When I heard I was getting the opportunity to attend the Olympics in Rio, I knew it was a big deal—like, we’re talking bucket list item. My mind raced, thinking of all the amazing events, venues and athletes I would get to see and hopefully (fingers crossed) meet.
My adrenaline started pumping from the moment my flight touched down. First up was the opening ceremonies. The evening was really exciting, with over 60,000 people filling Rio’s Maracanã Stadium. The feeling of being around that many people cheering and chanting with so much energy was incredible. I waited for Canada to enter to get a glimpse of Rosie MacLennan (who has since won a gold medal in Trampoline) leading the athletes in with the Canadian flag. Moments later I leaped out of my seat as the Canadians started marching in. My heart was full of pride; it was a wonderful moment.
I didn’t expect to experience the big rush of emotions I felt as the Refugee Olympic Team entered the stadium. For the first time in history, refugees were invited to compete in the Olympics. I later learned that one of them, 18-year-old Yusra Mardini, had crossed from Turkey into Greece in an inflatable boat. After the boat’s engine failed and it started to sink, she and her sister jumped into the cold Aegean Sea and pushed the boat to shore, saving the lives of 20 people.
Later, in between a few tennis matches and beach volleyball games, I had the opportunity to check out P&G’s Olympic Family house. This is a place where athletes and families can unwind and receive some well-deserved pampering. There’s even a laundry service, thanks to Tide. There’s also salon services from Pantene, Olay and CoverGirl and guys can hang in the “man cave” and get a hair or beard trim from Gillette and Head and Shoulders. Talk about VIP service!
After some chill time I had lunch with Rosie MacLennan’s mother, Jane, who’s part of the P&G #ThankYouMom program. I was curious to know what it takes to be the mother of such an impressive athlete. The first thing I asked was what it was like to raise girls, in sport. Jane quickly responded: “It’s important that girls are raised like boys. Girls compete in the same world as boys, so sport teaches girls (and children) about life. Sports are social and make you set goals. Sport teaches you how to work both as a team and as an individual.”
That really hit a chord with me. Life is about learning and playing sports helps you learn how to deal with the highs and the lows. June went on to say, “You don’t always win in life. You need to learn how to fail, dust off and push yourself again.”
The thought that sports can really transform someone’s life sat deep with me. Later I attended the launch of a new program called One Win Leads to Another, a joint effort between UN Women and the International Olympic Committee and supported by Always. It’s about empowering young women and girls through sport. I heard from Brazilian volleyball Olympic medal winner Adriana Behar that “We should all become champions in our own lives,” and from a 16-year-old girl who benefits from the program who proudly declared, “All goals are possible in life. Never quit.” This was so inspiring, coming from a girl who faces immense challenges growing up in a favela in Rio.
The Olympics are a very exciting time. I’m so happy and proud for all the athletes who return home with personal accomplishments and medals. I’m also happy that I returned home with some valuable lessons. Athletes don’t make it to the podium alone. It’s usually with much help from their families, often their moms. Sports help even out the playing field in life for many girls. And we can all learn something from sports that we can apply to our own lives.
I didn’t realize that this journey was about to teach me much more than I had thought. Here are a few of the wins I took away with me from the Olympics.
Win #1: The human spirit is extremely powerful, and we’re able to accomplish remarkable things.
Win #2: Sports (and life) are all about learning how to deal with ups and downs.
Win #3: Sport is a powerful tool that can help young girls build self-confidence and empower them to take on leadership roles.