Gold Medal Moment

Being the new kid is never easy. As I started the 5th grade at a new school, I was filled with a hefty dose of apprehension. Luckily, I was placed in Miss O’s class. We were always doing some sort of fun activity and when she announced “Book Week” was coming up, I practically danced in my seat.

I loved to read… a lot. If there was one thing I knew I could excel at better then most of my classmates, it was reading. The premise of “Book Week” was each student would read a book, then at the end of the week dress up as the main character of the book and deliver a report as the character. I was on cloud nine.

And I knew exactly what I was going to do my report on — gymnastics! With the 1984 Summer Olympics still fresh on everyone’s mind, I, like pretty much every girl in America longed to be Mary Lou Retton, the West Virginian dynamo with a megawatt smile that had vaulted straight into our hearts.

Oh, this is going to be the best report ever, I thought as I made my way to the library to begin my research.

However, my “Perfect 10” moment was short lived. When I got to the library, there were exactly two books on female gymnasts: Olga Korbut of the Soviet Union and Nadia Comaneci from Romania. My heart sank. There was no denying both were legendary gymnasts, but they weren’t American. Remember, USA women’s gymnastics was still in its infancy as far as the world was concerned, and it would be 12 years before “The Magnificent Seven” stole the show at the Atlanta Games.

I was crushed. You see, I somehow had convinced my parents to let me get a replica of the USA tracksuit, just like the Olympians wore when they accepted their medals. With the materials available in front of me, how on earth was I supposed to wear something that said, “USA” while talking about an eastern European gymnast?

Timing is everything

Michelle Berube. Image source: The Gymnastics Hall of Fame

I’m not sure how long after my library incident my dad pointed out an article in our local paper about a rhythmic gymnast from Rochester Hills named Michelle Berube. A recent graduate of Adams High School, Michelle had competed in the 1984 Summer Olympics. He suggested I contact her and see if I could interview her for my report. With more chutzpah than I’m sure I possess today, I somehow not only contacted Michelle, but also got her to agree to my crazy idea. Once I got Miss O’s blessing, I set off for the very first interview of my life.

No publicist. No agent. Just Michelle and I at the gym. I don’t remember everything I asked her, but I do remember that she answered every question. She even gave me an autograph and said I could wear her USA tracksuit should mine not arrive in time. As I think about this encounter today I am struck by Michelle’s generosity and how much of an impact it had on this “new kid. It is clear she’s not just a champion in sport, but life as well.

On the day I gave my report, I proudly walked to the front of the class in my USA tracksuit (it had finally arrived). With my hoop in hand, I began by telling my classmates that I wasn’t a character, but a real person. Quiet quilted the room. From there I educated them about the underappreciated sport of rhythmic gymnastics and when I finished, one boy in the front row gave me a standing ovation. Talk about a “Perfect 10.”

This Friday, July 27, thousands of athletes will gather in London to pursue their dream of “Swifter, Higher, Stronger.” Many will go home with medals and world records. Some will just be grateful for the experience and the chance to represent their country. Still fewer will be launched into the upper echelon of Olympic legend. I’ll be there too — taking in this entire once-in-a-lifetime event inspires. And if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll even catch a glimpse of the next “Michelle Berube.”

Sarah Hovis is a freelance writer and an editor at Rochester Media. Follow us on facebook to catch her Olympic updates from London.

About Sarah Hovis

Word manipulator, arts appreciator, sports spectator, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at [email protected].

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