You know what makes competing overseas such an enjoyable experience? Having fans. It is such a different experience from the meets we have in the states where track and field is not such a popular sport and where the athletes aren’t really admired in the same way. I remember my first encounter in Europe after a meet where people came up to me asking for autographs and pictures. So this is what Kobe feels like! Wow. I loved it…loved the idea of people being so interested and captivated by us and what we do. I can’t imagine ever not wanting to put my name on piece of paper or the back of someone’s shirt if they wanted it. If that means something to you, I’m honored.
This past weekend in Africa, the people were great. They cheered loudly and had the most infectious energy. Many of them wanted to take pictures with us, albeit with our cameras. They don’t have cameras of their own, but they would ask for pictures to be taken on our personal cameras with them. It was quite endearing. Not many asked for autographs but one adorable little boy did ask for my flowers after I won the 200 and I was happy to hand them over, thinking in my head that perhaps he would present them to his mother later that evening or maybe even to a special young lady he fancied.
But these kids surprised many of us by asking for something we hardly ever get requests for. They wanted our water bottles. And in a few cases, our power bars that were half eaten. Even typing that now brings tears to my eyes. I go through water bottles at track meets like they are going out of style. If I have one and set it down somewhere, it’s probably easier to just pick up a new one because who knows which one is actually mine. After our race they handed out liter bottles and I would take a few sips and get annoyed they had such large bottles for us to carry around. That is, until a little boy asked for some of my water, took a sip, passed it to his friend to have some, and then tried to hand it back to me. I tried to tell him he could have it but my English and his French were not matching up. Finally he understood and skipped off happily with my partly used water bottle. I then went over to where they were storing the water for the athletes and stuffed as many as I could in my bag and just kept one out to walk around with until someone would ask me for one.
Sometimes life teaches you important lessons in the smallest of ways.