If there’s one thing I have learned about parenting, it’s that you never truly know just how far you will go to make your kids happy. For instance, let’s say that you were going to be spending a week in the same hotel as your child’s sports hero. While there is definitely the option of ignoring that fact and moving on with your day, one must also consider the look of sheer joy on your child’s face when they see that hero from across the room.
This was the dilemma I found myself in as we spent the past week in Houston, Texas at the Simone Biles International Invitational Gymnastics Meet. For those of you who don’t know who Simone Biles is, I think it’s fair to say that by the time she retires, she will be one of the most decorated gymnasts ever. So, in my daughter’s world, she’s kind of a big deal. In the weeks leading up to the event, I tried to woo Simone into taking a team photo with our girls by promising to embarrass myself in front of large crowds of people (you’ve all seen this orange leotard by now). While I got a like or two from her on Twitter, no dialogue took place.
I know you may be thinking “Why do something embarrassing when you could simply approach her at the event?” That’s an excellent question, and I’ll tell you a couple reasons why. There were approximately 1600 gymnasts registered for this event, meaning it was unlikely that Simone would dare walk through the lobby of the hotel. Also, I have seen these girls in action as they try to get photos with their favourite gymnasts and knowing how badly my 8 year old wanted to meet Simone, I knew she’d need a photographer to tag along with her…
It was my son, of all people, who spotted her first, and as I watched the swarm of girls running up the stairwell Simone has just vanished into, I realized that the game had just begun. My father introduced me to Sherlock Holmes when I was young, and I had always believed that he was the smartest detective on the planet. That was until I saw this group of young gymnasts piecing together the clues of where Simone would turn up next. If I’m being completely honest, there were times where I felt uncomfortable about the whole thing, but seeing my daughter’s tears of joy after simply being in the same room as Simone Biles, I pressed on.
By the 3rd day, the girls figured they had enough information to make their dream of a photo with Simone come true. They had the hotel layout down, they knew who the security guard to watch was, and they knew that Simone was handing out the medals for some of the events. Frankly, if they don’t get jobs in law enforcement, I’d be shocked. And then it finally happened. We were sitting in the lobby late that night, possibly even later than we should have, sorry coaches, when Simone popped up right behind us. I flagged my little one and as the others stared in awe, she bravely approached her hero to ask for a photo.
There was one part of their plan the kids hadn’t taken into account. This was a busy weekend for their gymnastics icon as she worked long hours to hand out as many medals as possible, and by the end of the day she was tired. I completely understood when she answered my daughter with “hi sweetie, I’m not taking any pictures tonight”, but I knew that I would need to act quickly to do some damage control. As my little turned back towards me and the tears began to fill her eyes, my wife and I reminded her that while it wasn’t the result she was hoping for, she had just had a conversation with the reigning Olympic gold medalist! And you know what? It worked! Her tears quickly turned into a smile and we celebrated a small victory.
If that was how this story ended, we would have been more than happy. The girls had a great time chasing Simone Biles around the hotel, often shouting “We love you, Simone”, and often getting a wave back from her. They’d giggle and run down to tell the parents what had just happened and we’d laugh to each other about how excited they were. Fate, it would seem, was on our side this weekend and not surprisingly, this story ends with me excusing myself from a room due to overwhelming tears of joy.
I mentioned earlier that Simone was handing out the awards for some of the events, however, due to the fact that there were 3 venues, no one knew which ones she would be attending. As we sat in the awards room, watching the girls collect their medals, I kept peeking at the secret door in the back of the room, willing her to bust through. I’m glad I took a video because most of what happened next was a blur. I remember the moment my daughter saw her. I remember hearing her name get called. And I remember the biggest smile I’ve ever seen as the medal got placed around her neck.
As I moved to the back of the room and began talking to another parent about my daughter’s excitement, I started to feel the familiar sting of tears that has become common since becoming a parent. I left the room for a moment to gather myself and made it back in time for the cherry on top of the weekend. A team photo with Simone. It was perfect.
We came home with some new hardware, better friendships and some amazing memories. Not to be outdone, as the final award ceremony concluded, the parents decided that after all our hard work, we wanted a photo with Simone as well… I hope she knows that the younger kids really do look up to her and that all the intrusions were done out of love and admiration.