Gary Hall Sr.
Olympian, Swimming 1968, 1972 and 1976
Never have I been more proud to be an American than I was that emotional day in August 1976 when all of the USA Olympic team captains gathered to decide who would lead the world’s greatest athletic team into the Opening Ceremony. I sat in the room dazed by the realization that I was selected for that honor; to hoist the stars and stripes and lead us into Montreal Olympic Stadium. I recall my entire body trembling with excitement, as I emerged from the long tunnel leading into the stadium the following day, while some 80,000 spectators stood and cheered. It was a surreal moment; one I will never forget.
I recall passing the Queen of England sitting in the stands and giving a wave of my hand, recognizing her presence. I did not dip our flag, as has been our custom since the 1920’s. We are a proud nation.
I did not see my wife Mary, who was seated near the front row, nor my son, Gary Jr, who was only two years old and waving his own smaller version of the American flag. Nor could I hear my son yelling “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” But I knew they were there.
I had no idea that little two year old would grow up to surpass his father’s Olympic accomplishments years later.
It is a tremendous honor to represent one’s country in the Olympics. When you add the honor of carrying your country’s flag and leading your team, it becomes difficult to describe. It was a time that I endeared.
I have thought about that day often in the 33 years since it passed. Each time I recall the feeling I had that day, the honor seems to grow. It doesn’t grow in the way that folklore grows. What happened that day was very real. The honor grows because as one’s life passes by, one realizes that there are few moments when one can express or feel such pride to be American. We must savor those moments.
Every Olympian and Paralympian from every country of the world has an incredible story to tell about his or her experience in the Games. Most of those stories will never be heard, yet they are inspiring, motivating, and meaningful. They need to be heard.
It has become my goal to mobilize the Olympians of the world through a program called World Fit. The mission is to mobilize the world’s youth; to get them physically active; out from behind their computers, televisions or cell phones and doing something about their health and fitness. Walking is the simplest and easiest way to start. The Olympian becomes the messenger, telling his or her story to middle school students; at an age when, hopefully, the students will listen.
The heart of World Fit is the Walk; six weeks every Spring when students, teachers, parents and friends walk for fitness and good health, logging their miles on campus every day. In the spirit of Olympic competition, students, classes and schools compete for the best record of fitness. Students are rewarded for their achievements. And best of all, the Olympian, who adopts the school for life, gets to tell his or her inspiring story over and over again, year after year. Each time, the Olympic story is told with a message about staying fit.
So watch out world! Here we come. The Olympians and Paralympians are on a mission to make us all healthier through World Fit. Get ready to start walking in Spring 2010!