31 January 2017
Yesterday morning I flew out of Chicago O'Hare's international terminal. Less than twelve hours prior, thousands of people had crowded the same terminal, shutting down traffic in the name of human rights. As I checked in for my flight, I felt anxiety wondering if behind these walls there were still people being detained. I felt shame in my own entitlement. I felt the full weight of my privilege. I have felt it nonstop for the last ten days. I spent the past two weeks either training for World Championships or laying in my hotel room, pouring over news articles and stories on my social media feeds. There has been nothing else. Just me grasping at the full scope of what is happening around me and trying to make sense of the role I play in this country - a country that is currently challenging my idea of what America represents.
As an elite level athlete, I have received my fair share of media training. Every so often, speedskating piques the interest of the general public and it is useful for athletes to be prepared for any media inquiries. One piece of advice frequently repeated is to avoid getting political. It is not our job as athletes to weigh in on policy issues. In the venue of a speedskating competition, I am not a representative of the political will of this country and as such, I will politely side step any commentary.
I am, however, a representative of this country's strength and resilience and grit. In that arena, I have proven myself an expert. I earned the right to represent you on the world's largest sporting stage, a stage that exists to recognize humans from every corner of the world coming together and celebrating our collective strength and resilience and grit. To appreciate our wild differences. To remind us we are bound by goodwill to humankind.
I lead a life where getting stuck in a middle seat on an international flight is what makes me sweat, not whether or not I will be allowed back to my home when I return. I don't have to worry about getting through customs in the country hosting my skating competition because of what passport I carry. I move through my environment in a body that doesn't collect second glances wrought with suspicion. I give the world my best and it graciously accepts, no questions asked.
If only we could all lead such charmed lives.
If you're not uncomfortable with what is currently happening to your fellow Americans, I ask of you a very sincere, "How?" Take some time to think about the privileged life you lead where you don't have to pay attention to what's happening because it's not happening to you. Practice empathy and try to care about someone who is different from you in ways that don't reflect their character or contributions to the United States.
Jon Stewart once said, "If you don't stick to your values when they're being tested, they're not values: they're hobbies."
My values are being tested. So I add my voice to the sea of others who believe that our country's diversity is our strength, that our America is tolerant and just.
I want you to know that when I go to the starting line, the letters USA beaming down my back, I proudly represent the best in all Americans. All of us.