Going for the Gold

I was 13 when I first became enthralled in the spectacular world of the Summer Olympics. It was 1976 when Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci won three gold medals at the Summer Olympics in Montreal. She the first female gymnast in the world to score a perfect score of 10 in a gymnastic event.

This 14 year-old heroine and role model suddenly made all things seem possible. She became an icon for many young women to do better, be better: “If she can do it, so can I.”

And through the years, I found myself rooting not only for my country’s success in the Olympics, but also cheering on the underdogs, who miraculously came back after a crushing blow in the first round of competition.

I watched as Cedar Rapids native Kent Ferguson competed on the U.S. diving team in the 1992 games, finishing in fifth place in the Men’s Springboard competition.

Kent and I met in elementary school and went through junior high and high school together. His life was devoted to swimming and now it’s easy to see why. His dedication was apparent as he became an icon for Iowa athletes, proving that you can do anything you want to do; it just depends on how much you want it.

Though I don’t watch a lot of television, I usually make it a point very year to catch some of the highlights of the Summer Games, and certainly follow them through other means.

This year’s competition in London feels a little different than in previous years. New blood is creeping in and the countries of the world are showing what they are really made of. The stakes seem to be higher.

It’s more exciting, somehow.

I was a little shocked that Michael Phelps finished fourth and didn’t even make the podium in the 400 IM July 28. With 16 medals to his credit, Phelps has indicated that this will be his last trip to the Olympics. (Phelps did go on to win more gold medals and set a record.)

I didn’t get to see 17 year-old Missy Franklin win the Gold in the 100-meter backstroke July 30, but I heard about it the next morning. The report stated that Franklin, who is from Aurora, Colo. had a tough time when she heard about the shooting in her hometown when she wasn’t able to confirm right away that her friends and family were safe.

The 6’4″ teenager couldn’t contain her excitement as she touched the end of the pool, stating later to the press that she just had a feeling that she would win the event.

“I just had a really good feeling about it,” she said

Gabby Douglas, who has been training in Des Moines, not only won the Gold medal with the U.S. gymnastics team, but also won a gold medal in the overall competition. This 16 year-old has already become a role for young girls, just as Nadia did for us in the ’70s.

Other stories, not only about U.S. athletes, but those from other countries as well, tell about the struggles, the sacrifices, and the obstacles that they have experienced to get to where they are. It inspires the rest of us to strive to do our best in everything we do, whatever it is we do.

No matter where they came from, Nadia, Kent, Michael, Missy, Greg, Gabby, Shawn, Sam, George, Lily, Sasha, and anyone else who has ever had the motivation and drive to compete in the Olympics, are all winners. They come in all sizes and colors and backgrounds, but there is one thing they all have in common; they want to be the best they can be.

Most certainly, they have all gone for the “Gold.”

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Bike ride across Iowa cause for celebration

I’m not a bike rider.

I used to be, but I’m afraid I’ve outgrown the thrill.

I know so many people who are avid riders and it makes me a little jealous that I’m not. I feel like I’m missing out on something. They spend days riding their bikes on the trails, cruising around the countryside and small towns, and they love it.

I get on a bike and all I can think about is, how long until I get to where I’m going?

I applaud those thousands of people who are participating in RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. I have a brother, a sister-in-law, cousins, friends, neighbors, and co-workers who are riding in the event this year, and I am astonished at their dedication, especially through the heat they had to endure and the storm they experienced in Marshalltown Wednesday night.

They must really love it, but it’s just not my thing.

Riding in RAGBRAI is still on my list of things to do someday. But the thought of spending grueling days in the hot sun or rain or wind or cold, or whatever it decides to do any given year is a little frightening, and I’m just not there yet.

Someday, but not just yet.

But that’s OK. I have other things to do. I would rather spend my time writing about the event and taking pictures of the riders.

Today I’m going to join the festivities in downtown Cedar Rapids and celebrate the 40 years that RAGBRAI has been in existence. There will be music and entertainment, food and fun for everyone, and if I can’t ride in the event, as least I can help them celebrate their victory along the way.

The story behind how it started is amazing. It’s hard to believe the annual Iowa event began as a bet between two Des Moines Register newspaper writers. As popular as it has become, it’s sure to continue on as one of the biggest annual events in Iowa.

For more local news on RAGBRAI go to the Hiawatha Advocate website.

Growing pains

I recently published Issue 21 of the Hiawatha Advocate. I’m finding out what works and what doesn’t.

Issue 21 of the Hiawatha Advocate

Some of my findings are not surprising, but others are more challenging than I thought they would be.

I think the interesting thing I have learned has to do with the people of Hiawatha, their habits, how they think, and how knowing those things will make this newspaper a success.

I started this paper not knowing much about business or how to start a newspaper. I’ve learned more than I ever thought I could, not just about the newspaper business, but also about people of Hiawatha.

I thought the residents of Hiawatha would appreciate having a newspaper of their own. I imagined that the businesses would be beating my door down to get ads in my newspaper and I could spend my days working exclusively on the newspaper.

But that has yet to happen.

Since I gotten to know Hiawatha more, I’ve learned there are three groups of people within the community; those who take ownership of their community, who are proud it, and do what they can to make it better. Most of these are the older folks, who are either retired or close to it, and are very community-minded. They love the community newspaper and tell me every chance they get. Unfortunately, they are in the minority.

There are also those who are in their 30s, who have children in the schools and like the idea of a smaller community to raise their family. However, these people (who are in the majority) are so busy they don’t have time to read the newspaper. They like it, they just don’t have time for it.

Then we have the people who live in Hiawatha, maybe because of convenience, maybe just because their homes happen to be in Hiawatha. They don’t think much about their community. They don’t care what goes on here and would just as soon live in Cedar Rapids or Marion. They are usually young and single, and don’t pay attention about what happens at the city council meetings or what businesses are moving in the neighborhood, or even what events are happening over the weekend. They are too busy doing their own thing.

When I started the paper five months ago, I stated that one of the reasons I thought Hiawatha needed its own newspaper because it would help strengthen ties within the community. It’s proving t be tougher than I imagined. I didn’t realize that I would actually have to change the mindset of thousands of people.

So here comes my biggest challenge yet: How do I do that?

Most people in Hiawatha fit in the middle group I mentioned. Busy families with children in school. I have to figure out a way to get them to slow down long enough to want to read the paper.

The older people I have talked to believe that many people in the community are not community-minded, they don’t actively participate in volunteer opportunities, or are members of civic clubs, and they don’t think of Hiawatha as their responsibility. I have written editorials about the subject but if people aren’t reading the paper, how can I get the message to them?

People tell me that everything is going to the web. That’s true; I have a website that I am actively sending people to. But I still think Hiawatha needs a printed edition, too. There are still quite a few people who like reading their news in paper form. And until I have exhausted every effort, I will do my best to change Hiawatha residents’ way of thinking about the newspaper.

Do I believe it’s possible?

Yes, anything is possible. But it depends on many things, especially if I can make enough to cover operating costs. We have already cut from 12 to eight pages and the number of issues we order every week, so we are saving a little money, but it may not be enough.

When I started the paper, I told myself that I would do everything possible to make this newspaper a success. I still believe it can be. I just hope the growing pains subside soon.

The president and me

My first experience seeing the president of the United States in person wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be.

I had to work when he came to Cedar Rapids July 10 to speak at Kirkwood Community College, but my boss, who had obtained a ticket herself, excitedly told me when I

President Obama speaks in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, July 10, 2012

asked for time off, “Sure! We can ride together!”

But it was tough pinpointing exactly what time we needed to be at the college to avoid the crowd. I found out later that some people were there at 6 a.m. to stand in line.

Tickets at that point were pointless because according to one police officer manning the yellow tape, “They give more tickets than they have seats, just to get you out here.”

My boss had a meeting so I went ahead and met my daughter in the parking lot. We saw many people walking back to their cars and I was going to ask them why, but the look on their faces told me, “Don’t do it.” We found out that people were being told they wouldn’t get in but we had to try anyway.

Lori and I spent the next 1/2 hour trying to figure out how we would get into Johnson Hall. We had our press passes, after all, but I was told we needed a “special” media pass. (And now I know.)

We looked at the two long lines that merged into one line toward the scanning machine and picked the shortest one (which wasn’t that much shorter).

That’s when I saw my boss walking toward the front of the line and I took off after her.

Connie’s husband had gone to Kirkwood a lot earlier and was standing closer to the scanners, so when Lori and I got to them, I invited myself to budge.

Lori was worried people would be mad at us, but I assured her by saying, “We’re with the press; they can’t be mad at us!.”

Soon after we got through the scanners and into the “over flow” area, President Obama arrived and they locked the gates. I was really surprised that he came out to speak to the crowd at all, so I quickly got into position to take photos.

As I snapped pictures, he talked briefly about why he was here and how much he liked the Midwest. He shook a few hands before he entered the building to speak to the crowd inside. We were able to listen to his speech through a loudspeaker, and so being stuck outside wasn’t so bad.

So my first experience with the president wasn’t the greatest, but it sure wasn’t the worst, and I look forward to paying close attention to what will surely become a more heated race as the November elections draw closer.

*Read the news article July 17 in the Hiawatha Advocate!

Faith can move mountains

I’m working on the 20th issue of my community newspaper, the Hiawatha Advocate. I

Hiawatha Advocate Issue 19

try not to think too much about how I get it done every week because I think it would overwhelm me.

Working full time and putting out a 12-page community paper every week is taking  a toll on me. I know I can do it, but it was recently brought to my attention that I can’t keep pushing myself the way I am and still keep my sanity.

At what point will I say enough?

I don’t have an answer for that. I love what I do way too much to just let it go the wayside. And, as always, I am prepared to work hard to see it through. But I’m not quite sure I know where that will lead.

I sometimes think about the events that led me to where I am today. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it, and that’s the attitude I have to take with the paper.

Where will it go from here? I don’t know that, but I do know that I have a lot of faith in what I am doing and in myself. And as we know, faith can move mountains.

I am sure of that.

My latest blog on Making a Difference, is about Mariah Cary, who was recently crowned Miss Iowa and whose courage is inspiring others.