Monday, February 20, 2006
Citius Altius Fortius
I can't recall when it first began. In many ways it has always been part of my life, but the first time I can remember the eager anticipation and knowing that I was witnessing something very special was in the summer of 1972. We often spent summer evenings in the front yard under the shade of the chestnut tree, giving the house a chance to cool a bit with the evening breeze. We would sit for a couple of hours chatting with my aunt and cousins who would walk down the street from their house to ours nightly throughout the summer for this evening ritual.

Not in 1972. For two weeks, my eyes were glued to the television. Although I was not quite eight years old, I remember the excitement of the opening day. I didn't quite understand all the ceremony and symbolism, but understood them to foretell a most magical and rare event. I can still recall the feel of the carpet under my feet as I curled my toes gripping my imaginary balance beam as a young Russian girl named Olga Korbut contorted her body above it. I remember seeing the afternoon sun reflect on television screen as a young American swimmer named Mark Spitz displayed his collection of seven medals around his neck. I remember the disappointment as the events came to a close and the flame was extinguished. I spent the rest of that summer turning cartwheels and somersaults in the front yard wondering what it would be like to be an Olympian.

My enthusiasm for the Olympics has only grown over the years. I wait with anticipation counting down the days until the opening ceremony, tracking the journey of the Olympic torch, and learning about the aspirations of a select group of individuals who come together as a team to represent the United States of America. I remember vividly the excitement of the Olympic torch coming through my own home town on its final leg of the journey to Los Angeles in 1984. My cousin and I went early to save a spot for the entire family. Admittedly, we were among the first to begin lining the street and enjoyed watching the morning traffic buzz by before the street was blocked for the relay. It was over before we knew it, but the excitement only built as the games began. That Olympic torch lit a passion in me that has yet to be extinguished.

I'm far from a world class athlete. The most competitive I've been in sports came while playing on a couple of school teams in my younger days. My passion for the Olympics has not always been about sports. I enjoy the stories of the athletes and their journeys to the games as much if not more than seeing the sporting events and victories. I like learning about skating on the outside edge, or the aerodynamics of a jump, or how many bobsled tracks there are in the United States. I am drawn to the Olympic dream and the spirit of the games. I believe that the Olympic motto of "Citius. Altius. Fortius." or "Swifter. Higher. Stronger." pertains to more than a race or a routine or a relay. The Olympic movement is "a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind" ( For me, the Olympics has been about finding your inner strength, focusing all of your will and might on a single goal, and becoming the victor for having had the courage to face the experience.

We all face our own personal Olympics in our own ways. We all face things in our life that challenge body, will, and mind. For some, the Olympics may become a metaphor for their career, or getting through college, passing the bar exam, or some other personal quest. For others still, perhaps battling cancer is like pursuing a gold medal. You put up with the struggle, pain, and uncertainty in the quest to stand victorious on a platform, hands held high having achieved a personal best in defeating cancer. While no one hands you a medal, and Katie Couric doesn't rush to interview you the following morning, the victory feels as sweet as any gold medal could ever feel.

There is some tiny fraction of me that can relate to that imagery, yet every other part of my being selfishly feels that if cancer were my Olympics, then I got robbed. I want to decide the sport, select the trainer, choose the sponsors, and move forward in my quest rather than have it thrust upon me. And while I may have been a good little patient, followed orders well, and survived treatment and its ever-surfacing side-effects, it was not my skill that got me to the podium, rather, my luck. Nonetheless, that Olympic spirit, that incredible passion that the Italians have captured so brilliantly during these games, gave me a different gift.

Thank you, Torino, for helping me feel that passion again. Thank you for welcoming the world into your home and showing us the brave faces of those pursuing their dream and those who pick themselves up from a fall and try again. Thank you for allowing me to feel that it is okay to dream about the future and to dream simply for more. Citius. Altius. Fortius.

Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
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Name: Jeannette
Location: Southern California, USA

This is my story about being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39. I thought I was out of the woods, but four years late it came back. This is my quest to be a two-time survivor.

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