Among the list of legendary American Olympians, the greatest profile in courage for me is Greg Louganis. Greatest diver of all time? If you factor in a troubled childhood, surviving past the boycott, breaking world records, fending off outstanding younger challengers, winning with a concussion, oh, and living with HIV throughout much of it… plus the five medals? No contest.
Scared of So Darn Many Things
Louganis has one of those histories so full of adversity that it’s amazing he ever stepped on to a diving board. Yet everything seemed only to contribute to success. His teenage birthparents gave him up for adoption to loving but stern birthparents. He stuttered. He had terrible asthma and seemed to be allergic to everything. School was a nightmare; along with his halting speech, the dark skin inherited from his Samoan father caused the kids to call him all sorts of names. “I got beat up at the bus stop a lot.” He started smoking and drinking before middle school. As his body matured, his knees didn’t grow properly and developed a gap that doctors thought might alter his walk.
But, as the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Because of the asthma, his parents entered him in sports early to develop his lungs, in gymnastics and dance at 18 months. He was good at it, completing solo routines by age three. Afraid of speaking in public, Louganis poured his energy into physical pursuits. When his parents bought a trampoline, then moved to a house with a backyard pool, Louganis started trampolining on the diving board. Terrified Mom decided then that a coach would be a good idea for the eight-year-old. The gap in his legs that had developed as a “deformity” enabled him to see through his knees, even in a tuck, which turned out to be an advantage.Continue reading “L is for Louganis”