Uncontrollably, high school boys jumped up and down. One pounded his hand on the ground repeatedly. Jumping and jumping some more. Welcome to the joy of the Summer Olympics.
All over the building, 2,700 people were getting lost in a moment. Sports does those once in a while. It’s a wonderful feeling.
Everybody there and around the world watched the unthinkable, 17-year-old Lydia Jacoby from their hometown of Seward, Alaska, pass the two favorites in the 100-meter breaststroke.
The jumps got even higher. Could this be? Is she really going to take Gold?
She touched first. Yes. Gold. First place. In the entire world.
Raw honest joy exploded. All over a tiny town of proud people. And across America.
“Seward is not exactly the hotbed of swimming,” said NBC broadcaster Dan Hicks.
On Monday night the town became the hotbed of celebration like you rarely ever see. When athletes win Gold when they’re expected to, that’s great and there’s plenty of celebration.
When they’re not expected to win Gold and they do, and an entire room packed with people are watching from that person’s hometown, that’s something else.
When they’re from one of the most remotely located places in America – and are the first from the state to qualify for the Olympic swimming team – this is the stuff of movie scripts.
That moment when she touched first is one every one of them will remember the rest of their lives. They’ll tell their kids and grandkids about the night they watched one of their own, Lydia, shock everybody by winning the Gold Medal in the Olympics.
One of theirs. A hometown girl. A night like no other. So young. So unexpected. So uplifting. A night that will never be duplicated. A night they’ve never lived through before and never will again.
She may win more Golds, but not when she’s so unlikely to. And not for the first time.
This was one of those sports moments that people not only in Seward but all over America and around the world won’t ever forget.
It will forever be remembered, in swimming circles and among great Olympic moments, as the night that girl from Alaska passed the two favorites the last 15 meters and got her fingers on the wall just ahead of them.
As I watched those boys jumping around, I thought about high school. It’s a period in life when there’s a lot of awkwardness. Boys and girls often don’t know what to say to each other. There’s an insecurity about the whole high school experience.
But there was none of that on that video. Those boys looked like they could be in Lydia’s high school class. There was nothing but pride. And fun. And disbelief. An emotional high.
This was not about them acting cool and nonchalant about the swimming race.
They were genuinely fired up and letting loose excitement that Lydia let them all have a moment, to believe in what is not just what is possible but achievable. She proved it.
Proof, like this, is powerful. Living through a great moment like this, peoples’ lives can change in many productive ways.
For the rest of their days, they’ll come across situations where they may not think they can do something, or doubt their skills, or believe someone else is just better than them.
Then they’ll remember Lydia. They’ll remember seeing her do what she did Monday night at the Olympics.
The lives of those boys, and everyone else in that building, and you, and me, and the rest of Americans who were fortunate enough to see it, are forever changed. We’ve seen what can be done. Not just what’s possible, but what’s reality.
We learned it’s not where you come from that matters. You can be from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, or Boulder, Colorado, or Seward, Alaska and win a Gold Medal at the Olympics.
Or become whatever you most passionately want to be.
We’ll always love Lydia for leaving us this legacy.