Since we went early, when our marks were announced we had the best score so far, and for a brief time were in the lead.  My mother started telling everybody she saw, “My daughter is winning the Olympics!”  Embarrassed, I tried to shush her, pointing out that none of the really top horses and riders had gone yet.  “I know,” she answered, “that’s why I am saying it now, while I can!”

Phyllis Dawson on Albany in the 1998 Olympic Games

That’s my Grandma Grace’s rye style. Celebrate when you can, smile always and be quick with the joke. Only this time, it wasn’t a joke. Her daughter, my father’s sister, and my aunt was actually winning the Olympics. Phyllis was in a commanding lead over an unusually difficult olympic cross country course.

I remember being somethingorotherdoesntmatter years old - young enough to be silly and old enough to know watching your aunt on NBC riding in the 1988 Olympics was a big deal. I remember bragging. Man did I glow about that one. Did you see my aunt on TV last night? Friends started calling the house - remember when you had one phone downstairs and really long, twisted, medusa braid of a cord? No, then you are too young to read this blog. Get lost. The rest of you remember that? So here I am, on the downstairs phone, cord stretched around the door frame, down the hall and back into the TV room. Yeah, that’s my aunt Phyllis. Pretty cool huh? Ring, ring. Oh, you saw that? Yeah, I know her, she’s my aunt. Ring Ring. It’s for me? Hello, this is Nick, yes, yes my aunt was in the Olympics tonight.

If I could have pulled off a top hat, cane and, perhaps a chauffeured limo on the way to school the next day, I would have.

That’s how cool pride is. Pride is that feeling you get when you are associated with something awesome, and Phyllis is awesome.

Let’s recap:

  • Youngest of five
  • Owns and manages a substantial, working horse farm with over 50 horses
  • Evented at the world-class level
  • Olympian - 1988
  • Master equestrian teacher
  • Great photographer

But bullets alone do not tell the story. Phyllis’s story is about doing what you love, and loving what you do.

I know, cliche. Except when it isn’t.

My aunt Phyllis has made a life out of doing what she loves: riding horses. She is successful by many measures. There is something to be said about following your passions.

Last weekend, Susan and I had the opportunity to stop by for Windchase Farm’s 25 year anniversary. The day before, Phyllis wrote a compelling reflection on her experience in the 1988 olympics. If you want to know what success must surely feel like, read the rest on her site, Team Windchase.

Below is a snippet from her  detail on riding the cross country couse:

  Finally it was time for the Games to begin.  Eventing is always at the very beginning of the schedule, and we had our first veterinary inspection in the morning on September 17th, the day of the Opening Ceremonies.  It was a great relief to have the jog-up over with.  The team consisted of Bruce Davidson with Dr. Peaches, Karen Lende (O’Connor) and The Optimist, Ann Sutton (Taylor) with Tarzan, myself with Albany II, and Jane Sleeper as the alternate rider.

The Opening Ceremonies are always really interesting to watch on television, but it is very different from the athlete’s perspective.  We spent most of the ceremony lined up on the hot tarmac outside the stadium, waiting for our time to enter.  Toward the end of the ceremonies, each nation’s athletes would enter the stadium and walk around the track, in alphabetical order by country.  We were instructed to form rows for the procession around the track, but there were hundreds of athletes and coaches there from the United States, and unfortunately nobody to take charge and direct us.  So while most of the other countries’ athletes marched in orderly columns, the Americans ended up entering the stadium in a slightly disorganized group, looking around in awe and waving at the crowds, savoring the moment.  We were later criticized in the press as appearing disrespectful, but actually we just needed a drill sergeant.

But despite the glitches in our organization, there is no feeling in the world like walking into that Olympic Stadium in front of 100,000 people.  The Olympic torch was lit and the Olympic flag was raised.   It was an extraordinary experience, and an incredible sense of patriotism welled up inside us.

Finally the start of the competition came.  It had been decided that I would go first for our team, so I had an early ride time.  I worked Albany in the morning, and then returned to the stable for Jineen to braid him before the test.  When I got back to the stall slightly later than planned, Jineen told me that I would have to braid Albs myself, since I was the faster braider and I hadn’t left her enough time.  The other riders seemed surprised, but Jineen was my best friend as well as my groom, and it worked out well since it gave me something to focus on besides my nerves.

I was nervous of course, but I was also having the time of my life.  After all, this is what I had spent years working for, and now I was going to enjoy every last moment of it.  Albs was also enjoying himself; he had definitely picked up on the atmosphere - he liked crowds, and was enough of a showman that he was quite pleased that everyone was looking at him.

Albany warmed up well, but when we entered the final holding area before our test he got a bit tense, no doubt responding to my own tension.  There was a lot of atmosphere, with flowers and Olympic logos and the huge grandstands.  But as soon as we started trotting around the outside of the arena, he began to buckle down to business.

I will never forget the feeling of riding around the outside of the dressage arena just before beginning my test, and looking up at the big scoreboard and seeing my name in lights:  Phyllis Dawson, Albany II, USA.  As I turned up the center line, I was thinking, "Oh my God, this is it!  I am actually riding in the Olympics!"  It was the culmination of many dreams.  It was a pretty emotional moment, and it made me feel so proud to be there, riding in the Olympics, representing my country.  I rode into that arena feeling on top of the world, and Albany put in the best test of his career.  We finished the dressage phase in 10th place.

Phyllis Dawson and Albany II, USA.

via Windchase.