The Houston Metropolitan area sprawls over more than five hundred square miles. It’s as flat as a pancake making its resemblance to a patchwork quilt rather striking. It is home to the most diverse population in the United States partially because of its proximity to a busy port but mostly due to an abundance of jobs and moderate housing prices. Even with its humid sub tropical climate, air conditioning makes it a great location for living and working so that people from all parts of the world have chosen it as a place to raise their families.
On any given weekend Houston area parents are out in force watching their little ones participate in sporting events. The sound of cheering resonates from soccer fields to baseball diamonds, natatoriums to gymnasiums. As a grandmother and godmother to very active children I have traveled from the Houston suburbs of Sugarland to Magnolia to watch the youngsters compete. I’ve watched them race around a track and get their noses crushed into the dirt of a football field. I’ve sat through days long swim meets and on occasion carted them to and fro from practices. I’ve watched them grow and mature into the sports of their choosing as they specialize and become more and more adept.
I have two grandsons, Benjamin and Eli, who have excelled at every athletic effort they have tried. They have been outstanding swimmers since they were barely five years old. Early on they were members of the Greatwood Gators summer swim team in Sugarland along with their older brothers who taught them all of the strokes and the secrets to diving into the pool. The two boys showed such promise that they decided to join the First Colony USA swim team where they now practice at least five days a week rain or shine, hot or cold. Their calendars are full as they participate in meets and camps across the region and the state along with the friends and role models that they have made along the way. It was in this way that they met another swimmer who was like a big sister to them. Her name is Simone Manuel and she has at times both helped and inspired them as they have slowly risen through the ranks of competitive swimming.
Benjamin and Eli understand as well as anyone how much dedication and hard work is needed to become a champion. They strive continually for the possibility of shaving hundredths of a second off of a race time. They compete not so much with others as with themselves. They are individuals and members of a team that encourages one another and celebrates victories together. Last night one of their own swam in the Olympics in Rio. They and their whole family and all of Sugarland and the Houston area were cheering Simone Manuel as she won the gold with an Olympic record, becoming the first African American woman to medal in swimming. I can only imagine how breathtaking and motivational this moment was for them. Simone had shown them that a hometown girl can become the best in the world.
It was an exceptionally emotional moment for Simone and the rest of us weren’t that far removed from her feelings. Many of us cried along with her. We knew full well how much courage and effort it had taken for her to reach this pinnacle. We understood how much sacrifice she and her family have made. We also knew that she was a champion for our city as well, representing the true spirit of our town. It was a stunning victory that lit up Facebook and Twitter all across the city of Houston.
Simone Manuel’s feat of daring might have been reason enough to celebrate had she been the lone winner from the Houston area but on the very same day another Simone was also in contention for a medal. Simone Biles lives in Spring, a northern suburb of Greater Houston, with her mom and dad. She is a tiny five foot eight ball of strength and delight. Since she was a small child she has been tumbling and honing the skills of a gymnast. She demonstrated a natural talent early on but it was her fierce dedication to the sport that made her a standout. Slowly but surely she rose through the national and then the world rankings until she had become known as perhaps the greatest gymnast of all time. Yesterday she proved once and for all that she is indeed the best of the best. She easily clinched the gold to be named the best all around women’s gymnast in the world.
Just as with Simone Manuel, all of the Houston area was cheering unabashedly for Simone Biles. We marveled at her athleticism and the sheer poetry of her skills. She seems to fly higher than any of her competitors. She is a whirling dervish who is able to leap and spin and twist and turn as easily as the rest of us walk from one spot to another. She is a miracle in our midst, a tiny but mighty young woman who seemingly defies gravity and all the rules of physics. Mostly though she makes us all so very proud to be Houstonians and Americans.
Simone Biles and Simone Manuel, the two Simones, represent the very best of who we are as people. We certainly need them at this stage of history. Of late it has been all too easy to become cynical and discouraged about the future of our country. When we witness two such remarkable individuals we recall all that is so very good and important about our nation. We are reminded by them of the work ethic that makes us all great. We realize the love and support from their parents that helped them to reach the pinnacle of their endeavors. Yesterday we witnessed irrefutable evidence that the future of our city and our country is still in very good hands in little corners all across the land. We celebrate with the two Simones not only because they are indeed great but also because they have restored our faith at the very time that we may have needed it most.
Last night’s Olympic games were “must see t.v.” I can’t think of another time when I have felt so elated by a sporting event. I cried with Simone Manuel as she won and as she stood on a pedestal while the national anthem played and our flag was so proudly flew. I cried again with Simone Biles when she realized the dream of a lifetime. I cried for the happiness that spread like wildfire through my hometown. Greater Houston was on the map and bigger than ever last night as two of its most remarkable citizens showed the world what the people here are really like.
I have always maintained that Houston is perhaps the very best place to live in all of the United States. What it lacks in scenery and good weather it makes up for in its people who all in all are a grand bunch of loving and hard working individuals. We live and work together here. We are focused on our children and our neighbors. Ours is a big city with a little town feel. Now we have two heroines to make us even prouder of this crazy wonderful place we call home.