My Olympics: The Reality of My Dreams

Caroline Yarbrough

Caroline Yarbrough is from Greensboro, North Carolina.  While undecided about her major, she is interested in English, History, Art History, and Religion.  She is a member of the cross country and track teams and received the Helen DeVane Carnegie Award, presented to Davidson’s most outstanding freshman athlete.  On campus, she is involved in Reformed University Fellowship, Warner Hall Eating House, and serves as Co-Chair for the the Dinner at Davidson for the Davidson Trust’s auction.  Off campus, she is an active volunteer in the Davidson College Presbyterian Church Nursery and coaches a local elementary school’s Girls on the Run program. Her essay was written for Dr. Campbell’s first-year writing course entitled “Leisure and Play.”

Today’s the day! Today’s the day! Today’s the day! I squeal to myself as the first rays of sunshine began to peak through my pink and green gingham curtains.  Today’s the day I turn seven years old, but more importantly than that, today’s the day when I discover who the real champions are.  Today’s the day where I determine who has what it takes to be a victor, a hero, an Olympic gold medalist! I have been eagerly anticipating this day since my mother first told me her idea for my birthday party to be Olympics themed.  Since then, the impending competitions are all I have thought about.   I have carefully planned out my strategies for each game, I know whom my rivals are, and I am convinced that I will earn the most gold medals by the end of the day.

I hurry through breakfast, too excited to eat my Cheerios as they become soggy in the bowl.  I half hear my mother mention something about not being too aggressive and competitive today.  Instead, I focus my eyes and ears on the oven clock.  “Tick-tock. Tick-tock.” The green numbers play tricks on me as the numbers cease to progress.  After breakfast, I am miserable as I wait for the party to start

Then finally, “Ding-Dong!” The competitors arrive at last. They’ve come from the far reaches of the world for the 2004 Olympics here in Athens, Greece and have been training their whole lives for this very day.

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My competitors

First came the ceremony. My mom picked my older brother, not me, to run the torch around the amphitheater (my backyard). Its yellow, red, and orange flames flicker and dance excitedly, mimicking the nervous anticipation of the athletes.  The participants file in, each donning the colors of their home country and waving their national flags. My heart starts to pound as I glance up at the tens of thousands of spectators contributing to the unified roar that fills the arena.

“Let the games begin!” The track race is first.  An 100-yard dash. I am so nervous that my stomach is turning summersaults as I toe the line. Douglas brags he’s going to beat me.  Not this time buddy.

“Runners, take your mark, BAM” The gun goes off and I fly off the starting block, my freshly sharpened spikes propelling me forward. The crowds are roaring. Douglas and I are neck in neck, stride in stride.   The announcer gives the play by play.  “Douglas has the lead.  Now it’s Caroline a stride ahead. Doug. Caroline. Doug. Caroline. And at the line, it’s Caroline. Caroline Yarbrough proves she’s the fastest person in the world!” There’s a thunder of applause and deafening cheers as I take my victory lap, the flag of my country draped around my back like it is offering me a congratulatory embrace.

After the race, we competed in volleyball, tennis, soccer, golf, and an intense game of Horse.  At the completion of the competitions during the closing ceremony, I know I have won the most gold medals.  I wait in eager anticipation for my country’s National Anthem to be played and for my many medals to be awarded.

“You all get a medal!” I hear my mother cheerfully exclaim. What!? Was she not watching? Does she not understand? I worked hard to win these events! Not wanting to be rude, I tap on my mother’s arm as she passes out medals.

“Did you see me? I won more medals than everyone else! Why does everyone get one? Little Kate didn’t even play a game; she was sitting in the Barbie Jeep sucking her thumb the entire time!” I exclaimed, trying my best not to sound disrespectful.

“Now Caroline,” my mother frowned slightly as she looked down at me. “Please do not be impolite to your party guests.  It was all just for fun. Now it’s time for cake!”

I snap back into reality.  Suddenly, I’ve left the Olympic stadium, enveloped by the whistles, cheers, and applause of thousands of spectators and I am back in my backyard.  I may not have gotten all the medals I deserved, but hey, at least there is cake!

As demonstrated in my memory of my seven year old Olympic themed birthday party, most of my play as a child took place in a pretend world, an alternative dimension.  In this realm, I could be an Olympic athlete, a fashion designer, a princess, and an astronaut.  My play resembles the ideas of Johnan Huizinga, the author of Homo Ludens and the widely regarded father of the modern play theory, who argues that play serves two primary functions.  Play is both representative of something and competitive.  The representative nature of play can be seen as children create a persona for themselves where they are “something different, something more beautiful, or more sublime, or more dangerous” than how they present themselves in real life (Huizinga 14). While the child takes part in this alternative reality, they are at the same time not “wholly losing consciousness of ordinary reality”(14).  Just as my mother’s words instantly snapped me back from the Athens Olympics to my backyard, in the end, I still had a deep-seated awareness of the fact that it was all a game.

As demonstrated in my memory of my seven year old Olympic themed birthday party, most of my play as a child took place in a pretend world, an alternative dimension.  In this realm, I could be an Olympic athlete, a fashion designer, a princess, and an astronaut.

Even though I knew all the activities at my party were merely games, I was determined to win. Huizinga identifies the other basic aspect of play “as a contest for something.”  He says that the two forms can come together so that “the game ‘represents’ a contest, or else becomes a contest for the best representation of something” (Huizinga 13).  Throughout his work, he utilized many examples of play such as football and chess that have a competitive aspect because there must be a winner.  This suggests that competition is at the essence of play.  As a child, I made everything I did a competition.  My parents say that I have been determined and competitive since birth.  A child’s play can reveal personality traits that foreshadow an adult personality and behavior patterns.  They would not have proposed an Olympics birthday party to a noncompetitive child.  From trying my hardest to succeed at every game to timing myself to see how fast I could help my mother clear the plates after everyone finished their cake, play and competition were synonymous for me as a child.

During my party, I was truly an Olympic athlete and genuinely believed I was in Athens, taking part in the international sports event. For me, the competitions were profoundly serious. Huizinga discusses the absorption and devotion of play that abolishes the feeling that the player is “only pretending”(Huizinga 8). When we play, it is like there has been a spell cast over us.  We are

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American flag cake

enchanted, enthralled, absorbed, and completely preoccupied by it (Huizinga 10). “We are accustomed to think of play and seriousness as an absolute antithesis.  It would seem, however, that this does not go to the heart of the matter” (Huizinga 18).  Play is often considered a diversion from work and learning without any serious purpose. But there are many examples, including my absorption in my birthday party games, that prove that play can be serious in nature. A child playing in their make-believe world, a sportsman hunting for game, and an actor assuming a role for a play are all similar in the earnest, sacred nature in which they approach play.  As he explains, “The player can abandon himself body and soul to the game, and the consciousness of its being ‘merely’ a game can be thrust into the background”(Huizinga 21).

Although Huizinga argued that play boils down to the functions of representation and competition, he failed to indicate the important aspect of play that can foreshadow and reveal personality traits of an adulthood personality.  Nonetheless, playing is a significant aspect of our culture.  Play can teach valuable skills including perseverance, determination, cooperation, social skills to name just a few.  My memory of play revealed that play is not all about childish fun and games but that it can have far deeper implications. Play can be meaningful and serious. Simply put, play matters.



Huizinga, Johan. Homo-Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1949.