The Kiddy Pool: All in the Olympic Family

Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.

Like so many others around the world, I’m watching the Winter Olympic Games and getting my quadrennial fix of sports like the skeleton. I’m still trying to comprehend the allure of sliding headfirst, at speeds approaching 70-80 miles an hour on what one commentator described as essentially a cookie sheet. Yet while I’m not a daredevil by any definition, I found myself relating to and rooting for Noelle Pikus-Pace, the American who won the 2014 silver medal. I watched as, after her final slide, she leapt into the stands, eager to reach her family, and shouting “We did it!”

Though she rode down the hill solo, there was no “I” for Pikus-Pace, who embraced her husband and children all while jumping up and down and repeating her the exclamation “We did it!” This victory marked the slider’s retirement run after returning from an earlier retirement—a decision she reversed after suffering from a miscarriage. As the human interest story surrounding her slides revealed, Pikus-Pace was unwilling to return to competition unless her entire family could be together—traveling for training and competition. So the “we” after her fourth and final run encompasses her understanding of her skeleton career as a family affair.

Given her focus on family, her alternate exclamations of “oh my goodness,” and her home-state of Utah, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Pikus-Pace counts herself a member of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. My own beliefs differ from that group, and I can’t claim to be any kind of authority on Mormonism, but I am intrigued by the interplay of metaphors at work in this silver medalist’s rhetoric. The Olympics at once reveal a tension between nation (as community) and individual, where the medals are tallied based on country, but the athletes are lauded and promoted for their unique stories and contributions. Like Pikus-Pace, each one stands alone atop the podium if they win, but they represent and stand in for various communities as well. Even teams act as singular groups, a unit where many become one and one signifies a larger group.

It’s not hard to see how these nationalistic and athletic metaphors relate to spiritual metaphors as well—where the body of Christ is both singular and plural. There is a corporeal and spiritual body of Christ (memorialized in various Eucharistic traditions) as well as the corporate body of believers—who also exist on a spiritual plane. Spiritually speaking, every believer races down the ice hill solo, but only because we, like Pikus-Pace can stand up at the end with a “we.” Pikus-Pace emphasized her individual family unit—a husband and two children acting in accord with her career’s demands—and the medal count groups her within other family groups as well, the international skeleton community and the nationalistic family of the United States. Family intersects with family.

Though most of us will never stand on an Olympic podium or participate in the skeleton, we too experience family-as-metaphor overlapping with other, sometimes competing family metaphors. The one family that transcends all others, though, is the church, where all members are adopted and incorporated into the Body of Christ who Himself transcends the physical and the spiritual. It’s a family that can deconstruct one’s family of origins and reconstruct families across boundaries of nation or race—where otherwise no family could seem to exist. We love because He first loved us; His family comes first, or ought to. And just as Pikus-Pace’s spotlight on family highlight a shift in the perception of athletes as isolated individuals, so too should the “we” of God’s family shift the way believers move about in the world—viewing ourselves as the “we” who reflect God to all our human family.

About Erin Wyble Newcomb

Erin Wyble Newcomb earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and Women's Studies from Penn State University. In addition to parenting her daughters, running marathons, and making things with glitter, she teaches in the English Department at SUNY New Paltz. Follow Erin on Twitter @ErinWyble or at http://phdmama.com/.


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