I love the Olympics. This last week my family has gathered to watch many of the swimming events and it has been a thrill to watch Michael Phelps earn his 22nd medal during these Olympic Games. It makes it even more fun for me since I had the opportunity to meet him while he was in Charlotte, NC about seven years ago. Although he was extremely nice, I am still embarrassed when I recall that introduction to Michael Phelps (but not embarrassed enough not to tell you the story).
Every year in Charlotte, swimmers from all over the country come to swim in the Ultra Swim meet downtown at the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center. The swim club where our children swim (SwimMAC) is closely associated with the meet, providing timers, hospitality, hosting swimmers, and providing transportation. As the owner of a 15 passenger club wagon (yes – that’s what I drive everyday), I was immediately called upon to help with transport. Along with about three or four other vans, we would drive the swimmers from the airport to their hotel. My daughter (#2) Mary Kate, another teammate of hers, Joseph, and our newborn baby at the time (#8) C.C. came with me to the Charlotte Douglass airport to pick up a group of swimmers from Michigan. We knew Michael Phelps and his coach Bob Bowman would be among the group, but had no idea who we would be driving. As we waited in the car in front of the airport, we watched the group of tall swimmers come out and start loading in the vans that had lined up to drive them to the hotel. We saw Michael come out, look around…and start heading our way!! Needless to say, Mary Kate, who was a huge fan, was thrilled when he got into the van and said hello with that great smile. As it turned out, getting into our car would be lucky for us…but not so much for Michael.
After Michael and about six other Michigan swimmers piled into the van we headed off toward their hotel in downtown Charlotte. Mary Kate and Joseph found themselves a little tongue-tied, but Michael and the other swimmers were all very gracious. He was enamored with C.C., our newborn, and told us that his sister was getting ready to have a baby and how excited he was to be an uncle. We talked about his family, his favorite event, and chit chatted with all the swimmers in the van. When we pulled up to the Hilton, I looked for the other cars to see where we should drop off the swimmers, but I couldn’t find them. So we got out of the van, helped the swimmers with their bags, and asked if Mary Kate and Joseph could take a few pictures with Michael. He said sure, and I snapped two pictures with my phone. We said goodbye and wished them all luck at the swim meet, as he and the other swimmers headed toward the hotel entrance. As they left, we asked them if they wanted us to wait there for the others. Michael turned to us and said, “No, we’ll be fine. I’ll give coach a call when we get inside…Thanks for the ride!” So we left.
Back in the car and on the way home, Mary Kate and Joseph were talking excitedly about their conversation with Michael. “I can’t believe Michael Phelps got into our van!” Joseph said. About 10 minutes later, one of the other drivers of the transport vans passed us on the highway on her way back from the hotel. It was my friend, Stacy. We called her and told her about Michael and our conversation, and then I asked her where she and the others had been when we dropped the swimmers at the Hilton. “Hilton?” She asked. “You mean the Hilton Gardens, right?” I swallowed hard. Hilton Gardens? And then I realized I had left the swimmers at the wrong hotel. It was too late to go back…after all it would be at least 40 minutes from the time we left when we got there. I quickly had Mary Kate do a mapquest and we saw that the Hilton Gardens Hotel was about a two block walk for Phelps and his fellow swimmers. I imagined them dragging their bags and swim equipment to the other hotel… Needless to say, I felt horrible. When we got home, Mary Kate took my phone to show her brother the pictures of her with Michael Phelps. It turned out that didn’t work out either…neither picture turned out!
That night we all went to the Ultra Swim meet. As I walked through the doors to enter the pool deck, I noticed the team from Michigan was sitting right at our left, and there was Michael fiddling with a pair of goggles. We happened to both look up at the same time. “I am so sorry about dropping you guys off at the wrong hotel!” I told him. He just gave us that huge smile and said…”It was no big deal, we needed a good walk after the flight anyway!” I felt much better after that. Unfortunately, though, my embarrassing day wouldn’t end there. About an hour into the meet, I had to take our 2 year-old , John (#7) out because he was fussy. I didn’t even realize that as I stood holding him…I was right next to a fire alarm. Suddenly I heard this incredibly loud alarm going off, and I looked around to see everyone holding their ears and wondering if they should all run outside. That was when I looked over and saw John’s hand on the fire alarm where he had just pulled it down. For the second time that day, I swallowed hard…
We lived through those mortifying moments and are here to say Congratulations to Michael Phelps and to all of the American swimmers who made us all proud this year at the Olympic Games! We are especially proud of our friend Coach David Marsh and the SwimMAC team that did so well at the Games…Great Job Everyone!!!!