Olympic dreams take flight

Olympic day at the NCAA Division I Track & Field Championships
Olympic day at the NCAA Division I Track & Field Championships - Photo/Phil Johnson

Ian Dobson remembers the moment his Olympic dream took flight.

During an event at his elementary school, decathlon world record-holder Dan O’Brien predicted that someone in the crowd might one day go to the Olympics. Dobson decided it was going to be him.

“Dan made the Olympics real in my mind. He gave me something I could grab on to,” Dobson says. “I shook his hand and thought, ‘I want to do that.’”

Dobson, who would go on to represent Team USA in the 5,000 meters at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, shared that memory with 800 middle-school students at TrackTown USA’s “Olympic Day” event on Thursday.

O’Brien, who hosted the “Win with Integrity” athlete panel, said stories like Dobson’s motivate him to continue sharing his experiences and values with young people.

“Sometimes I’ll be reading the paper and a kid will say, ‘You know, Dan O’Brien told me to write my goals down and I won the half-mile at the state championship.’ That kind of stuff means a lot to me,” he said.

The “Win with Integrity” event kicked off an action-packed “Olympic Day” program at Matthew Knight Arena. Thanks to a gift from an anonymous donor, students from Eugene, Springfield, Junction City, and Portland were able to visit the University of Oregon campus and attend day two of the NCAA Championships at Hayward Field.

Before walking to the stadium to watch the decathlon, the students interacted with a panel of seven track and field Olympians, including 2004 Olympic gold medalist Joanna Hayes (100-meter hurdles) and two-time Olympian Khadevis Robinson (800 meters).

The athletes began by sharing stories about the struggles, successes and breakthroughs they faced as athletes. Robinson reflected on how much of the world he’s seen since picking up the sport in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas.

“I’ve been to South Africa, I’ve been to Brazil, I’ve been to Asia,” he said. “I’ve covered almost every continent in the world. It’s really opened my mind and my eyes.”

The athletes’ stories featured powerful insights into their work ethic and perseverance.

Former UO javelin thrower Paula Berry spoke about overcoming cancer on her way to qualifying for the Olympics. Hayes recalled the courage it took to pick herself up after falling over the hurdles, and Dobson discussed all the grueling runs and interval workouts that it took to turn his dream into reality.

Throughout the hour-long session, sixth-grader James Fuller listened closely from his seat in the front row (except when he was called up to lead the crowd in “the wave”).

Sporting an Oregon Ducks cap and a wide smile, Fuller says he will especially remember one of O’Brien’s closing remarks. “Dan said it’s not what you get from the sport, it’s what you become through it.”