U.S. Olympians visit White House
Four members of the U.S. Olympic Team for triathlon joined more than 500 athletes from the 2008 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games at the White House to be honoured by President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush in celebration of their athletic achievements.
Hunter Kemper, Jarrod Shoemaker, Sarah Haskins, and Julie Ertel made the trip to Washington, along with team coach Andy Schmitz. It was the athletes’ first opportunity to gather as one delegation of Olympians and Paralympians since leaving Beijing.
After the anxious athletes had filled every stair, step and stoop on the podium crafted for them in the Rose Garden, the President and Mrs. Bush came out to a round of applause and greeted the team.
“Members of the mighty Olympic team, we’re glad you’re here,” he said. “We thank you for the lasting memories that we will take with us forever.
“The Olympic team finished with the top medal count of 110 medals. But more impressive was the decency and the character that you brought to the world stage. Whether you won a medal or not really doesn’t matter in the long run. What really matters is the honour you brought to your sports, to your families and to your country.”
President Bush also acknowledged members of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports who were attending the event, and encouraged their continued efforts to promote physical activity for all.
“There is no better time to remind our fellow citizens that physical fitness will lead to a healthier America.”
The President then specifically recognized U.S. Paralympians, who sometimes discover their extraordinary athletic talents through tragic accidents.
The President then honoured the 16 athletes in the Beijing delegation who serve the nation in uniform, and personally congratulated Army Lt. Melissa Stockwell (Paralympic Swimming) for her achievements and for serving as flag bearer for the Closing Ceremony.
Stockwell was on a routine convoy in Baghdad, Iraq, when a roadside bomb exploded and resulted in the loss of her left leg. Since returning to athletic competition, she has been active as a swimmer and triathlete and has competed in the USAT Physically Challenged National Championships.
After the event, the athletes were welcomed on a tour of the White House and spent time socializing and meeting other athletes.
I had an amazing time with my fellow Olympians in Washington D.C. It is always exciting to go to the Capital but it was even more exciting to stand on the South Lawn of the White House and walk through the building. It was a short trip, but it was well worth it, Shoemaker said. After the White House session was done with President Bush, I had the honour of touring the Capitol Building with USAT board member Melissa Merson and her husband. Melissa and Harry brought me onto the floor of the House of Representatives, and I got to see much more of the Capitol than I was able to on my 7th grade field trip. I had an amazing time and being a history major and early American history buff it was quite a memorable experience for me.