Mama Madison: Competing on a different field

Let your kids follow their passion

This week we've been hearing inspiring tales of physical grit and mental determination. We've been introduced to numerous Olympic competitors who have overcome great adversity in search of their place on the podium. We've been schooled on sacrifice and passion.

But passionate is not a word that comes to mind when I think of my kids and sports. All three have had some very positive athletic experiences, mind you -- Girls on the Run, Regent soccer, freshman "no-cut" baseball. But I can't say I've ever witnessed particularly high levels of grit, determination or sacrifice, unless you count sacrificing the occasional "seconds" on after-game snacks if there wasn't enough to go around.

My kids' relationship with sports can best be characterized as serviceable, but without sparks. Kind of like I imagine a successful arranged marriage might be.

But the funny thing about passion is its unpredictability. It often sneaks up on you in the most unexpected places. And that place, for my 15-year-old son this summer break, has been Ancient Rome.

This past week my oldest has enthusiastically helped represent the state of Wisconsin at the National Junior Classical League Convention at Wake Forest University. He competes in an "event" called Certamen -- a quiz-bowl style battle of the buzzer with classics-themed questions. Think Jeopardy with Alex Trebek sporting a laurel wreath and gladiator sandals.

I guess this shouldn't really surprise me. My son was always the kid lined up outside Borders (RIP) 15 minutes before opening to be the first to purchase the latest Rick Riordan novel. I am pretty sure he knew in fourth grade that Homer was more than just that the dad on The Simpsons. And that the original Mount Olympus didn't include water slides.

But this summer he has taken his love of all things Classical to new heights. Like those passionate teens who resist their biological urge to sleep late in order to train swim team or cross-country practice, my son, too, set the alarm each morning to prepare, sometimes in Madison, sometimes Milwaukee, for the showdown. Day after day, he committed himself to learning Roman military history and memorizing Latin grammar. He and his teammates spent hour upon hour perfecting their buzzer strategy.

He's still at the convention as I write this. I have no idea how it's going, as he's decided not to answer my texts -- a sure sign he's having a great time. But as I sit at home watching coverage of the 2012 Summer Games, I like to imagine he's getting his own little taste of the Olympic Village in the Wake Forest dorms. No, he's not meeting javelin throwers from Malaysia or field hockey players from Kazakhstan. But hopefully he's met an expert on the fifth declension from Virginia or a toga designer from Ohio.

Because while the National Junior Classical Convention may never be televised on network TV (is there a cable channel devoted to antiquity?), there's a lot to be said for passion of a different kind.

The official motto of the Olympic games is "Citius, Altius, Fortius," after all, not "Faster, Higher, Stronger."

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