When I was a kid, I wanted to be an Olympian. I still halfheartedly joke that if Geena Davis was a contender for the U.S. archery team at age 43, I, at age 29, might have hope of finding a sport that will take me all the way to the pinnacle of international competition.
But even if I never go to the Olympics as a competitor -- and in archery, that wouldn't happen because I'm a terrible shot -- I can say I have gone as a spectator.
In February 2010, my husband and I flew from Sacramento to Seattle and then drove to Vancouver, British Columbia, for the Winter Olympics. Through a massive ticket lottery, we managed to gain entrance to the women's giant slalom gold-medal run, the men's curling semifinals and the bobsled four-man heats. I wanted to get seats for hockey or figure skating, but that would have blown our entire ticket budget.
Online, we found an architect in Vancouver who let us rent out one of her bedrooms, and she was so nice, she even made sure we had breakfast each morning. Way better than a hotel that would have charged us three to five times as much.
Though our Olympic experience went by in a blur, I still have some memories that are relatively clear -- in my mind, anyway.
We got on a bus before the sun was up to head out to Whistler for skiing, but the day was cut short when fog rolled down the mountainside and obscured about half the gates. By that point, U.S. favorites Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso were out of the running, so we weren't so concerned about going back the next day. But it was amazing to see all the fans decked out in their countries' colors, as well as the skiers going into the crowd to greet some of them.
With curling, I didn't know we would get to watch two semifinals at the same time, but there my husband and I were, cheering for our ancestral homelands' teams. My grandfather was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, so I hoisted a maple leaf flag and tested my vocal cords as the Canadians took on Sweden. My husband's grandmother came to the United States from Norway, so my husband screamed "NORGE!" as the Norwegians competed against Switzerland. I have to admit, it was hard not to root for Norway's curlers because their pants were the talk of the Games.
In the end, our teams moved on to the final. Though we weren't in the crowd, I was thrilled when Canada beat Norway for the gold. Sorry, hubby.
We returned to Whistler for the bobsled heats, and here are my three favorite moments from the day: 1) stopping to watch the bobsleds whiz by, then continuing our trek up the mountain; 2) the snowflakes becoming more compact and heavy at higher elevations; and 3) how excited the U.S. fans were when the Americans took the lead on their final run. Flags were waving like crazy, hats flew in the air and some people were singing the national anthem.
One night, we wandered into downtown Vancouver, had dinner and met some guys from the United States who were in town for the Games. We decided to check out the Olympic torch, and my eagle-eyed husband found $200 Canadian on the ground.
That money came in handy when we went shopping at the Hudson's Bay Company store. Everyone I knew wanted those cute red mittens that Oprah Winfrey talked about on her show. After waiting in line for hours just to get in the store, our search proved fruitless, but we still charged tons of other Olympic swag on our credit card. Later in the night, we also sampled Burger King poutine. If you don't know what poutine is, it's French fries with gravy and cheese curds. A year earlier, we went crazy for poutine on our honeymoon in Montreal, but the Vancouver Burger King's effort paled in comparison.
After three jam-packed days, we headed back across the border before we could get caught in the insanity about to ensue from the men's hockey gold-medal game. And we went home to Sacramento with visions of ski slopes zig-zagging in our heads.
When the London Olympics roll around, loads of Americans will get to cheer on their home team in the stands and on the sidelines. I wish my husband and I could be there in person, but two years ago, I did something I never seriously thought I'd do.
If any of you are going to London, stop, look around you and take everything in. It's the experience of a lifetime for the athletes, and it's just as much so for the spectators.