My oldest daughter got to meet one of the girls I idolized growing up, Nadia Comaneci. She was the first gymnast ever to be awarded a perfect 10 at the Olympics. She even has a gymnastics move named after her, the Comaneci salto (on the uneven bars). And all this by the time she was fourteen. By the time I was fourteen my greatest claim to fame was selling 414 boxes of girl scout cookies. Sigh.
However I was a great backyard gymnast. My friends and I would get togther in our backyards and practice handstands, cartwheels, splits, and back flips. Who could hold a hand stand the longest? Who dared to try a flip? The grass was soft, but not that soft. Who was flexible enough to pull off the splits?
In looking back, I think our backyard gym came about in no small part to Comaneci. I was eight at the time of her historical 1976 Montreal Olympics. The buzz her record 6 perfect tens caused around the world even made it into my, non-gymnastics one. I wanted to be like her. I'm not sure that it was the gymnastics so much. It was more her proud smile, sure walk, and never give up attitude. She was the liberated girl for me. The girl I wanted to become. The girl who was living behind the iron curtain and still succeeded. That's willpower.
As a writer, I try to create female characters that are strong, independent and able to take on the world. I think somewhere in there is the Nadia Comaneci of my childhood days. The girl who defied all to be the best she could be. She had so many battles to fight - poor country, Communiusm, living under one of the most brutal dictators in modern European history - and stilll persevered to excel at her craft. I have a lot of respect for her.
So it was pretty cool to actually meet her briefly on Sunday at the Nadia Comaneci Invitational in Oklahoma City. She handed out all of the awards, which is a lot, a ton really. Awards are given out to each age group per level. My daughter is in level 4 and it takes a solid half hour to hand out awards. Nadia did it. And she stuck around for a signing.
Signing? Panic set in. We hadn't brought anything to sign. My daughter desperately wanted Nadia's signature. I saw her touch her forehead, as if that might just have to do. I had searing visions of all the arguments over bathing that would follow. There had to be something else. There was that copy of Dragon Wishes I always carry around. I pulled it out, and I swear, I saw the beam of light break out of the heavens and shine down on it. We were saved.
The book is now sacred at our house. My daughter hasn't put it up on a pedestal quite yet, but I've seen her eyeing a shelf in her room. She did ask me to sign it - thank God. I haven't been completely usurped as childhood hero. Not quite.
But I couldn't think of a better role model if I am.