The first and only time I met a real Olympian was when I was a young boy. My grandmother thought it would be a good idea to get me into ice skating lessons, for some reason, so at 8 years old I was out on the ice with a coach hounding me to get my figure 8s tighter.
I was in the middle of practice, thinking I would rather be playing baseball or football (which I eventually did after throwing off the estrogenical shackles of a family dominated by women and no men) when there was a commotion in the stands.
I remember seeing a group of people, encircling one or two others, cameras flashing, people talking loudly and asking questions, and my grandmother excitedly calling me over much to the chagrin of my coach. Going to my grandmother as she waved me over, she said in a hushed voice, “Daniel, that is Debi Thomas, you know, the gal that is going to be in the Olympics? Go get her autograph, quick.” By that time, Debi Thomas was already out on the ice, surrounded my paparazzi and all the other little kids and spectators that were at the ice rink that day.
As I was about halfway to her, I was horrified to realize that I did not have a pen or pencil to get an autograph. I thought maybe someone would share with me when I got to Debi. I was wrong. None of the kids or parents would let me borrow a pen to get an autograph. I asked Debi Thomas herself if she had a pen and if she would please give me an autograph, but one of her people told me, “Sorry, you have to have your own pen, or no autograph.” Debi Thomas basically ignored the question. I turned and skated as fast as I could to my grandma to get a pen from her. When I got to her, she informed me that she didn’t have a pen with a look of disappointment on her face. Apparently, this was all an 8 year old kid’s fault. Back in 1986, we didn’t have cellphones and Blackberries, you see?
Defeated and in tears, I sullenly skated back toward the center of the ice. Debi Thomas was doing some stretches and other preparations to begin her routine. I think I must have been pretty upset because at some point she skated over and very briefly gave me a hug and told me to keep practicing. I didn’t get an autograph, but I at least got a hug and some advice from Mrs. Thomas.
Soon after that, the rink was cleared of everyone except Debi and her people. Our lessons ended early to make room for the VIP. This meeting left two impressions on me: One, that not everything like an autograph from a semi-famous person is going to be worth a million dollars, as thought by my grandmother (everything was going to be worth a million dollars, God rest her soul); two, I never ice skated again; and three, if I ever got rich, famous, or noteworthy for anything, I would never let my “people” treat my fans that way.
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