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Passion, fidelity to purpose make Olympic dreams golden

I am sitting at my desk basking in the warm glow of my daughter's Olympic successes. I am staring incredulously at the latest issues of Time and Newsweek where large pictures depict some of the vitality of this child's life, capturing a moment forever. I carry the delight of knowing that as the world's cameras caught her triumph she was pointing at her parents and brother and sister, sharing the joy.

Catherine had just completed, with three Olympic swim friends, the 400-meter freestyle relay "winning the gold" for Team USA. It was the first of two gold medals for Catherine, the second coming two days later for swimming in the preliminaries of the 400 medley relay in which the U.S. relay team won another first place..

Catherine has swum like a fish since the age of 2. And I remember as if it were last week the car trip our family took to Gethsemani, Ky., in January 1983 where we were met by Br. Alan Gilmore. Before we could emerge from the van, Catherine, then 5, leaned out through a partially opened window and asked: "Does this place have a swimming pool?" Poor Br. Alan had to tell her the guesthouse had no pool. This, in turn, caused Catherine to exclaim: "Gethsemani sucks!".

Catherine has a mind of her own. She also has a passion for water and loves to be in it, whether a pool, lake or ocean. She also loves to compete in swimming. Catherine has followed her passions. .

Not without much sacrifice, especially in recent years. She has had to give up much of what constitutes normal high school life to practice up to 35 hours weekly. For the past four years, I slept best Tuesday nights. I went to bed knowing that was the night Catherine could sleep until dawn, not having to get up at 4 when she normally starts her daily training routine..

Yet we seldom had to wrestle Catherine out of bed. She is her own person. You cannot force a child to endure what she has had to go through to become a world-class athlete. It happens through some internal desire, love for the sport, for the pursuit of the challenge. .

Catherine has never been taught to "win," but always to improve herself, to "drop times." She should carry these lessons through life. Excellence, she will tell you, is not a moment in time but rather a fidelity to a commitment. It is a way of life. .

How proud her parents are! And how proud Hoa and I are that her older brother, Daniel, and older sister, Christine, are equally proud of their "little sister." They were on hand to see her swim..

There she was on the medal stand. I was numb, suspended in a limbo of dawning belief. Never once had the thought of a medal crossed my mind. If it crossed Catherine's, she never let on. We were just so pleased Catherine could live her dream..

Catherine's world is quickly changing. Kansas City, Mo., is buzzing for its new champion. Our phone is seldom still. The Chiefs and Royals want her at the ball park. There's to be a parade, talk of naming a swimming pool after her..

She will continue to find her way. She is strong, confident, raised to believe success is a team effort. Asked at a news conference how she felt to be the first Asian-American to win a swimming gold medal for the United States, she said: "I was the right person at the right time. I'm proud to be that person." Proud, too, are your parents, Catherine.

-- Tom Fox

National Catholic Reporter, August 9, 1996