Only strong will survive tragic tales

September 21, 2000|By Kevin Cowherd

DEAR OLYMPIC athlete,

Greetings from NBC-TV! In order that we may work up a suitably maudlin profile to run concurrent with your event in Sydney, please take a moment to fill out the following questionnaire:

1. Explain, in as much lurid detail as you like, the nature of the recent tragedy that befell you or a member of your family, and from which you will now draw inspiration as you compete.

2. Oh, come on! There must be something.

3. Think, now! You mean you never:

a) Lost a limb in a horrendous combine accident?

b) Missed a turn in your late-model automobile and plunged into a shallow pond, where you sat for 12 hours with a broken back and ruptured spleen until discovered by an old man walking his dog and eventually rescued?

c) Came upon the seemingly lifeless body of a family member draped across a downed power line during an ice storm?

4. OK, fine. Perhaps it was something less dramatic. Maybe something from your childhood, a simple tonsillectomy that went horribly awry and left you with a raging 104-degree fever, thrashing semi-coherently on a gurney as doctors frantically administered one experimental antibiotic after another and the hospital chaplain murmured reassuringly to your anxious parents out in the hallway?

5. If you could choose the appropriate musical score to accompany your NBC profile, it would be:

a) "Wind Beneath My Wings"

b) "I Will Survive"

c) "Theme from `Rocky'"

6. As you lay in your hospital bed all those weeks, was there ever a time when you thought seriously of giving up on your dreams of Olympic gold?

a) "No, sirree!"

b) "No way, dude!"

c) "No, that's not how I was raised."

d) "Yes, but only briefly. Then I stopped feeling sorry for myself and resolved to be the best darn one-legged javelin thrower in Olympic history!"

7. During the endless, grueling months of rehabilitation that followed, what did the cynical doctors and therapists tell you?

a) You'd never walk again, let alone compete in the Olympics.

b) You'd never breathe again, let alone walk.

c) You'd never exist again, let alone breathe.

8. How old were you when you first began dreaming of winning an Olympic gold medal?

a) In utero

b) 1

c) 3

d) 5

9. Obviously, an inspirational story such as yours could never happen without the unwavering support of a vast army of family and friends. Who in particular do you credit for your stirring come-back?(Please provide us with this person's exact seat location at venue, so NBC cameras can focus on him/her endlessly and chronicle the requisite tears, whoops of joy, waving of small flags, etc.)

a) Your mom, who raised eight kids on a school cafeteria worker's salary of $1.25 per week.

b) Your dad, who worked a double shift in a coal mine for 27 years and explained his 18-hour workdays by stoically hacking up a small cloud of coal dust and saying: "The boy's gotta have his gymnastics lessons."

c) Your moon-faced little brother, who attended every one of your equestrian events despite a crippling fear of horses and acute asthma made worse by even minimal exposure to hay.

10. If you could choose the appropriate closing shot for your NBC profile, it would feature you:

a) Walking along the seashore, contentedly contemplating your new life as the waves crash around you and seagulls swoop and scream.

b) Paddling your kayak on a pristine river, basking in the early-morning stillness and quietly reflecting on the transformation you've made, both as an athlete and a person.

c) Throwing open the door of your new condo and barking at the neighborhood kids who get too close to your new Lexus, which you earned the old-fashioned way: cashing in on your NBC-aided Olympic celebrity.

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