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She just sat staring, grousing for all that was lost but most especially for her medals.

The beach had always provided hope and comfort and pleasure and for tonight, it would provide her a place to sit still and think.  So she plopped down on the sand and stared out at nothing.  How did she get here?  How had a decorated Olympian end up with nothing?

It wasn’t really a long story.   In fact, for someone who spent a good 40 years as the picture of success, this humbling fall took little time and even less effort.

She had been a golden beauty in a golden age, medaling as a 17-year old in her first Olympics in 1988 and then more medals in ‘92 and again in ’96.  She retired gracefully after the Atlanta games, preferring to exit the Olympic stage in her home country.

And while she was fully prepared to give up the endless training, she was not prepared to forsake the endless adulation.  By October of 1996, none of the bank tellers acknowledged her, the grocery bag-boy paid no attention. She even replaced her answering machine, so sure that it was malfunctioning.  But really, no one called anymore and the years passed quietly.  She killed most days in her kayak, just fishing the backwaters.

So, bored and lonely, she began to train again with a vengeance, targeting a comeback for 2008 in Beijing.  At first, no one paid any attention which was ok since she was kind of flabby and needed some time to make herself presentable.

Eventually, she became more than just presentable.  Running through what little cash she had left, she got herself a bust-lift and teeth-whitening treatment.  Sure enough, after a couple of wins, she was once again the darling of the press.  The phone rang.  The magazines and newspapers wanted a moment of her time.  Soon it would be the late-night talk shows, endorsements and party invitations.  But she had to keep winning and given her age she might need a little help with that.

So she called on some old friends from high school who hung around on the fringe of her life and were always there with a quick “pick me up” cocktail or a masking agent for those occasions when she just need to burn some herb to relax before major competitions.  They did not disappoint

Their game had changed a bit as well. They were now on the cutting edge and had some fabulous, medicinal-grade totally undetectable performance enhancing substances.  Access was not a problem for her but funding was.  So convinced that it was a “sure thing” she let them hold all her Olympic medals as a guarantee of sorts and would ransom those medals after her successful comeback in Beijing.

Excited to be fast-tracking to success version 2.0 she picked up the milky liquid from her “boys” and drove straight through a monsoon to the closest all-night CVS so she could pick up some syringes and get started.  But Lady Luck, who had never really been her friend, showed up just as she was sprinting inside.  Her foot caught the curb and she crashed to the ground right at the front door, landing with her knee folded under her in a most unnatural way.

After a restless couple of days in the hospital and countless reminders of dreams dashed broadcast in several languages around the world she was discharged.  She called her “boys” looking to get her medals back and return the never-opened bottle of magic juice.  Two days passed and she called them again.  Three more days, three more calls and still nothing.

So she got in the car and drove to the spot where they always met and sat there for 16 hours. Nothing.

Sitting alone in the car completely lucid because the pain pills were gone, she realized her folly.  Of course they were not going to return her calls because they had no intention of returning the medals.  Not now, and not even if she had climbed the podium again.  Because the only certain thing in this entire transaction was that she would not ever go to the police to report “the boys”.  They were correctly counting on her never actually sharing with the world just what a fake and a loser she had become.

Broke and broken, she saw only one option.  She called an old teammate from the Atlanta games and left a very lengthy message, revealing every sordid detail of her failed comeback.  Then she called the local crime TipLine and left essentially that same message including details about the milky substance and even the syringes sitting on the counter in her bathroom, all unopened and accounted for.

Then she walked down to the water’s edge, stripped off her clothes, waded out and began to swim toward the moon.

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