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Holly Brooks goes to Washington: Grizzly bears, Brussels sprouts and the Obamas

  • Author: Holly Brooks
  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published April 12, 2014

The White House visit is always a highlight and fun perk for Olympic athletes. I made the trip four years ago after the Vancouver Olympics, so this was my second trip to meet the President, and I have to say, it never gets old.

Our 3,300-mile voyage required us to leave Alaska on April 1, four days after our five-month season ended. Mental and physical exhaustion were in full effect and unfortunately, the trip necessitated a red-eye flight to get across the country.

Upon boarding the plane I popped a Nyquil and hoped for the best. Upon landing at Washington National, I purchased a large Dunkin' Donuts coffee to help me perk up.

Once at the hotel, I hit the ground running. With just enough time to peel off my compression socks and apply mascara, I was whisked off for meetings with Alaska's politicians. Rep. Don Young lent me his ear and gave me a tour of the 46 mounted animals in his office. My favorite photo of the day was taken near the entrance to his office, where I crouched inside a piece of the Alaska pipeline framed by an enormous grizzly bear hide.

In Sen. Mark Begich's office I visited with not only him but his staff members and interns, three of whom I had coached in my past life at West High and Alaska Pacific University. Small world!

Sen. Lisa Murkowski and I filmed a 20-minute episode of the Alaska Report weekly public television show,featuring a casual conversation about our state and giving me an opportunity to share my passion for promoting healthy lifestyles in a state plagued by health concerns.

After the taping she showed me her "fit bit" which tracks her steps on a daily basis. She shared that she uses the stairs daily even though her office is on the seventh floor. If reporters can't keep up or opt for the elevator, they lose the interview.

That evening we walked the red carpet outside of the historic Warner Theatre for the U.S. Olympic Committee's inaugural "Best of the U.S." awards show. Think Olympians go to the Oscars, complete with flowing gowns, acceptance speeches and boom cameras in your face to show nominees' reactions. That night someone made note it was obvious who was a sponsor and who was an athlete, the latter being those with athletic builds unable to walk in high heels.

Day 2 was the White House visit and the moment we had all been waiting for -- the chance to meet the President of the United States. Even though this was my second time, the thought of standing face to face with the leader of the free world was daunting. What do you say to arguably the most powerful man on Earth?

Once we cleared security, our delegation held an "Opening Ceremonies" of sorts advocating for first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign. Athletes were given bouquets of carrots and my favorite, Brussels sprouts. We paraded through the White House garden, where the smell and sight of the magnolias and hydrangeas alone were well worth the cross-country trip.

Lunchtime consisted of sitting on the Green Room floor and eating sandwiches and apples. It felt disrespectful but we were simply following directions.

Afterward, friendly yet frantic White House interns in blazers and heels attempted to organize us into a single-file receiving line to meet the president and first lady. White House staff introduced us one by one. My turn came -- "Holly Brooks, cross country skiing, Anchorage, Alaska" -- and although our actual conversation is a bit of a blur, I have to say Michelle Obama gives one of the best hugs I have ever received. I thought the same thing four years ago, and this confirmed it.

One of my teammates -- a White House rookie -- followed me in the receiving line. She shook President Barack Obama's hand and before she could stop herself, asked if she could hug him ... and he said yes!

Directly upon embrace this teammate, who shall remain nameless, burst into tears. I'm not talking small, barely visible tears leaking from the corners of her eyes. I'm talking huge, crocodile tears, an audible sob and a red face. She was so embarrassed she rushed out of the room. As we consoled her, a sympathetic White House staffer assured us that four or five other athletes had the same reaction.

Holly Brooks is a two-time Olympic skier from Anchorage.


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