Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Better Than Phelps

Nothing at all against Michael Phelps. His is a remarkable story, and he seems like a grounded young man who's keenly aware of the bubble in which he's lived in order to reach his Olympian heights.

But you keep Phelps. I'm going with Stephanie Brown Trafton as my Beijing Olympic hero.

If there are people left who embody the Olympic ideal, Stephanie is one of them. She's a Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo grad who jokes that her Olympic ambitions began when she watched Mary Lou Retton win gold at the Los Angeles Olympics--but because Stephanie grew to be 6'4" and 225 poiunds, gymnastics didn't really work out for her.

Trafton can't make a living throwing her disc. She has a job with an environmental consulting firm in Sacramento, where they let her work flexible hours so she can train and compete.

She made the 2004 Olympic team but came home from Athens without making the finals. This year, she grabbed the final spot on the U.S. team, then barely escaped the qualifying round to make the finals. While she waited in the pressure-packed Bird's Nest, she sang favorite gospel songs to herself to calm her nerves.

It may have been a tense scene, but it was not an unfamiliar one. Trafton had spent months working out in her garage at home, looking at a huge photo of the Olympic stadium taken from the perspective of the discus ring. She even hauled that poster to Beijing and tacked it up in her Olympic Village apartment.

Look, I know the pixie gymnasts and sleek swimmers (to say nothing of the barely-clad beach volleyballers) get all the TV attention. But Stephanie Brown Trafton is a big girl who came up big. Hats off to her.

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