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Olympic-Size Stage Fright

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While I was watching the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics, I couldn't help but think how nervous the athletes must be!

tucker murphy of bermuda

Amy Brenneman: I watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics the other night.

I always get sucked in -- who doesn't? -- by the pageantry, the excitement, the hope and trepidation on the athletes' faces. I love watching the uniforms that each nation picks out for their team: fur-lined hats for Belarus; peasant pants for Algeria.

Bermuda shorts for, well, Bermuda.

The sole athlete representing Bermuda -- who I'm now totally invested in -- is a cross-country skier. He walked out wearing snappy red Bermuda shorts and a navy blazer, looking like he was ready to serve gin-and-tonics to a visiting boatload of billionaires. The Canadian flag-waver waved the Bermuda flag, just as her compatriots would do for the German team (which has more than 100 athletes) and the Canadian team (which has more than 200). No second-class treatment here. The lone guy was Bermuda's entire 2010 Winter Olympics team. In shorts.

So then you have to wonder: At what point did this guy say to himself, "Cross-country skiing is the sport for me! No swimming, scuba diving, sailing! No way, that's too easy. I'm going to commit to a sport that will completely uproot my life -- and my family's, too -- and move to ... Utah? New Hampshire? Gstaad? I'm going to train to be a cross-country skier in the Winter Olympics! And I am going to kick some serious ass!"

I am an athlete who hated to compete. When I was 13, out of the clear blue, I found I had legs that could carry me fast and far. I ran cross-country for four years, and in the spring ran track (the 1500 and 3000 meters). I loved to train, loved to run, HATED to compete. I lived in terror of it. I would sit in Spanish class, my last period of the day, and press my nose against the glass -- praying for rain, praying for a cancellation of the meet. My heart skipped a beat if I saw a few drops, but sank if I realized it wasn't going to be enough to rain us out. I'd hyperventilate. I'd get the runs. I dreaded starting guns.

This was at the same point when I started acting in plays. I ate it up -- I was a true drama geek -- and started playing big, showy parts. I was good. I had talent. But what's more, I had confidence. I never feared forgetting my lines; I just figured, Okay, whatever happens on stage, I'll make something up and it'll be okay. So when people found out how nervous I was about track meets, they were amazed. "But you get up on stage and do all this outrageous stuff," they'd say. "Aren't you nervous then?"

No, never. Don't know why, but the stage was my home. I knew it from the first time I played chorus member #74 in "The Music Man" at age 11. I was coming home. This was my safe place.

Athletic competitions? Not so much. I look at these Olympians and think, Holy crap they must be nervous! Competing on this level in front of the entire world?! But then I realize that no, this is their safe place. Those skates, those snowboards, those cross-country skis in Bermuda -- those things feel safe to those athletes. They thrive on them the way I did on stage. We find our homes, and there we pursue our dreams. It's just that that guy in Bermuda had a longer commute.

1 comments so far | Post a comment now
Rachel  February 19, 2010, 1:56 PM

My safe place is competing. I’ve ridden horses in competitions since I was 13. I love it. Now…on stage, that’s a different story. I don’t see how y’all do it. you said, we all have our safe place.

I love reading your insights to life. They get my little brain working. So…thank you. =] ~Rachel

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