Thanks, Pal!

Story written by EPelle

I've never really gotten into the whole pen-pal game.

As a youth, I found a way to find others' live more interesting than mine, and became easily distracted by the perception of surface spendor and greatly exaggerated excitement lived by my letter-writing friends.

I tried it once - this pen and send - back when I was 16-years-old, gaining excellent insight to how folks on the island nation of Jamaica lived and carried about. Then I felt guilty about being a teenager with so much more than they had, that I stopped talking about my life after a couple of rounds.

Soon, two months into the autumn following my summer visit there, I stopped buying stamps, never got a new piece of mail, and lost out on a terrific learning opportunity.

I've always enjoyed writing and discussion - there is no mistake about that. It just took me a good while to learn that others may look forward to mail more so than me.

So I tried it again three years later.

My last actual pen-pal attempt was with my childhood friend whom I had intended on confiding during my first few months away at university in America.

I had every intention of discussing with him the challenging courses I was enrolled in, the difficult workouts I was running, and the complete change of pace university brings about.

However, four weeks turned into six, and the one page I had saved to describe life far away from home was moved into a pile. That stack became dusty and soon became scrap. As a starving student, that scrap of sheets was used - and re-used - for notes, dwellings and thoughts about everthing once-upon-a-time. I finally hitched a ride on the communication wave by picking up the phone and calling him long distance.

No answer.

And so the great experiment which was called letter-writing began and ended before ever setting sail for true north.

An Olympic gold medalist ruined my personal retirement from this game by one simple answer to an e-mail nearly two years ago.

I was hyped following one of his historic achievements now 21 months old, and sent him an e-mail congratulating him on his remarkable day.

I wanted to participate in athletics full-circle.

Being a fan to me was more than watching athletes compete on television - and in person when they make their way to Göteborg for indoor and outdoor competitions. So I typed up a quick congratulations - one of thousands I am positive he received after that performance - and left it up to fate to work out the response effort.

I was at work one morning in March 2005 when a personal e-mail added depth to my total athletics experience.

Stefan Holm had written back.

He'd read my e-mail and wanted to thank me for writing. He told me he'd actually kept up with some of the message board topics related to high jumping on Track & Field News that I linked in my e-mail. He'd just become the fifth high jumper to clear 2.40m indoors, recording this at the 2005 European Indoor Championships in Madrid, and athletics fans around the globe were celebrating this great achievement.

He'd become a star after winning the 2004 Olympic high jump title in Athens. He made even greater headlines when he beat Russia's Jaroslav Rybakov by 2cm to win the continental championship in excellent fashion. Rybakov had also taken attempts at 2.40m, but it was Holm who managed a life-time best - indoors or outdoors - to elevate himself into the upper elites who have ever contested the event.

The high tide has rolled back out to sea after more than 20 e-mail exchanges, but Holm has made a magnificent go at keeping the fire burning. He's been great at responding to e-mails, and has been a treasure chest for a fan like myself who loves an inside scoop. He's a very down-to-earth person.

Connection with Holm prompted me to try my hand at this again this past summer, writing to three more athletes - two female high jumpers, and to a pole vaulter.

I have had early success connecting with one of the high jumpers, exchanging words on a few occasions to share the typical "great job" - "thanks" dialogue which follows any considerable achievement.

Tia Hellebaut was extremely easy to speak with this past summer. She'd beaten Kajsa Bergqvist here on our own home turf for the 2005 European Championships high jump title.

Hellebaut seemed to almost apologise for wrecking the day for Bergqvist here, and took her victory - actually each of her successes this past year - in stride. I mailed her a couple of photographs she took with a stranger during the championships, and told her what a great job she did in winning a major international title. She responded in kind, and we've written a few times during the off-season.

I had hoped for more with the second high jumper, but have never received a communication in return.

Logging into e-mail has never been more fun than over the past two years. Sometimes I feel like a small boy does when sees his favourite person on television - it makes me proud. It's interesting how I peek and hope that a returned letter (e-mail) is waiting with a few words from a pal on the other side of the server.

I've had more to bring to the smörgåsbord than the small portion of table salt I had previously left for the other partakers in my snail mail game.

I've been enriched by what others take the time to write, and I hope everyone has an opportunity at some point and time in life to spend time discussing fotboll and books with an athlete of their choice. You'll feel a connection to the sport - and to their event - on such a greater level, and the recipient of your mail just may take a moment to say thanks for thinking about them.

It's funny how this works!

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