“Thursday at the AYF Olympics” would normally be the title of the first of my daily articles posted during AYF Olympics weekend. I should have flown out yesterday morning. I should be in Providence, camera in hand, taking photos of the first arrivals, the welcoming booth and friends and acquaintances old and new. The problem is I am not there. I am home.
But, I am still writing.
Earlier this week, I decided to cancel my room and air reservations. That tough decision was mostly based on my workload. I had a few courses dumped on me last week, launching me to almost a double load. So, being behind the eight ball, I simply could not attend this year.
Did I mention I agonized about this decision and am agonizing now about not being there? It is not about a fear of missing out. I know I am most definitely missing out. My wife? She is feeling worse about this than I am.
But I am still writing. It is my solace for not being there.
2020 was a tough year for us. We had no Olympics. While that was tough to take, it was nothing in comparison to the gut wrenching, horrible war we witnessed in Artsakh. Gathering this year is sorely needed. I wish I was in Providence.
Normally, I would be having a drink with Ken and Alexan Topalian. It is an Olympic tradition. I would be chatting with the Olympic Committee, the Governing Body, and the tennis players and golfers. Then I would go to my room and write a different kind of article than I am writing now.
We are still going to post the daily update articles from the Olympics. We have a small cadre of photographers and contributors feeding me photos and collecting quotable sound bites from participants and spectators. From afar, I will summarize the day… almost as if I were there.
This certainly is a more somber piece than I am used to writing about the Olympics. Usually, I write about the joy of the AYF Olympics and how we collectively celebrate and revive the unique American-Armenian spirit as well as the organization and its premier event that is so near and dear to our hearts. Not being there and not experiencing all of this with people of like hearts and minds, well, that is the reason for the somber tone.
I am also sad because Joyce Bagdasarian, a stalwart of the Providence community, a regular attendee of the Olympics, and a devotee of the kind of music played at the Alumni Dance and the Olympic Ball passed away a short eight days ago on August 26th. I was texting with Joyce’s dear friend Gloria Keleshian last night who noted, “Joyce loved her culture and music and was the number one fan of Onnik. She was very active with the local and National Association of Ladies Guild. She organized and ran numerous fundraising events in Providence. She loved the AYF and was looking forward to being there with me. As she was being put on a ventilator, she mentioned to me that now she wouldn’t be able to go to the Olympics.” That is how important the AYF Olympics was to her and is to all of us. That feeling never changes.
I remember Joyce running after me saying, “Mark, Mark, Mark…” at the Alumni Dance at the 2018 Philadelphia Olympics. I turned around and said, “Hello Joyce, how are you?” She said, “I am fine. Come with me.” She grabbed me by the arm and took me over to Onnik Dinkjian and said, “Please take a photo of us.” Upon taking a few photos she told me, “Please send them to me.” The next day she saw me in the lobby and reminded me I had not yet sent the photos. It was the first thing I did when I got back to my laptop. Gloria was right. If there was an Onnik Dinkjian Fan Club, Joyce would have most certainly been the president.
When at the Olympics, we often reminisce about all the people that have passed on who truly loved the Olympics. Sadly, we now will include Joyce to that August list of AYFers who will always be with us in spirit.
Best wishes to all the athletes and attendees of the Olympics in Providence this weekend. A special thanks must be given to the Providence community and Olympic organizing committee for taking this on and hosting the event in short order. Bravo.