An Olympic Wannabe Rests His Laurels


In this Olympic year, I cannot get enough of the coverage.

I don’t care what the event is, though I prefer the track and field and swimming. You can keep the commercials. Just give me the action.

By the end of the night, that’s me on the sofa, bug-eyed and weary. It’s not easy being a couch potato when you have so many options throughout the day.

I’ve hopped aboard the networks in the morning, afternoon, and especially during primetime. Sometimes, I’ll alternate with the Red Sox, but it’s the Olympics that get my attention.

Maybe it’s because I’ve always wanted to be there. We all share that secret ambition from time to time. Mine was to become an Olympian and share my affinity toward sports.

It started quite early actually when Dad handed me a baseball glove. They stuck me in the outfield where I couldn’t do much harm, until a ball went off my noggin’ with the bases filled, sending three runners home in a championship game.

I tried basketball. With elevated sneakers, I was barely 5’8”. But still, I had developed a pretty decent outside shot, good enough to ride the bench in prep school. Actually, I made the grade as a player-manager.

My first responsibility was serving up water to the players and taking care of business on the bench with the scorebook. But one day, the team had been depleted and I got the call.

“Vartabedian, get in there and stay away from the ball. We’ve got others who can shoot.”

Well, it wasn’t my fault when the ball came my way. I grabbed the rebound and darted straight for the basket—alone. What a debacle! I wound up scoring two points in the opponent’s hoop and never lived down the humility.

So I gave track a shot. As sports editor of my school paper, I figured being on the team was an easy way to cover the sport. I got to run the 600 back then and was usually looking at the backs of runners. But at least I got the story.

My 18 years as a Gazette sportswriter afforded me a number of dream-like opportunities. As the sidelines nomad, I got to mingle with the athletes and coaches, many of whom endeared themselves to me.

I’ve run their races, swam their meets, sank their baskets, and scored their hockey pucks. My two boys wore their high school jerseys with pride; I’ve lived their dreams and aspirations as well.

My sport for the past 40 years has been racquetball with a smattering of weekly table tennis sojourns. I’ve covered the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Olympics for 40 years. Corresponding is a lot easier than indulging, I’ve learned. In some ways, I’ve scored all those points and regulated all those standings for the ethnic papers.

Every four years, I get to relive my dreams. It doesn’t matter. I’m not a skier or a skater but still relish every winter Olympics that hits the scene as well.

Sometimes, we cannot get it out of our system. My doubles partner at this year’s New Hampshire State Seniors Racquetball Championship was an 86-year-old stalwart named Don Hussman.

The man is an inspiration to me and others who play a game. His age appears to be no factor as he still hits with authority and maintains his competitive edge. People his age are ready to concede. Most don’t play. Others on the younger scale tend to become envious.

They hope to be playing by the time they reach that charmed circle. Don still travels to national tournaments around the country and holds his own with the best age has to offer.

I asked Don what keeps him going. His secret is meant to be shared with others.

“It order to play a sport, you’ve got to be one. It’s a game and it shouldn’t be treated any differently,” he’ll tell you. “Keep it fun and get pleasure out of it.”

I look at superstars like Michael Phelps and am in awe over their athleticism. They compete against others half their age and still prevail. The manner in which they handle their fame and glory also bears homage.

The thrill of victory never seems to abate. It’s the epitome of success. Anyone winning a gold may revel in its aftermath. But it isn’t always about finishing first. Sometimes, it’s just making the grade. When you think of the thousands from around the world who try to qualify under adverse conditions, just being there is the ultimate.

My own country of Armenia entered with more than 30 athletes. Four of them medaled so far. In a lot of ways, they realized their dream—representing their country and motivating others of their kind.


Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.

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1 Comment

  1. I can totally relate to your feelings, Tom. As I watch the Olympics, I still get jealous of the athletes and what it would be like to compete there and win a medal.

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