Diary from Beijing: Last letter - East Valley Tribune: News

Diary from Beijing: Last letter

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Posted: Friday, August 8, 2008 2:12 pm | Updated: 11:34 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

 Well peeps, as you all probably know, a TON has happened since the last update. And what an incredible ride it was. Mom, Dad, Clint (brother), and my newly wedded husband Cameron all decided to finally get here for the prelims (definitely had the worst travel here that I have seen so far) and what an emotional arrival. They got in the night before the prelims (already a day late). I was competing at 10 a.m. They had to acclimate and ignore jet-lag to try and enjoy the first round of intense competition for me.

April Steiner Bennett

April Steiner Bennett, a Mesa Mountain View graduate who is making her Olympic debut, will be writing a diary for the Tribune during her time in Beijing. Steiner Bennett also attended Paradise Valley Community College before transferring to Arkansas, where she was a three-time NCAA Indoor women’s pole vault champion. She won a silver medal at the 2007 Pan Am Games and was also a winner of a 2004 episode of the TV show Fear Factor, where she ate worm green beans, maggoty mashed potatoes and roach stuffing.

AUGUST 21, 2008: A last letter from Beijing...

 Well peeps, as you all probably know, a TON has happened since the last update. And what an incredible ride it was. Mom, Dad, Clint (brother), and my newly wedded husband Cameron all decided to finally get here for the prelims (definitely had the worst travel here that I have seen so far) and what an emotional arrival. They got in the night before the prelims (already a day late). I was competing at 10 a.m. They had to acclimate and ignore jet-lag to try and enjoy the first round of intense competition for me.

Making it through to the final was such a relief, for both my coach and I.

We both knew that we had accomplished something great, and so the goal of the finals was to have fun, and jump as high as I could... But let me tell you something, coming in ranked 12th for highest marks, I felt a bit like the inexperienced vaulter of the group. I hoped to at least split the pack but I know that I'm still learning and growing in the event. I am like the steady turtle that eventually beats the hare. Consistency and progression were on my side going in.

I was jacked up on adrenalin, though, and it's a game trying to harness that overload of energy and redirect it into the right places during competition. When I walked out of the tunnel the first time for the prelims, there were banners hanging every 15 feet that said "Beijing 2008." I got goosebumps and was all grins. It's kinda the feeling you get when watching a football sports movie like "Rudy" -- when they are waiting in the tunnel to go to the field, and you can hear the crowd and see part of the lights and stadium and energy.

But this second time coming out of the tunnel, I just kept telling myself, "It's just a track meet, it's just a track meet." But when I hit the night lights of the stadium and glanced up at the Olympic torch, it was an overwhelming surge of emotions that came out of my eyeballs... tears of excitement, accomplishment and knowing this wasn't the last time I would walk out into a venue like this one (London Olympics 2012 :). ... It was just the beginning for me. And a chance for me to learn and grow and realize how much hard work there is still left to do.

So I got 8th place... TOP 8 in the world! Of course you always want a medal. What Olympian doesn't? But to keep it real, I knew even if I was consistent, some of the girls would have to jump lower than they normally do to give me the chance at a medal. Sooo, here's the positives:

I'm an Olympian. I was still consistent around 15 feet at the Olympics. That's a good bar to be consistent at. The bar that I finished at and didn't clear was 14-11.5 (4.55m). The next bar (15-3, 4.65m) would have been a personal all-time record and had I made that, I would have only had a 7th-place finish. And to medal, I would have had to jump about 9 inches above my personal record anyways.... Holy crap... yeah. I just got outjumped by those who are better vaulters than me -- for now :) Did I mention that........... I'M AN OLYMPIAN!!!

It definitely aint over. One year at a time, one meet at a time, one bar at a time, I am going to live this dream for the next four years into the next one, and come back even better. I can see it now.... Hand on heart, tears streaming... "Oh say can you see, by the dawns early light...." our anthem blaring in the stadium. That would be sweet.

Mom and Papa and new husband are proud, and emotional along with me. I cried with them right after the competition, and it was more tears of sweet emotion and knowing that we were sitting in the Olympic Stadium, becoming a part of history together. Absolutely incredible.

Coach Compton and I did this together. He's a pillar of strength and never lets up. He's the hardest on me of anyone who has ever coached me and I think it's because he knows there's more to come, and wants it all like I do. ... I wouldn't have it any other way. He has as much determination and discipline as I do and I'm thankful for that, more than I think he knows.

It takes an army to support us athletes whether it be the coach, the parents who listens at all hours of the night when something's not right, the brothers and sisters for their love who keep you humble and grounded, the communities that throw their support out there for us to use as resources and strength, for courage and pride. We don't do this alone, that is for certain, and I just have to say, I love my life and am extremely blessed everywhere I turn.

Thanks to all involved, directly and indirectly.

AUGUST 14, 2008: It's crunch time at Olympics!

Well let me tell you, it has been an incredible week. And not by any standards would I want to repeat the last few days. S T R E S S.

I am a lover of life, a people person if you will. I've got the smile wrinkles already forming from grinning at too many people too many times, but I cant help it... But the tension in our building where 126 track and field athletes are housed in the Olympic Village is off the CHAIN! It's a bit strangling in a way. We all want to make our finals and be medalists here and the drive and determination rubs off on you from others just passing by, getting ready for their events too.Track and Field starts on the 15th -- T-minus one day -- and every minute that goes by, we are all stressin'. Even good stress is still stress and has to be handled with care. There are concerns about being prepared or even just preparing properly this week to compete in an AMAZING competition that's ahead of us.

Eating the right choices out of the dining hall at the proper times of the day makes a huge impact on training and competition preparation. The apartments are somewhat "DORM" like. Having to play mother hen a bit and getting on others to be quiet so Christin and I can get to sleep, while trying to time our body clocks to the event time for competition, has been something that I am not afraid to do. But I wish those athletes would value our schedules a bit more like we do theirs.

See, this is how it works: Knowing what time of day you compete is crucial. Training prior to that should be at that time, so for me, my go-time for the prelims is at 10:10 a.m. Now, we just don't walk out there and get on the runway and go. There is a lot of preparation. Eating early enough so the food is digested and not upsetting your stomach usually happens for me 3-4 hours prior to go-time. You don't want to be burping up orange juice and eggs mid take-off ya know!!?? Or having to make bathroom stops in the middle of competition because of too much coffee and water at breakfast!

Get the point? Here is how it's going to play out:

6 a.m.:  Breakfast at Olympic Village Dining Hall.

6:30 a.m.:  Get ready for competition, change into uniforms and doll up for the crowd and TVs!! (gotta shine, it's my moment!)

7:15 a.m.:  Meet the team coaches to get on the bus for the warm-up track at Birds Nest Stadium.

7:40 a.m.:  Begin warm-up with mass amounts of hip stretching (had some tightness and need to keep it under control.)

8:40 a.m.:  Go to the 1st call room where we check in and meet with the officials.

8:42 a.m.:  Proceed to Call Room 2... check some more things with officials!

8:47 a.m.:  Last stop before the track

8:50 a.m.:  Call Room closes, no more competitors allowed in the competition

9:10 a.m.:  Athletes are given one hour to warm up on the track, in the stadium before competition starts (possibly 18 athletes on two pits side by side is how prelims work: TOP 12-14 move to the finals total)

10 a.m.: Take a deep breath and BELIEVE< RELAX< and EXECUTE.

10:10 a.m.: BRING IT ON, ITS TIME TO FLY INTO THE FINALS.............

I'm not sure if that will bore any of you , but I think most everyone doesn't quite understand the process that we go through before the actual competition. I thought maybe some of you might be interested a bit. I am very precise in my routines before competitions. They are all the same. Nothing changes for the Olympics, except the external perception... Oh, and that IT'S THE FREAKIN' OLYMPICS! ha.

On a different kinda fun note, many of the athletes are tired of walking around the village and more bicycles are showing up as a way to get around.

One special one that is a hit is called the "Jaspeer". It's stinkin' saweet!

And I too am getting exhausted and annoyed from marching 10-15 minutes from apartment to bus station everytime I need to go train, eat, buy something in the international zone, get a taxi, find the buses to the venues, etc.

I'm not complaining in a bad way, I just found a way around that stress... So I bought one of the mini bikes here. They actually fold in half and the seat and handle bars come off and they fit in a 3'x3' box. They are super sweet, and have mini tires on them to keep them compact! Mine is a pearly pink color and I am loving it... It's funny to see the volleyball women riding them around, because the bikes are quite small looking, with adjustable seats and handles, and these women are all around 6 feet or taller! It's awsome. We have an Olympic bicycle clan. Thinkin' of trickin' it out with some spinners or somethin on the rims, maybe some dice for the handle bars and a bell dinger that plays "Remember the Name" rap song! Yeah... still a dreamer.

Y'all have a great day, and I'll connect with everyone in a few days, probably post-prelims if there is time.

Thanks peeps.

Aprizzle in the Olympizzle Foe...shizzle....

AUGUST 9, 2008: Let the Games begin!

Wow... Was the Opening Ceremonies not INCREDIBLE!!! I mean, they couldn't have had a more appreciative, patriotic, young buck out there marching with the U.S. team besides me!!! I am just all grins from ear to ear. The Ceremonies definitely took a toll on all of us as athletes.

First we marched into the Fencing Hall, just the U.S. team, and had an amazing introduction and meet-and-greet with the current president of the united States (his pops... we already have met him!) and Laura Bush as well. WOW... I was told by a secret service agent he's the first president to actually visit the Olympics on site for the Opening Ceremonies. Unbelievable to be a part of that.

Then, coming off the high of being in the presence of some of the most powerful men in the world, looking sharp as ever in our Ralph Lauren Polo suits, we began the long process of marching to the stadium. And let me tell you, summer in Beijing is not the most condusive weather for sports suits... We were all sweating like you couldn't imagine. Several hours of sitting, waiting, marching, snacking here and there, and the amount of water that was consumed in the process by all. Whew, talk about an initiation to the Olympic Games. All of the athletes that marched were troopers. We stuck it out together, sweated our hearts out to see and experience that Olympic moment, the one that hits your soul, your heart, our dreams coming true, no matter how drenched we were in our own sweat, knowing we were tough and we have all been through rigorous workouts. And all of the sudden, Kobe Byant, Carlos Boozer and all the NBA guys and gals that are high profile athletes, over the course of a few hours, became human, and celebrated with us, as people, not as these enormous icons, because they were toughin' it out like the rest of us, wanting to experience that same Olympic moment. It was incredible. We were one United States Olympic Team.

And so we entered the stadium to the chant of USA..! USA...! USA! And not only to enter a stadium, this is MY stadium, the one where the dream is going to play out to my family and friends and coach and the world! It's making me tear up thinking about it again. The moment happened for me, that Olympic moment, that realization, deep down that it's here, and the Games are about to begin... This moment happened as the Olympic torch was on its last stretch, before the runner was hoisted up to the ceiling... and made the final lap to the torch. That was the moment I balled!! With excitement, all of a sudden the sweaty mess we were swimming in wasn't there. I couldn't feel the aches in my feet, just the torch, the stadium, the cheers and tears, and Jeff Hartwig (he is our stud male pole vaulter who is 40 years old and finally experiencing his first Olympics!). He looked at me and said, with a HUGE grin, "You are lovin' this... aren't you?!" and he was chuckling a bit too, like a little kid. Priceless.

Let the games begin, let the dreams play out... IT'S ON NOW!

AUGUST 7, 2008 - Meeting Bush Sr.

Can you believe it... I am sitting in Beijing, China and feeling like I am on top of the world! The Olympic Village has a sort of magical feel to it, passing other Olympians from other countries and wondering what their sport is that made their dream come true. As well as getting to know our own team (595 members!) and all of their disciplines... It’s fascinating. The Chinese hospitality has been fabulous. I believe that I am 15 hours ahead of Arizona time so it’s crazy to phone home, and talk to mom and dad who are a half a day behind me!

Funny thing happened today… George Bush Sr. made a trip to BNU, the university which the Americans have taken over as a training site for all of our teams, and apparently he took on one of the table tennis athletes (ping pong!). He stepped in and watched the judo crew in one of their hardest practices this week, then he made his way out and of course... who wouldn't stick around to shake the hand of a President of the United States! So I waited near his car, mingling with secret service, patiently waiting to give him a gift from the U.S. Track and Field team, just some team gear and a couple track hats. So when he came out, he didn’t hesitate to come over to our little group and shake hands. Adam Nelson, who is a shot-putter (two-time Olympic silver medalist!) chit chatted for a bit, then it was my turn. He is sooo sweet, and has the charisma that a sweet grandpa has. He shook my hand and I introduced myself as a pole vaulter, then he told me a silly pole vault joke and we all laughed. Then he pulled me in -- mind you that he never let go of my had through the entire joke -- and spun me around so I was backwards, and gave me a great big hug! Ha. It was priceless. Then as he got into his car, he rolled down his window... he had put on one of the USA Track and Field hats that was in the bag and yelled “APRIL"! and gave me a big smile and wave... He was so wonderful and just loving his trip!

That was the highlight of my day :)

So much more I could spill but I will save some for later... What an amazing experience, and really, it’s all about the journey right? I am anxiously awaiting that Olympic moment… walking into the stadium in the opening ceremonies and feeling that Olympic energy I have been waiting for since I was 12 years old!

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