One of the coolest parts of getting to race in the Olympics actually comes along 3 months later…the trip to Washington D.C. to meet the President! I was looking forward to this and especially a chance to experience that part of the country since I’d never been and am not likely to go again anytime soon with the camp schedule. I had a bit of a crazy travel day to get there, leaving Anchorage on a red-eye flight with a 2 hour layover in the Minneapolis airport, during which time I had coffee with my Mom. We found out that we needed a cocktail dress for a red carpet event that night, and I hadn’t packed one, so she brought some in to the terminal with her and I tried them on in an airport bathroom. Seriously? Yep. This is the really classy side of my life, being on the road all the time! In all honesty it was pretty fun and the airport security ladies would wander in and give their input on the dresses as well. I think I might have one of the nicest Moms in the world, for her to drive to the airport at 6am so we could hang out for an hour!
I arrived in D.C. in the afternoon, and that night we went to the Best of US Awards show at the Warner Theatre. Although everyone was dressed very nicely, you could easily pick out the athletes because none of the girls could walk in their heels and the guys looked like they couldn’t wait to get out of their suits! Or maybe that was just me? The show was pretty cool though, and it was really touching to hear the thank-you speeches of the recipients. They gave awards to best male and female Olympic and Paralympic athletes, best moment of the Olympic and Paralympic games, best team of the games…things like that. There were a lot of athletes present, too! Not the entire crew, but a pretty good showing considering how close it was to the end of the season.
The day of the White House visit I was raggedly tired, yet still extremely excited and nervous about meeting the President and First Lady. Because of the crazy redeye flight and travel schedule to Washington D.C. and the late event the night before, I’d probably gotten a total of 7 hours of sleep over the past 3 days. I was the kind of tired where you think you’re standing still but in fact you’re swaying back and forth a little bit. Rest assured that I’ve learned my lesson about time zone hopping and travel plans, and I’ll be planning much more sleep for future spring trips!
Most of the morning was spent sitting and standing and waiting. This is such a big part of the Olympics and everything surrounding it – the experiences are amazing and always, always worth the time it takes to get there. But….there really is quite a lot of waiting around! We went through some impressive security measures to get onto the White House grounds, and then were ushered out onto the lawn to film a video for Michelle Obama’s “Lets Move” campaign. I think it’s so cool that she works hard to get the message out that activity is not only healthy but can be fun, too, and I was psyched to be part of the video! Although truth be told, it was slightly awkward and funny because we were told to mimic the Opening Ceremony march-in, with athletes at the front of the line carrying bouquets made of broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts and a torch made of green beans and carrots (despite how that sounds, they looked beautiful!). We were smiling, cheering and waving not at a crowd, but about 20 coaches and staff members! So as you might imagine, we felt a little self-conscious, but I think the video will work out just fine.
The procession stopped when athletes at the front stopped to pet the Obama’s dog, which was being taken out on a walk by a security guard! After that we all hung out on the grass and smelled the cherry blossoms which were just coming out, until it was time to go inside. We were able to go on a self-guided tour of the White House (though not the upstaris where the Obmas live, of course), and in each room there was a staff member full of cool facts and helpful information about the room and the White House in general.
One part I thought was pretty neat was that each President gets to make their own set of china. Each design is different and the current family residing in the White House usually eats on Lincoln’s set of china, I was told. So I had to go check it out!
We wandered through the rooms labeled pretty accurately…”green room”, “red room”, “blue room”…you get the idea. A little after noon they handed out bag lunches, and there wasn’t enough room to sit so there we were, sprawled over crazy old sofas or on the floor of the White House! I’ve never felt so glamorous while sitting on the floor in my life. I swear my posture was better, anyways.
Then it was time to meet the couple we’d all been dying to see! The recieving line was impressively long, and I was amazed by how the Obamas were able to be on their feet for so long smiling and genuinely congratulating each and every athlete. The President would shake each person’s hand, exchange a few words, and then Michelle would hug them and also tell them good job at the Olympics.
I had months to think about what I was going to say to the President of the United States, the most powerful man in the world. I desperately wanted to say something at least mildly intelligent or interesting. But I was so nervous and excited and in awe of Barack and Michelle that it didn’t quite go as planned! When it was my turn I stepped forward and told him: “I’m such a big fan! Thank you for all you do!” and then mentally slapped myself for sounding like such a dork. But Obama smiled and said “thanks, I appreciate that”, and asked where I lived. I said Minnesota, and he started asking me about the skiing there, but instead of answering I blurted out “can I hug you?”. He laughed and opened his arms and right then and there I hugged the President of the United States. I wasn’t sure that was even allowed, to ask for hugs, but I don’t know what came over me and couldn’t stop myself from asking. I stepped to the right where Michelle was waiting, and got another hug, and she told me she was proud of me. I was so overwhelmed by how nice the Obamas were that I started to cry. I tried so hard to keep it in, but when I opened my mouth to thank her I could barely get the words out! I covered my face and rushed out the door, mortified and praying that there was a place to hide somewhere (there wasn’t).
The White House staff and security were laughing at me and said it was really adorable that I burst into tears, and assured me that I wasn’t the first person to do so. But I was so embarrassed! Luckily, I had time to recover before the Obamas came into the big hall and addressed the entire Sochi team. They both gave beautiful speeches that were inspiring and at times funny, and when they left Barack said “Enjoy the House…don’t trash the place!” With that, it was over, and we wandered out past the gardens, back onto the buses and out of the White House. Getting to meet the First family was one of the coolest moments I’ve ever had, and something I’ll never forget. Especially since I totally embarrassed myself by crying in front of the President just because he hugged me!
The next day was the athlete summit, with different speakers and presentations, mostly on how to retire and move into the next stage of your career. Since I figure I won’t be retiring for a looooong time to come, I wanted to get outside and see D.C. while I was there! I ran to the Lincoln memorial and checked out that half of the National Mall with all the famous sights. I was in full tourist mode, too. You know what I’m talking about – camera out, jacket tied around waist. Yeah buddy.
It seemed like everywhere I turned there was another memorial or plaque or SOMETHING that I should be reading or learing about. But I was quickly running out of time, so I didn’t get to really dig into some of the exhibits and museums like I’d wanted to. True to form, one place I spent a little extra time in was the Conservatory. I mean, I know there were famous exhibits to see, but it was the orchid show, people! I had to check it out. 🙂
At the end of the day I dragged my tired and jet-lagged self onto the airplane, and finally, FINALLY got home for a good long stay. I’ll be in Minnesota (with the exception of a short vacation to Arizona) for the month of April and half of May, and it’ll be the longest I’ve been in one place since last spring. God forbid I start actually growing roots somewhere!