Bonnie Brae Elementary students had an Olympian in their presence and got to participate in a torch relay, even though their torch was yellow paper illuminated by a flashlight.
Linda Kavanaugh was at the helm of the activity, which took place in the gym on Feb. 15. Kavanaugh was on the kayak team at the '72 Olympics in Munich, Germany, and the '76 Olympics in Montreal and was on the '80 team when the United States boycotted the games in Moscow because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. She has a daughter, Kelly, in the fifth grade at Bonnie Brae and a son, Ryan, a seventh-grader at Robinson Secondary School. Her message was geared toward instilling the spirit of competition in the students.
"Life is a competition. Be the best you can be. I'm just using the Olympics as a tool. We're going to have every kid carry this torch," she said, holding up the modified flashlight.
Kelly hopes to get into swimming when she goes to high school and likes to watch the skiing and ice skating at this year’s winter games, which are on until the end of February.
"Not a lot of people know my mom was in the Olympics," she said.
<bt>Physical-education (PE) teacher Lauryn Pomeroy noted the value of this lesson.
"It's about teamwork, working hard, you make a commitment. Anything that catches them, being active, I'm all for that," she said.
Fellow PE teacher Brian Mcgowan helped the students set up the relay.
"I think it's beneficial, can't hurt them. If they go away with one little thing about doing your best or cultural diversity, then it was beneficial," he said.
Assistant principal Pat Sheehy was enthusiastic about the lesson.
"It's good modeling for a child to hear how dreams can be realized through hard work. It makes it much more real to have someone here talking about past experiences," she said.
Originally, Kavanaugh planned to go from class to class, but it didn't work out so they opted for the gym. The students marched into the gym, led by a flag bearer, with each of the students in the first section carrying a sign from his country of origin. Bonnie Brae is diverse when it comes to nationalities, as are all the schools in Fairfax County. The students were arranged in four groups and relayed the torch around the gym in a counterclockwise fashion.
"I just ran and started making funny faces," one fifth-grader said after his turn.
Kavanaugh had her medals and memorabilia displayed on the table in the front. Before the relay started, she told the students about her experiences, which were not of the typical Olympic fare. In 1972, when she was in Munich, there were hostages taken by terrorists. The 1976 games went on without a hitch, but she remembered getting ready to go to Moscow in 1980. All the athletes were at the White House for the announcement.
"President Carter came in and said, 'You're not going to the Olympics,' and that was it," she said.
She did get a medal for being chosen, but it was not for winning a competition. The audience of fifth-graders got to the point, though.
"Did you win a gold medal?" one asked.
"No, but it's not all about medals," Kavanaugh said.
<mh>Mess in Munich
<bt>As far as the terrorist incidents in 1972 were concerned, she did not go in-depth with the students but told them she was aware of all that was happening in Munich. She was 18 at the time and met Israeli trainer Moshe Weinberg before the trouble started.
"We used to go around meeting everyone, I traded a pin with him. He held the door to let the other athletes out, he was machine-gunned," she said.
Then a terrorist bomb blew up the terrorists and hostages in a helicopter.
"I saw the helicopter go over my head. We were supposed to race the next day, they almost canceled the games. We were at the stadium for a funeral, I'm sure it affected all the athletes. Another night, we couldn't get in our dorm because there were snipers," she said.