The following was part of a series of articles penned by special guests for the September 5 Special Edition of the Armenian Weekly honoring the AYF Olympics.
As we head down memory lane on this AYF Olympics weekend, unable to be with our AYF family in Worcester, I fondly recall the many Olympics memories of my youth. Thanks to Mom’s memory, Aroxie Madoian Apigian is pretty confident my first Olympics was in 1966, hosted by the AYF New York “Hyortik” Chapter when I was one year old, followed by a return visit to her hometown in 1969 hosted by the Providence “Varantians.” I have seen Kodak slides of these Olympics, which is my only recollection.
My first real memory of an AYF Olympics was in 1973 in Toronto, Canada. I remember the car ride more than the weekend, since we broke down on the road. What I remember most was Auntie Helen Torigian (Uncle Herman’s sister), who drove up from Detroit with us. She was a character, as many Detroitzis may remember. When I was 10, the 1975 Olympics came to my hometown of Detroit. It poured the night of the swim meet. It was so hot, we had to go outside and cool off in the heavy downpour. I remember all of us kids running around and standing under the gutters, soaking wet. By Sunday night I was sick as a dog and never made it to the dance. That December I joined the AYF Detroit “KT” Junior Chapter at the St. Sarkis Armenian Church Hall in Dearborn, Michigan.
It seems like just yesterday when I joined. We formed a large circle in the hall, nearly 100 AYFers, hands crossed and clasped together, as Diane Haratunian and I stated our names and proceeded to repeat the AYF oath with our right hands raised. It was the beginning of a lifelong love of an organization that became my second family. In my youth, the AYF instilled in us a sense of Armenian pride, “Hai Tahd” awareness, Robert’s Rules of Order in running meetings, taking minutes and a keen sense of organizational skills. The bonus was the lifelong friends I gained from near and far at AYF meetings, Camp Haiastan, Junior Seminars, Mid-West Jr. Olympics and of course AYF Senior Olympics.
In 1976, the Providence “Varantians” hosted the Olympics, and I remember them all after that. It was a great checkpoint to get our fill of our extended Armenian family—not blood relatives, but our AYF brothers and sisters from all over the eastern region. Of course, there were always the Olympic blues that set in following Labor Day Monday with many of us dreading the transition back to our “odar” lives. I attended AGBU Manoogian School in Southfield, Michigan, but as a sophomore, I moved to public school in Dearborn so the post-Olympic blues were especially rough in the 1980s.
At that time, the AYF Governing Body introduced a new relay event at Senior Olympics. As each AYF region held their Junior Olympics (back then in June and July), the winners of the Older Boys & Girls 4×400 Relays of the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and New England regions would compete for the Junior Relay Championship title at Senior Olympics. It was an honor, to those of us who remember, winning our region’s relay race and having the opportunity to run at Senior Olympics for the title. This was my introduction into Senior Olympics competition.
In 1980, I was part of the midwest junior relay team with Nicole DerMikaelian, Helena Naranian and Romy Roupinian. I barely remember the race, but I have the team photo with AYF Governing Body member Shant Chebookjian, which jogged my memory. Not a very flattering picture of me for the record, but I submitted for archival purposes. The following year, I was on the midwest junior relay team again, this time with Dina Sarafian, Linda Sarafian and Dorian Avedisian. This team I remember clearly; we won! We made our coach “Uncle Sonny” Gavoor very proud. We post a photo of that winning moment on Facebook every so often. We are spread all over the US now, Dina in Providence, Linda in LA, Dori in Philadelphia and I in Boston. This past October, our Detroit community celebrated the 50th anniversary of the AGBU Manoogian School; Dina, Linda and I returned home to Michigan to attend. We jokingly reenacted the photo, having Dori’s cousin Christine Godoshian Sarafian stand in for her. Almost four decades later, we are still connected, thanks to the AYF and Olympics.
My Olympic career as a senior was not too illustrious. After missing the 50th anniversary games and spending the summers of 1985 and 1986 at Camp Haiastan (not ideal training grounds for a strong Olympic performance), I spent the next two summers as an ANCA intern. In 1988, I moved to Boston and spent my remaining years as a Boston “Siamanto.” At this point my days of Uncle Sonny’s coaching were behind me, and my new coach was Ara Krafian, the Siamantos’ coach and love of my life ever since meeting at AYF Junior Seminar in 1986. My last AYF Olympics was in 1991, hosted by the Chicago “Ararat” Chapter for the first time ever. It was a great Olympics. I may have not produced any notable athletic feats, but I enjoyed a wonderful 16 years as an AYF member.
My husband Ara had his own illustrious career as a swimmer and runner at Olympics; our life together began as AYF members, then transitioned to AYF alumni and supporters. Ara served on the AYF Olympic Governing Body for nine years representing New England. We went from athletes to alumni to organizers, all while starting our young family. Every Krafian daughter has been to every Olympics since birth, by no choice of their own. After Araxi’s birth in 1992 and during Ara’s AYF Governing Body term, we had three more daughters and countless years of traveling to and from Olympics with the girls in tow, a labor of love for our family. On September 1, 1999, my labor was induced so our third daughter Anoush would not be born while Ara was at Olympics in New Jersey. I was discharged just in time for Boston alum Alan Jelalian to race Ara down to the pool in NJ to start the swim meet. They could not start without him, as he had the newly developed computerized program to record the results. Anoush has been called the “Olympics Baby” in our family ever since; her birthday is generally celebrated on or around Olympics weekend every year.
Since 1989, as well as during and after Ara’s service on the Governing Body, he coached the Boston “Siamanto” Chapter, continuing on with the newly formed Greater Boston “Nejdeh” Chapter. In 2012, Ara was named Olympic King with fellow AYF Alum Rich Chebookjian. The Nejdehs came close to winning several Olympics in the 2010s and finally became Olympic Champions in 2016 and 2019. After 30 years of coaching, Ara was happy to see his AYF kids reach their AYF Olympic dream twice.
The Olympic torch has been passed down to the next generation of Krafians; Araxi in 2009 in Providence, Nairi in 2011 in Chicago, Anoush in 2015 in Providence and last but not least, Knar in 2019 in Chicago. It has been a full circle Olympic experience to see our four daughters continue in our footsteps as AYF members and athletes. There have been so many Olympic memories over the years, but the best by far for Ara and I was watching the girls run the 4×100 relay together last year in Chicago—the first of any AYF family to have four siblings run a relay and win.
As we all endure the early onset of the ‘Olympic blues’ and stay safe in our respective communities, I ask that you lend your support to the AYF and its annual adbook. Sit outside Sunday night with a glass and toast to our beloved AYF until we see each other again next year in 2021. And maybe, just maybe, you will hear the echoes of the sound of the oud and the chanting of the crowd, “Oor Eh? Hos Eh!”