I went straight to the TV and learned of the early morning explosion at the Centennial Olympic Park. As various Olympic venues observed a moment of silence for the injured and deceased, my thoughts went to the Ocoee River. My husband, Steve, and my nine-year-old son, Andrew, are at the river today.
Reports Friday indicated that security around the river venue was tight. Though the site is far removed from Centennial Olympic Park, I am concerned for the safety of my husband and son.
Carrie added, "Mom, it's a good thing we went to the Olympics last week." Over the next 10 hours, as we waited for news from Steve and Andrew and watched the games and unfolding investigation, I thought about what the games have meant to our family.
In spite of the tragic bombing, I want to share our Olympic 1996 experience.
It began with a pin trading craze, ignited by an article about the Olympics hobby. During the Torch Relay Ceremony in Cookeville, we spoke with a veteran pin trader who helped us with our first trade: an Olympic torch pin for a baseball pin. Then a Coca-Cola employee gave me an Ocoee River pin. And our entire family became hooked. We shopped and asked for pins everywhere. Armed with pins bought in Cookeville and given to us by others, we embarked on a new adventure. The Atlanta Centennial Games.
Admittedly, I am easily impressed, and I was in awe during our entire trip. Our first stop in Georgia was at the Georgia Welcome Center just south of Chattanooga. The friendly staff offered to call Atlanta area motels for rooms in the $50-$70 range. Ouch! Our reservations were much more expensive and already paid for.
Pins, pins, Olympic pins everywhere, starting at the Welcome Center. One of the booths there included 400 different pins. We bought a book that pictured over 2,200. Later we learned the pins number two to three times that amount.
On the way to our first Olympic event, we navigated through the system of buses and trains known as MARTA. Although we were sometimes squooshed, the MARTA experience was great. Well-informed, pleasant staff members guided us to unmarked park and ride lots. Passengers cheerfully offered directions and advice.
After successfully riding MARTA to the site of the gymnastics venue, we were ready for our first Olympic event, women's gymnastics podium training. It was fantastic! We watched gymnasts from all the participating countries. Although our seats were in the nose-bleed section, Andrew loved them, saying "We can see everything! I hope all of our seats are like this."
On the day of the Opening Ceremony, we played in Centennial Olympic Park. Andrew and Carrie enjoyed the coolness of the water fountain. We must have looked like your average American family because a newspaper reporter from Columbia, S.C., searching for just that surprised us by interviewing our entire family. His goal was to learn what an average family was doing during the Opening Ceremony. We were there in the park, but as the crowds swelled, we ducked into the downtown visitors' center. What luck. They were showing the ceremony on a theater screen. And Andrew and Carrie enjoyed accessing Olympic information on interactive computers.
Later we attended judo and baseball games and found watching the crowd just as fun as the competition. Our pin trading continued, proving amazing as a spectator and participant. We traded with people from Spain, Korea, Japan, India, the Ukraine and Australia. A young athlete from Spain was thrilled when Carrie traded her a Sea World Olympic pin. A Japanese newspaper reporter traded us a pin produced by his paper especially for the Olympics, glad to get an American pin in return.
Another surprise was in encountering friends from Cookeville amid the Atlanta crowds. Even more interesting, we met people from Cookeville for the very first time.
In contrast to negative reports from Atlanta, our experience was wholly positive. Olympic volunteers and security were helpful and full of hospitality. I thank them for hosting the games. Going to Atlanta to see the Olympics is definitely a cherished memory for our family. Andrew's response during judo was a quiet, "Awesome." Carrie speaks of us seeing the games together. And Steve remains impressed with the volunteers and the friendliness of everyone we encountered.
And now, a week later, Andrew and Steve were at the kayaking races on the Ocoee. Hours passed Saturday, but no devastating news bulletins emerged from the kayak venue. They seemed safe.
6:45 p.m. - Steve called from Dayton, Tenn., after leaving the Ocoee River Olympic venue. He was unaware of the bombing. Shuttles carrying spectators to the site were delayed. Lines to ride the shuttles were a quarter mile long; yet, folks in line were not discussing the bombing. It seems that most had left home without watching any TV. Due to the extra security and press of crowds, many spectators, my family included, were about three hours late for the kayaking races, thus missing the moment of silence there that alerted many to the bombing.
8:45 p.m. - Andrew and Steve returned home from the Ocoee River. Our family is again together. Despite the hours of concern Carrie and I experienced Saturday, all of us are richer for our Olympics experience. Let the games continue!
Cynthia N. Bryant is assistant director of the Counseling Center at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville. Husband Steve is a loan review officer at Union Planters Bank. Andrew is a fourth grader and Carrie a first grader at Cane Creek Elementary School in Cookeville.