The 1976 summer Olympics was a wonderful thing. Bruce Jenner won gold in the Decathelon, American swimmers dominated the podium; even our diving team rocked it. But for me, it was all about Nadia.

I’ve always loved gymnastics. While I was never very good at actually doing gymnastics (there’s a future blog post in that), I love watching the sport. And the summer of 1976 was a gymnastics fan’s wet dream. The US team blew back then – one US male won a bronze in floor. But those Eastern European girls kicked some serious leotard clad ass.

It was sometime during or after this legendary Olympics that I got stuck in Lockport, NY. My maternal grandmother was sick, I think she was dying of cancer, and my mom took us on a Greyhound bus up to Lockport to see her and help take care of my grandfather. My relationship with this set of grandparents was almost non-existent. I had only seen them a handful of times at this point in my life, partly because they lived so far away.

They lived in a small apartment in a large complex. Their building was one of several that surrounded a large courtyard which was nothing more than a big, grassy rectangle.  The ’76 Olympics may have taken place in Montreal, but that grassy courtyard was where my Olympic dream came alive.

Being the youngest of 4 had its disadvantages. More times than not, nobody wanted to play with me. My oldest brother and sister were 5 & 7 years my senior – we had little in common at that time. These two dominated the TV watching sports or other shows that to me were a total snooze. I had another sister who was only 2 years older – but, I suspect she found me to be an insufferable pest because she rarely wanted to play. So I was usually left to entertain myself.

And I became an Olympian. I went out on that grassy courtyard and did everything from gymnastics to javelin. My floor exercise consisted of forward rolls, cartwheels, and for the big dismount? A front handspring! The crowd went wild!

A long line dug out with my heel served as a balance beam. My routine, peppered with various ballet-like poses and twirls, was more somersaults, cartwheels, and for the big dismount? A round-off! And the crowd went wild!

But I didn’t limit myself to just gymnastics. I’d place sticks on the ground and try to medal in the long jump. After each successful leap, I would move the sticks further apart, while the commentator in my head narrated like an Emmy winning sportscaster; “Tracy is going to need her best effort to make this next jump…it’s her longest attempt thus far…can she do it? She did it! Her Olympic dream is still alive!”

And the sticks would move farther apart yet again.

I did this for hours. All alone. I was in the land of total make believe. I can only imagine how I must have looked to anyone peeking out their window at me; a lone girl talking to herself doing gymnastics and track & field events.

A week or so later my dad drove up to take us all home. We visited the locks that Lockport is famous for, and then made the long drive back to Jersey. I was glad to be home – it wasn’t the best of trips. I was never allowed to see my grandmother, and she died shortly thereafter. My grandfather wound up moving down by us where my Aunt Carol took care of him.

We would never need to go back to Lockport. While some may remember it as my grandparent’s home town, for me it was the home of my summer Olympics – where I won US gold in every event single handed.