Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Perfect Ten

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.

13 comments:

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

How cool! She looks gorgeous still. I remember well those days--I had a little book of all the gymnasts and she was among my favorites when I was young. Your lucky daughter.

PJ Hoover said...

What am awesome story! yes, she was the best and certainly left her mark on the world!

Joy said...

I remember watching a movie about her and loving her from that moment on!

A side note: I've really been thinking a lot about your challenge to find the story in everything. I found one while vacationing in Cancun and am going to pitch it to Highlights soon. Thanks :)

Patty P said...

I have that very cover. It's beautiful and is tucked away in my closet. When I was 13, I read anything I could on Nadia. I still have my magnetic photo album filled with clippings from the newspaper and International Gymnast. I love gymnastics! You must be very proud of your level 4 daughter ( I was trained to judge levels 4-6!)She's totally adorable (given that she's the kid in the photo!)

American in Norway said...

I LOVED Nadia when I was a little girl... I remember watching those Olympics.... How cool y'all were able to meet her!


(I live in Fredrikstad...about an hour outside of Oslo - 1/2 hr from Sweden...) Why were you in Germany? I lived in Germany for 2 years going to University... I love Germany...sigh...

Stacy Nyikos said...

Yeah, it was really cool meeting her. Just seeing a person who's accomplished so much in the flesh is gratifying. She really exists. And she keeps helping kids. Love it.

I lived in Innsbruck for a year as a college exchange student, met my now husband, fell madly and passionately in love, and later moved to Kiel to be near him and complete an MA. Where did you go to school in Germany??

Donna-M said...

Hi,,,just read your Nadia post and your daughter was so lucky to meet Nadia!
Anyone interested in knowing more about Nadia and what she's doing these days could be interested in reading my blog about her:
www.worldwidefansofnadiacomaneci.blogspot.com

or join my yahoo group:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/worldwidefansofnadiacomaneci

sincerely,
Donna-M

Stacy Nyikos said...

Donna, thanks for posting. It sounds like a neat group.

Lilly's Life said...

That is so gorgeous. Yes I remember her and those times well too. She look more gorgeous than ever as she is in her 40s isnt she? Looks much younger. Wonderful for your daughter and the others coming to have someone of her ilk there to give them awards. Yes that book will be even more precious now.

Rena said...

I am SOOOOOOOOOO jealous! I totally adored Nadia when I was younger and into gymnastics. I was at the Montreal Olympics, but we couldn't get tickets to the gymnastics event unfortunately. I would have loved to have seen her. She looks absolutely stunning in your picture. Way, way cool!

Stacy Nyikos said...

You were at the Olympics in Montreal in 1976???? Now I'm jealous! That would have been an awesome Olympics to go to!

Amy said...

haha, cool story :)
btw: i cant wait to read your book, it looks great.
-amy

Barrie said...

Great story. Stacy, you're the only person who has her book signed by Nadia!