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Prairie Ridge Football State Champions Commemorative Book

Penkava: Cool runnings on my Olympic treadmill

Published: Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014 12:07 a.m. CST • Updated: Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014 12:15 a.m. CST

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I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling very Olympic these days. With the Opening Ceremony starting things off Friday night, we are all just a triple lutz jump, a double cork 1080 and a final bell lap away from a gold medal … give or take a few hundredths of a second.

A few weeks ago I decided to prepare myself for the event by watching a few Olympic-themed movies as I did my daily walk to nowhere on the treadmill. A quick foray into my videotape collection yielded two likely titles.

The first movie I watched was “Miracle,” the story of the United States 1980 hockey team that, against all odds won the gold medal, defeating the invincible Russian team. I love the part where Coach Brooks tells his team, “If we play ’em 10 times, they might win nine. But NOT this game … Tonight, WE are the greatest hockey team in the world.”

And, as I plodded along on my treadmill, I believed Herb Brooks. My wife also believed that a sweating, blubbering man wearing pajamas and his old hockey helmet coming up from the exercise room in the basement was not her vision of her husband in his Golden Years.

And that brings us to my second Olympic-preparatory movie, “Cool Runnings.” This story takes place at the 1988 Winter Olympic in Calgary, Canada. Four Jamaican lads and their coach, a washed-up American bobsledder, find each other and set off for the Olympics. With gold medal dreams, they show up at Calgary hoping to win without a sled and with zero experience on real ice. The only unrealistic elements this Disney plot was missing was a VW named Herbie and a flying elephant named Dumbo.

But somehow, as the movie unfolded, I bought into their dream. Of course, the Jamaican bobsled team didn’t win a gold medal. In fact, their dream ended in an 80-mile-per-hour ice-scraping crash that left them lying sideways near the end of the course. So there were no victory tears for me like in “Miracle.” But, nevertheless, there were tears.

You see, in the movie, after the crash the boys got out of their bobsled and began to carry it on their shoulders toward the finish line. The stunned spectators suddenly realized what was really happening. This was not about a gold medal. It never really was.

Now, I’m not going to wax poetic about this, but I’ll never forget what their coach told one of the boys before the big race. He said, “A gold medal is a wonderful thing, but if you’re not good enough without it, you’ll never be good enough with it.”

Then the young man asked, “Coach, how will I know if I’m good enough?” The coach answered, “When you cross that line, you’ll know.”

Geesh. When they crossed that finish line carrying their bobsled, I certainly knew they were good enough. And, better yet, I think they did, too.

So, with another torrent of tears, I stepped off my treadmill. I thought about victoriously carrying it upstairs to imitate the Jamaicans, and I could have done it if it was a four-man treadmill, but, alas, my wife had to settle for a sweating, blubbering man speaking in a Jamaican accent.

Thus ended my personal Olympic trials. I have now qualified to sit in my Amish glider chair and watch the games with continued amazement and admiration. And maybe with a few more tears.

Oh, and by the way, when the bobsled competition starts a week from Sunday on Feb. 16, don’t be surprised when you see a two-man team from Jamaica. So get ready to feel da rhythm, feel da rhyme, get on up, it’s bobsled time! Cool runnings, mon … peace be the journey.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He has dug out his old Flexible Flyer sled and is now looking for a big hill and a finish line. He can be reached at

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