Reynolds Blog: Opportunity of a Lifetime
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June 19, 2007
One way I often describe our championship win is "surreal". Every athlete dreams of being a part of history, but once you live out the goal that you have expected for your team all season, the flood of emotions makes the event dreamlike and hard to process. In many ways, meeting the President was a similar experience for me. Unlike winning a national championship, I had never even imagined that I would have the chance to meet the President. While achieving our championship goal is an opportunity we had control over, meeting the President is an honor that is given. As my teammates and I walked through the doors of the White House, I could not help but question whether or not it was really happening. The building itself breathes so much history that walking down the entrance hall gives you butterflies, even before the rooms and portraits come into view. But the good stuff was yet to come.
As the President walks into the State Dining Room where we had been stationed with three other teams to have our photograph taken with the President, all eyes turn as one might expect. The only way I can describe the proceedings is that I felt like I was watching TV. As the President makes his way from team to team, I have a very cliché moment of thinking that he looks just like he does on the news. Thankfully though, the President is warm and personable, which makes us feel welcome and eases nerves a little.
He shakes about half of our hands while we try not to have a Forrest Gump moment and say anything embarrassing. As any smart man might, he appeals to our sense of team and school pride by saying at the outset that we were the first bowling team he knew of to visit the White House, following that by giving our university some high praise. As we hand over our team gift, none of us are sure whether or not the President will anticipate the 15 pounds of ball that often surprises people outside of our sport, or give a little underneath it. He took it in stride. We had asked around ahead of time about the bowling lanes installed underground by President Nixon and whether or not they got any use. So, to gauge his experience level a little, one of my teammates asks the President if he takes advantage of the lanes or not. He tells us that the facilities are pretty outdated, but he does do some bowling at Camp David. If he actually thought we were crazy for giving him a specially made red, white and blue bowling ball instead of the token team jersey and hat, he hid it pretty well. He posed with us for our official picture and then was off to the next team. The brevity of the meeting did little to take away its exceptionality.
Next, we are introduced to the gathered crowd and descend the staircase to the South Lawn to the sounds of "Dynamite" being played by the Marine Band. Here the President addresses all of the teams together. As he stands on stage with all of the team captains behind him, this again has a CNN feel to it; vaguely familiar because you have seen the same podium on the news. He keeps it relatively informal, cracking jokes about team mascots and how hot it is outside. He makes sure to honor the exceptional teams who won repeat championships, set records, or achieved landmarks for their universities, including Vanderbilt. All the while I cannot help but feel like I am getting some sort of privileged view. As if no one else has heard the band play "Hail to the Chief" or knows how green the grass is on the South Lawn, although the untruth there is obvious. I knew coming into the day that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, which is exactly how it felt.
When my coach called over a month ago to say that the team is going to see the President, I could not believe it. I still can't. If my team is fortunate enough to have our hard work pay these same dividends next year, I probably won't believe it then either.
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