June 21, 2013
Heather Petri had goose bumps, and she wasn't cold.
The four-time Olympic medalist was recently discussing her upcoming Olympic Day appearance at The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula, and the memories of her storied Olympic career were powerful.
"When you walk into the Opening Ceremonies, it's really this optimistic two hours of hope for what the world ban be like if you bring that passion to life," said Petri, a former All-American water polo player at Cal who helped the United States win the Gold Medal at last summer's London Games. "When I look at the Olympics now, I see that message. While people love tuning in to see all those battles and sporting events, I think they feel the joy, they feel the passion that we have to show who we can be as people, not just athletes."
That is no doubt one of the messages Petri will share with the boys and girls at the club in Menlo Park on June 28, an event that is part of a 10-day celebration of Olympic Day. Olympic Day itself is Saturday, but there will be more than 700 events taking place nationwide between June 21 and 30th in its honor.
Olympic Day was created in 1948 to commemorate the birth of the modern Olympic Games and focuses on the Olympic values and ideals such as fair play, perseverance, respect and sportsmanship. It also is part of an international effort to promote fitness and well-being.
The Bay Area Sports Organizing Committee has helped plan 15 events in the area in honor of Olympic day. In addition to Petri's appearance in Menlo Park, former Cal rower Erin Cafaro will be one of 13 Olympians to be honored before a Sacramento River Cats minor-league baseball game on Tuesday.
Cafaro won gold medals in 2008 and 2012.
"The first time I got to the Olympic Village, it reminded me of being a freshman in high school again," Cafaro said. "You have your lunch tray in the dining hall and you don't know who to sit next to. Sometimes you walk around for a little bit with your tray and look for who looks friendly. You usually plop down and have some cool conversations with some people from other countries or other sports."
Olympic Day especially resonates at Cal, where the Bears have been well-represented in recent year. Over the last three Olympics, Cal athletes have won 50 medals. In history, the Bears have captured 178 total medals, 99 of them Gold.
"Olympic Day is a chance for us to celebrate the world-class excellence of our Golden Bears and the campus," Cal Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour said. "The number of Olympians that Cal has produced is a testament to the culture of high performance and our commitment to achievement that we have established at Berkeley. It is the result of consistent hard work, dedication and sacrifice by our student-athletes, coaches and support staff. We have an environment of excellence that is encouraged and developed on this campus. That's Cal's culture and it permeates everything that this campus does."
Olympic Day is more focused on the benefits the Games provide out of the athletic arena, something that is not lost on Cal athletes that have represented the United States.
"It's kind of cliché when they talk about walking into the Opening Ceremonies and how emotional that is for an athlete, but until you go through it, you don't really understand what it means," said Cal men's water polo coach Kirk Everist, a former All-American player at Cal and a two-time Olympian. "You enter the stadium an athlete and you leave an Olympian. Nobody has lost a race by a tenth of a second or nobody has fallen down or nobody has gotten fourth. Everybody is just full of passion and hope and all that hard work is coming to fruition."