Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sometimes a gold medalist writes a book and dedicates it to your dad.

The gold medalist is Dan O'Brien, former World Record Holder in the decathlon. The book is Clearing Hurdles: The Quest to be the World's Greatest Athlete. The dad is my dad.

To be fair, the book is dedicated to 31 people, 3 towns, and 2 dogs. My dad's name is listed near the top, and is the very first person under the rubric: "The coaches who made the difference." This is likely because my father, Larry Hunt, was Dan O'Brien's first track coach. Or, because he was the first person to suggest that he could be a great decathlete. That he should even try the decathlon.

Because of this, Dan O'Brien was a part of my childhood. Even a substantial part. He would eat at our house sometimes when I was very small, and when I was a little bit bigger, and he was competing in more world class meets, I would travel with my dad to watch him. Those drives from wherever we were living in Oregon to Eugene, or Sacramento, or etc., gave me some of my most cherished memories with my dad, and those meets gave me some of my most cherished memories in general.

They enabled me to be introduced to many of my childhood heroes, many times, including Carl Lewis and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Plus, Dan O'Brien always paid me and my siblings special attention. Once in 1992 after winning his 100 meter dash, he walked over to where my little brother and I were standing and gave each of us one of the rectangular stickers with his lane number on it. I still remember that it was the number 2. And stranger's cameras flashing. And feeling special inside.

The day! The day! (Featuring little Rachel and little Sam
wearing his "Ran with Dan" shirt.)

Earlier that same year, a whole city spent a whole day honoring him. The small city was Klamath Falls, Oregon, the place of my birth and his growing up. The day was dubbed "Dan O'Brien Day," and it began with a mile run. Each participant received a shirt that said, "I ran with Dan" (which shirt I still own). Not every participant was invited to ride with him in his limo to subsequent events. I and some of my siblings were the very lucky few.

Later when I was in high school and participating in track myself, I had a signed poster of him hanging on my bedroom door that read, "To the Hunt kids, don't just do it, do the best!" I read it every single day. He would also call our house sometimes to get ahold of my dad, back when people called houses for such purposes. Whichever kid lucky enough to answer the phone would beam for weeks. (Or at least I would.) One such call came the week or so before my junior year's district track meet. I got wished "Good luck!" by the very best.

My sophomore year I got to accompany my dad to the US Olympic Track and Field Trials in Sacramento (where I would later serve my LDS mission). We had seats right in front of the finish line, on the third row. Dan was past competing by then, but was watching too. He gave me a big hug and kept saying, "You were the littlest Hunt girl! You were the littlest!" More feeling special. More flashes from strangers photographing me with Dan O'Brien. (And thankfully at least one coming from my dad.)

Sixteen in Sacramento!

Great day. Great beard.

Which brings us to this year, when my mom told me about his book and title page. I asked her if my dad had it yet, and, for whatever reason, he didn't. I made her promise that he wouldn't buy it for himself, and ordered a copy right away. I was able to present it to him when he came to California for Spencer's graduation. It was a tender, tender moment. The most tender of all was me asking him if he had seen the title page yet, and him saying that he hadn't, then him turning to it, and seeing his name there for the first time. I think we both might have gotten a tear in our eye, and he certainly made the slight wooshing sound/sigh he is famous for, when experiencing something particularly sweet or holy.

We had a one hour drive before us, just he and I. Just like the old times when we would journey to far away meets. He asked me to read to him from the book, and that was tender too. While standing in my church parking lot he had already discovered at least one story about himself, having to do with him getting to tell Bruce Jenner that he beat the World Record. It was a story I had never heard, but I soon got it from the horses mouth. (He said Dan got some of the details partially wrong.) On our drive, I began at the beginning. It was written remarkably well, and I can't wait to read the rest of it.

Upon being gifted.

Father/daughter/book. As it should be.

The tenderest moment.

The coach who made the difference.


Sara said...

Wow, that is such a special moment and a great memorial of your dad. I am going to pick up a copy of that book. Sounds inspirational!

Larry Hunt said...

Thanks, Rachel. For 14 years, from his first decathlon, following his sophomore year at Henley High School, to the gold medal in Atlanta in 1996, Dan O'Brien was a big part of my life. I've always felt like it was a blessing. Thanks for the memories -- and thanks for being there along the way.

Rachel Hunt said...

Sara: I hope you like it. There is a bit of strong language in the book, as a small warning. The parts I read were great. And very inspirational. I picked up a second copy for myself and am just waiting to get a little more caught up with school work before I read this book for me.

Dad: Thank you. My pleasure. You are also the Dad that made the difference.