My Chinese friends and former students in Luzhou have sent a few messages, wanting to see photos of my last few days in the States before returning to China. I had emailed them about some special events, including get-togethers with my university swimming teammates and high school classmates.
“We want to see pictures!” they replied.
So before you launch into the next photo album, I’ll just give an update about what you’re seeing.
One Saturday morning, my high school classmates and I met for brunch at our local state park restaurant. We were a small crowd, just those from nearby coming together, and numbered 9 women and one guy. Everyone brought pictures of family, which was interesting for me since I’d not seen anyone for 25 years. Catching up was a lot of fun.
But the best reunion took place a few days before I left. Ray Padovan, my swimming coach from Eastern Illinois University, was finally retiring after 43 years of coaching. For a year, one of our former EIU swimmers and swimming team graduate assistants had planned and organized a team reunion coupled with a retirement party. I hadn’t seen Ray or my teammates since I graduated from college in 1987. To visit with those I hadn’t seen for almost 20 years, and also celebrate Ray’s big night with both him and his family, was too much to pass up. I made sure to stay in America long enough to attend this special gathering of swimmers, divers and fans from Ray’s past and present.
I really had no idea how many would attend this event or who I’d see. I was a bit concerned that no one from my four years as a university swimmer would even show up. Would I even remember them?
No fear in that!
Familiar faces popped up everywhere as soon as I walked into the reception area. There was almost no need for nametags.
After being warmly embraced by all those who shared the same swimming lanes with me years ago, I and my mates sat together at one of the university ballroom dining tables. Here we joined over 300 others spread throughout the hall, all of them Ray’s fans, colleagues, swimmers, friends and relatives from throughout the U.S. It was a grand showing of love and respect for a man who has gave so much of himself to his coaching profession and our alma mater, EIU.
The presentation following dinner was quite moving. Many of Ray’s former swimmers and colleagues spoke of his antics in the past and praised him profusely. A final honor was bestowed, which was the renaming of our university swimming pool, the Ray Padovan Pool. The cost for this was paid for by our donations to Ray’s gift fund. We were also invited to sign the displayed proclamation poster which was later given to Ray to take home.
Aside from visiting with my former swim mates and Ray, it was also wonderful to see my former swimming companion, Gail. During my first two months as a freshman on the team, one of our swimmers was in a horrific car accident. Gail was a junior on the team. She wasn’t expected to live but her fight to continue onward in this world was a strong one. It took many years of therapy after the accident for her to gain back a bit of her previous life. Seeing her in her wheelchair, smiling and joining us in the celebration, really made me so thankful I had attended this special gathering. Her recovery is a testament to her strength of spirit and love of life. Gail is definitely one of God’s miracle survivors.
Other photos in the new album include the last picture of our growing baby doves, who flew away two days later, myself in my town’s swimming pool where I spent countless summers at swim practices, life guarding and giving lessons, and both friends and family shots.
It was a great summer in America but it seems it’s going to be an even greater summer’s end in China.
Yes, I’m off to the Olympics!
After watching the spectacular opening ceremonies here in my Chengdu apartment, and seeing the exciting sports events take place on TV daily, I just can’t help myself. At the spur of the moment, I’ve booked a Beijing hotel and have my airplane ticket in hand. I’m ready for an unforgettable adventure in the capital city, starting on Saturday afternoon when I land around 2 p.m. I’ll be returning on Tuesday morning but hope to keep everyone updated during my stay. I will have Internet access in my room and plan to take my computer along for blogging purposes.
The animals? Jalin and her friend, Chris, have promised to take care of Little Ghost and Little Flower while I’m gone. They’ve both spent enough time in my apartment, watching the Olympics with me, that they are very familiar with my pets. LG and LF are also quite fond of the two girls so there shouldn’t be any problems.
And having said all of that, I’ll just add to watch this space for upcoming Olympic Games coverage by yours truly!
From Chengdu, here’s sending you as always a “Ping An” for your day.