It's November 2. Happy birthday, Phoebe Mills, the Olympic bronze medalist with 40 reasons to celebrate!
When I was 15 and it was spring of 1988, Mills emerged as a contender for the Seoul Olympics gymnastics competition around the time a newspaper ad appeared in the Daily Oklahoman inviting folks to volunteer for U.S. Olympic Festival '89. Chatting with a friend, I signed up to donate time stating, "Maybe this is one way I could meet that cute gymnast (who is my age), Phoebe Mills."
That volunteer gig changed my life, and on an early volunteer assignment we sat in a rain-soaked tent at the State Fair of Oklahoma recruiting more volunteers and watching Mills win bronze on the balance beam via NBC's Olympic coverage. So cool!
Of course, a few months after Seoul, Mills wrapped up her gymnastics career before the '89 Festival (drat!), but I did meet one of her sisters, a figure skater, when she competed in Oklahoma City. Phoebe was nice enough to reply to a fan letter I sent to her, and that was pretty much the end of that.
Fast forward to the summer of 1993, during which I picked up a Texas Torch Relay volunteer spot for U.S. Olympic Festival '93 in San Antonio (another life-shaping experience that influenced my selection of public relations/journalism pursuits). When the relay ended at the gleaming new Alamodome (the Olympic Festival opening ceremony was the venue's debut event), in the press box I learned Phoebe Mills returned to Olympic pursuits as a competitive diver (hooray!).
It was a bummer to learn, however, I'd miss her diving competition by a day or two (with the Torch Relay complete, I went on back to Oklahoma early during the Festival, seriously bummed).
Just a college year later, during the summer of 1994 (best ... summer ... ever, working as U.S.O.F. employee in the Olympic Village at Washington University in St. Louis, site of 1904 Olympic competitions), the stars aligned, sort of, and I shared a brief, albeit embarrassing, introduction to Phoebe Mills. Hopefully she does not remember this intro.
You see, one morning in the Olympic Village dining hall, I dragged myself (dog tired) in to breakfast, and while dispensing grape juice or some other beverage, half-awake I looked up to find Phoebe Mills standing beside me in line at the juice bar. Hello!
In an instant I thought, "Finally, I can tell this person she changed my life! If I hadn't volunteered in 1989, specifically to meet her, my Olympic aspirations might have remained dormant. I'm your No. 1 fan! Thank you for changing my life, Phoebe! You're beautiful ... (etc. etc. more embarrassing crush stuff)."
If only I had spoken up!
Sadly, these thoughts were all for naught as in my dazed and surprised state, the grape juice I dispensed overfilled my glass, pouring over my clueless hands and cascading into a messy pool at our feet.
Mortified, I stepped away apologizing, retreating to retrieve an Olympic Village mop, and by my blushed return, Phoebe Mills vanished from the dining hall and my message of thanks remained only in my brain. Until now.
I appreciate that Phoebe Mills, the newest 40-something Olympian, was driven during the 1980s in gymnastics and that she inspired me (and I suspect thousands of other fans) to step into the Olympic circles and get involved with this great Olympic Family. I am thankful that Phoebe's family pushed her, and her fellow Olympic siblings, as members of a peer family in the Midwestern U.S. (still have the magazine article about their collective five-ringed aspirations).
I also wish our paths had crossed again at one of the eight Olympics and two Olympic bids at which I worked or volunteered over the years (we had a near-miss again in Salt Lake as we apparently were on the same Park City bus but I was on a new-fangled cell phone too many aisles away).
It is really cool that Phoebe continued with athletic pursuits after gymnastics, first as a diver and then as a snowboarding entrant (it's my understanding she now is an attorney and/or board member with the U.S. Snowboarding team). See, she turned out to be beautiful and athletic and smart, too! Bravo!
While visiting family in Oklahoma last week, I stopped by the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame, which is now nestled in the science museum in Oklahoma City. But there was no mention of Phoebe Mills! Hello, will someone in the international gymnastics community wake up and nominate Mills for the Hall of Fame?!? She's a bronze medalist, after all. Duh! Wake up, H.O.F., and get this nomination started, pronto!
Just now online, a quick search yielded Mills' name among the inductees for the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame (whew!).
Writing this post tonight, there was also a reminder that in London at USA House this summer, I shook hands with Bela Karolyi, the famous coach of Nadia, Mary Lou Retton, Mills and other U.S. women's gymnasts, and asked him specifically about Phoebe, "Do you keep in touch?"
Karolyi smiled, then sort of winced and said in that Bela voice, "Not as often as I should."
Here's hoping on this milestone birthday year he remembered to reach out and catch up with Mills.
Phoebe Mills turns 40 today. Happy birthday and thank you.
Photo copyright Corbis via this link