Tuesday, July 31, 2012

1984 Olympic Games

Everyone who is ever involved in any sport, dreams of taking part in the Olympic Games. This is every athlete's ultimate goal. Since all my life I was involved in the sport of Rhythmic Gymnastics, and this sport was not part of the Olympic Games program, I can't tell you how excited we all were when the decision was made that Rhythmic Gymnastics FINALLY will be part of the Olympics as of 1984.
Here is a little history:
Competitive rhythmic gymnastics began in the 1940s in the Soviet Union. The FIG ( Federation of International Gymnastics) formally recognized this discipline in 1961, first as modern gymnastics, then as rhythmic sportive gymnastics, and finally as rhythmic gymnastics. The first World Championships for individual rhythmic gymnasts was held in 1963 in Budapest. Groups were introduced at the same level in 1967 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Rhythmic gymnastics was added to the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, with an Individual All-Around competition. However, many federations from the Eastern European countries were forced to boycott by the Soviet Union. Canadian Lori Fung was the first rhythmic gymnast to earn an Olympic gold medal.
In 1984 we just moved from a small 3,000 square foot facility in the Industrial Court in Orange Park, Florida to a large  (our own!!!) 10,000 sq. ft facility. We had 2 gymnastics floors and one of the gymnastics floors was dedicated to Rhythmic Gymnastics. I already had a very strong team: Kerrie Jackson, 13 year old  was a member of the Junior National Team.
Around May of 1984 I received a phone call from Michelle Berube, actually her Mother Kathy. Michelle was one of my students that I coached while we lived and worked in Detroit. She was one of my most talented girls: strong, flexible, expressive, aggressive, determined and very beautiful.
During the 1984 National Championships Michelle was one of the two girls who qualified for 1984 Olympic Games. She asked if she could come to Jacksonville and train with me in order to prepare for the competition. It was a very important decision. By agreeing, I assumed a role of an Olympic Coach. It's a lot of responsibilities. My baby Joanna was only 8 months old, our business was fast growing and my presence was necessary. But who can say "No" to the Olympic Games???  Not me!
So Michelle moved to Jacksonville. She lived with us and we trained every day 4-5 hours a day. Everything was going very well. Routines were challenging, difficult and original. Michelle was getting strong, consistent and confident! We were planning to travel to Los Angeles together.
But right before we were ready to leave, I received a phone call from the US Gymnastics Federation informing me that there is going to be only one coach representing the US on the Olympic Games and it's going to be Alla Svirsky, coach from Los Angeles.
So, I could not go...I was heartbroken, Michelle was very upset, but I told her that Alla is a very good and experienced coach and she will be in good hands. And all Michelle needs is confidence and positive attitude! I did my job. Michelle was ready!
So in July 1984, Michelle left for Los Angeles. My heart, my thoughts and my spirit was with her. I was so proud of her!!!

One of many newspaper articles: "The Florida Times-Union/Jacksonville Journal" July 7, 1984
Michelle Berube ~ 1984 Olympic Games ~ 14th AA

Monday, July 23, 2012

#23 ~ January 1976 ~ Good bye Italy!

1976 New Year celebration was very bitter sweet for us. We had about 10 families get together to celebrate the New Year. Some families were already informed that they will be leaving Italy to go to the United States, but most of us were still waiting.
Our first choice of destination for permanent residency was Canada (we were told by the "experts" that Canada is in great need of PE teachers, coaches and Physical Fitness instructors). But as soon as it was known that I was pregnant, we were refused the entry visas to Canada. We had to re-apply for the entry visa to the United States.
We said "good bye" to many families that we got to know during our 7 months stay in Italy. We all promised to keep in touch, but we also knew that once someone left Italy, they never looked back.
On January 5th we had an appointment at the HIAS office. Without any hopes or expectations we went to Rome. It was a full day affair. But to our great surprise and delight, we were informed that the Jewish Federation of Hartford, Connecticut agreed to sponsor our family and we will be leaving Italy on January 15th. We had only 10 days to get ready, pack, and prepair for the journey. We came home that day very excited and energized, pulled out the map of the United States and started looking for Hartford on the map. Where is it? Where is our new home going to be? Not only we could not find the city, we could not even find the state! We were told that Hartford is the world capital of insurance, that it is located in New England. Well, it did not tell us much. I've heard of New York and Los Angeles, Detroit and Chicago, Miami and Las Vegas, but we had never even heard of Hartford.
But it did not upset or disturb us. We were very excited and looked forward to our journey across the Atlantic from Italy to the US. What bothered me all of the sudden was the memory of the lectures in school and college about America: all the daunting images of the "evil" American people, intimidating and angry police, poor people being exploited by the capitalists, images of black people in jail, war hungry government, etc. I knew that it was nothing but propaganda, but it was so powerful. And I started  questioning our decision again, if we were doing the right thing. But it was NO TURNING BACK...
So, on bright and sunny day on January 15, 1976 we said "Arividerchi" to Italy and set on our way to the United States of America!
Flight was very long and I did not feel very well. Although I enjoyed the comfortable seats, great food, wonderful service and free movies!!! And  everyone was very attentive, thoughtful and kind. And before we knew it, we landed in New York City. Looking out of the window of the terminal we saw houses, roads, cars, huge cars. I've never seen such long and big cars in my life. This was our new home. Are we going to be happy here? Are we going to make it? I was so nervous and excited and the same time. We were told that we will spend one night in New York and in the morning we will take another flight to Hartford. I was looking around, looking for monsters and "evil" people, but all I saw was friendly and pleasant looking crowd, smiley men, lovely women and beautiful, healthy children. Everything looked so clean, organised and orderly. So where are the "war loving monsters" that lived in America???!!!
We were met by a very nice man who welcomed us to the US, took us to the nearby hotel, gave us vouchers  for dinner and said that he will come and get us in the morning. Wow! I felt that I finally came home! We were safe, happy and secure. My baby girl was safe and fed and happy and the new life inside of me gave me even more strength, vigor and confidence that everything is going to be OK!

Friday, July 13, 2012

#22 ~ Fall 1975 ~ Ostia Lido

Our life in Ostia was full of discoveries. We saw happiness and despair, tragedy and triumph, death and birth. We were surrounded with families with their own, unique stories. And I wish I kept a journal back then to document it all. It would make a fascinating book.
During the warm days, we would go to the beach and enjoy the sunshine, warm sand, beautiful blue water. We studied English, dreamed about our lives in the USA or Canada, anywhere in the Free World.
We were able to move to a 3 bedroom apartment. We stayed in one of the bedrooms and rented out the other two. This way we could afford to live there and have money for food and transportation. We all shared kitchen and a bathroom. A little tight, but livable.
In October warm weather turned into the cold, bitter, windy and very unpleasant. No wonder most of the apartments were empty. All Italians went back to the City. We lived on the top floor and one night the wind blew out large glass of the sliding door. We had nothing to repair it with. I hung blankets to shield from the wind and rain, but it was not very helpful. We all slept fully dressed, and it was still very cold. It took several weeks until the landlord sent  a repair man to fix the broken window. In a meantime, I found out that I was pregnant. We were very happy, but not knowing where we are going to be in a week, a month, a year added stress and anxiety, constant worry and nervous tension to our already strained lives. But the new life inside of me made me smile, made me more determined to succeed.
One Sunday morning, one of our neighbors invited us to come to the Vatican. Felix stayed home with Masha and I went with the group. Vatican is a magical place. I read in our guide book that Vatican City is home to some of the most famous art in the world. I did know what to expect. When we arrived to the St. Peter's Square, there were thousands of people standing and looking up. They explained to me that the Pope is going to appear and wave to the crowd from the window on the top floor. Well, I did not see the Pope, because I fainted... Maybe it was too hot, or too many people, or too much excitement, or maybe the fact that I was pregnant, or most likely all of the above. When I came to, I was carried on the stretchers by two funny looking men. They were Swiss  Guards in their traditional uniforms. I got so scared, frightened and panicky. They tried to comfort me, but I just wanted to get away and I did... That was my first encounter with the Vatican City. Just want to ensure that my next visit (years later) was much happier and very exciting.
St. Peter's Square ~ Vatican City

As I mentioned before, every day we were meeting so many different people with their own special stories, but one thing united us all: we all had to flee the country where we were born, face the unknown, and start our lives anew. We also shared new information from the books that were forbidden in the Soviet Union. One of the authors was  Alexander Solzhenitsyn. His novels tell about horrifying experiences in prison and war: "One Day of the Life of Ivan Denisovich", "The First Circle", "Cancer Ward". They describe the prison scenes, hospitals, atrocities by Soviet Government, corruption and dishonesty. The most dramatizing book for me was "The Gulag Archipelag" about the  the prison camps. Horror! Death! Bereavement!
Reading those books just confirmed that we made the right decision.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

#21~Summer 1975~Ostia Lido

Our first month in Italy was very interesting, to say the least. Every night we would go to the Central Post office to find out what is happening, who is leaving Italy for the US or Canada, who is coming from Russia, ask questions and get advice from people who lived in Italy for a while. That's how we learned how to survive and what to do.
As we settled, we started the ORT School, where we studied English. Felix and Ida would go to the classes in the morning and I attended afternoon classes. This way one of us was taking care of Masha. School was in Rome, so we had to take the train and then use the bus to get to school.

Train Station in Ostia Lido
To save money I often walked to school instead of using the bus. I enjoyed my long walks along the river. I discovered short cuts and to my delight found beautiful piazzas, old churches, fountains and museums. I don't remember being afraid to get lost. I knew how to ask: "Where is the river?" And I could find my way from there. I loved school. Our teacher was a young man from Chicago. He did not speak any Russian, so everything was in English. We read American newspapers, asked questions about American way of life and shared our own stories. What is ORT School?

In 1880 a group of Russian Jews petitioned Czar Alexander II for permission to start a fund to assist Jewish trade schools and establish new colonies, agricultural schools and model farms in order to help lift Russia's five million Jews out of crushing poverty. The success of the appeal led Russian authorities to create the "Society for Trades and Agricultural Labor," for Jews of Russia. It is from this original name—Obschestvo Remeslenovo i. Zemledelcheskovo Trouda—that the word ORT is derived.

After the first month living with 2 other families in a 1 room apartment, we had a chance to rent a 3 bedroom apartment, which was not as new and not as comfortable. But we used only one room for ourselves and rented the other two to 2 families. It saved a lot of money for us and we had our own room. I loved going to the market. I learned how to find bargains, how to "make deals" with the merchants. On the weekends we decided to explore Rome. We bought a Guide book: "Rome and Vatican". It was so helpful to read about the certain place and then go and see it: Piazza Venezia, The Roman Forum, The Colosseum, The fountain of Trevi and so much more...
Some museums were free of charge, some had a very small admission fee. My most favorite was  The Pantheon.
One night when we walked by the Piazza Nationale, we saw that lots of people gathered around the fence. When we got closer, we saw a small stage and around it tables and chairs were set. People were sitting at the tables, sipping wine or champagne and listening to the singer. His name was Mario Rovi. Oh, how I wanted to be among those people, to sit comfortably and listen to the artist and not  behind the fence. And I made a promise to myself, that WE WILL COME BACK AND WE WILL SIT AT THE VERY FRONT TABLE AND WE WILL HAVE CHAMPAGNE  AND ENJOY THE MUSIC!
One of the most memorable discoveries we made was Town of Tivoli, about 30 km from Rome. One Sunday afternoon we packed sandwiches, got some water and fruits and got on the bus. We did know what to expect. But what we saw was so incredible, we simply got lost in the past, away from troules, questions, worries and uncertainties. Villa D'Este was something from a dream: fountains, gardens, statues, waterfalls... we spent an entire day there and enjoyed every minute of it!
I did not mean to turn this into the guide book, but just could not help it. Yes, it was a difficult time of our life. We did not know what is going to happen to us and where we are going, but we had high hopes and big dreams and we were free!