once October hits, the post-season month, their love for baseball hits its peak, especially if their team is a World Series contender. If you love baseball, you love October.

Men around the country practically put their entire lives on hold every Sunday from August through January. The NFL captures Americans unlike anything else in this country. Grown men cry when the Jets beat the Giants and wear plastic hats in the shape of cheese when the Vikings host the Packers. Sports bars around the country are packed each Sunday with several televisions featuring a different game. For some, football is life.

I enjoy a good football game every now and then and the Minnesota Twins have my attention during the MLB season, but only one athletic competition has captured me into a true sports fanatic.

During the summer of 1996, I was eleven years old, an age where dreams have no limits and still seemed accomplishable. At that time, it was my dream to be an Olympian. I was spending close to three hours in the pool, with motivation fueled by my Olympic dream. I began to idolize Jenny Thompson and Janet Evans, despite the fact that my times couldn’t even earn me a berth to the South Dakota State Swim Meet.

The Olympic dream was inspired by the anticipation of that summer’s games in Atlanta, Geo. It was beginning of my love for the Olympic games.

Each day, after my noon practice, I would race home, greet the television and spend the afternoon watching the world’s top athletes compete for a piece of gold. At the time, I stuck with more popular sports swimming, track and field and gymnastics, but athletes from various sports motivated me to be something more than I actually could be. I teared up when the yellow-cubed clocked flashed a 19.32 and sprinter Michael Johnson set a new 200-meter world record in his gold Nikes. I swam my breast stroke sets without goggles, because that is what Olympian Amanda Beard did. And I held my breath with the rest of the world when gymnast Kerry Strug landed the vault on one foot and won U.S.’s first women’s gymnastics team gold.

In school that year, I covered my desk in pictures of Janet Evans, Michael Johnson and Dominique Moceanu.

From that games on, I have been addicted. The summer games hold a bigger piece of my heart, but Shaun White and downhill skiing give me reason to watch the winter games. During each summer games, I’ve tried to take in more of the Olympics as my dream to be an Olympian faded.

In 2000 in Sydney, a fifteen-year-old swimmer struck a particular cord with me. He was my age in my sport, and I was intrigued. He didn’t take home a medal, but I knew there was something special about him. As my swim teammates gushed over Aussi Ian Thorpe, I told them to watch out. “Michael Phelps is going to be amazing someday,” I proclaimed. And, well, I was right.

In 2004, I cheered as Phelps won eight medals, six gold and started on his quest to be the best swimmer of all time. Last year, at the World Championships, Phelps won seven gold medals. I protested the significance to my editor and was able to give Phelps a small spot on our front page. It was on the rail, but I happy to see a color photo of my teenage-idol in my newspaper.

This year, the entire world is watching Phelps try accomplish to hefty goals – become the most decorated Olympian of all time and win a record eight golds in one Olympics. Leading up to the games, I have devoured every TV spot, article and commercial featuring Phelps. Not am I only attracted to him, I am captivated with his work ethic, his focus, his determination.

Many claim that Phelps can’t do it and that he is overrated, but each race I am cheering for him. One article claimed Phelps to be the true definition of Olympian and I want that to reign through as he tries to complete his goals. Watching him chase his dreams has made me think about mine.

I look back and laugh at my dreams to be an Olympian. I never had a chance. But after watching two days of Beijing Olympic coverage, I realized there are other dreams I can accomplish. It’s time to put check marks next to those goals. I can’t explain where I will begin and what I will cross off first, but it’s time to accomplish dreams.

I will never compete in the Olympics, but it is my dream to attend the games. So, I have decided to start saving so I can be in London in 2012. I want to take it all in and feel all the passion around me just for instant. It will be a dream that I will cross off. Another one I hope to cross off is Michael Phelps. I’ll probably never marry him like I proclaim, but it’s my goal just to see him swim. Just once.