It was Feb. 22, 1980, and I was a little kid watching the Winter Olympics with my family on our television — the only one in our house — which picked up exactly three channels (depending on the weather). That was the day a group of fresh-faced American boys defeated the Soviet juggernaut in ice hockey.
I was only 6 at the time, and certainly didn’t understand much of anything about the sport of hockey — other than, you know, it took place on the ice — and even less about the political ramifications surrounding the match. This was a contest that superseded the world of sports, given all that was seemingly going wrong for America — the Cold War, the hostages in Iran and the gasoline crisis — at the time.
But I did understand this much … I didn’t see my parents cry very often. In fact, to the best of my recollection, that was the first time I’d ever seen either one of my parents cry, as our entire family sat around the television in our family room, listening to Al Michaels’ iconic call, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”
As my parents sat there with tears streaming down their faces, the next thing I knew I was crying right along with them. I think that’s the first time I truly realized how important sports were in my family. For me, sports has always been about far more than wins and losses or final scores. It’s been about how they can lift you up or tear you down. Sports matter because they expose who we are as human beings.
That night was the first time I’d ever cried while watching a sporting event — but it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
In fact, I’ve spent much of the past 36 years crying while watching sporting events — from my own limited athletic career, to my time as a fan and even, on occasion, in my time as a sports writer. I’ve never cried at a wedding and I seldom cry at funerals — but all it takes is the right circumstances to get the water works started at a sporting event.
I’ve cried tears of joy when my teams have won — most recently, Ohio State’s national championship win in 2014 — and have learned to cry a little less when my favorite teams lose, thankfully. I cried numerous times during my nephew’s senior season on the Ohio State football team — when he was honored on “Senior Day” just days after my dad passed away was particularly rough — and he stood on the sidelines all season.
It doesn’t even necessarily have to be a real sporting event for me to start squirting tears — sports movies have been known to have me grabbing the tissues, too. Movies such as “We Are Marshall” and “Hoosiers” and “Field of Dreams” (to name just a few) pretty much get me every time, even though I know what’s coming.
I love the wins and even the losses, as they allow me an emotional release.
Recently, though, I attended a sporting event that made me cry — even though no times were kept, no places were awarded and no scores were posted. In fact, it was an event in which everybody won.
This past weekend, our son Max — who has Autism Spectrum Disorder — competed in the inaugural “I Can Triathlon,” a part of the Troy Kids Triathlon. I spent my Sunday afternoon watching 20 children — including my own — compete in a triathlon created to give kids with a wide range of special needs the opportunity to participate with modifications and in a less overwhelming environment.
I saw volunteers helping those who needed it — but also letting them give everything they had whenever they could. I saw nothing but friendly faces cheering on these courageous competitors with every swimming stroke, every bicycle pedal and every running step. I saw people like Faye McNearney and her team from Miamibucs and Riverside of Miami County give so freely of themselves to make this event an overwhelming success.
Much more than any of that, though, I saw the looks of sheer joy and accomplishment on the faces of 20 amazing competitors as they were given a chance to do something many other kids their age take for granted. Every competitor crossed the finish line a champion. It was enough to melt the heart of even the most grizzled sports writer.
And, of course, it was enough to make him cry.
David Fong appears on Thursdays in the Troy Daily News. Contact him at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong.