2018 Reflections - Summer

 

When Luke and I weren’t working, we spent much over our summer at the lake, slamming tacos and popsicles from El Huarache, a quirky family-owned Mexican restaurant. We went blueberry picking, taught our puppy how to swim, went on some of the best boat rides I have ever experienced, and waded a half mile out into Traverse City bay on a gloomy, rainy day.

My best memories of 2018 were made in the summer. It was a joyful season, full of conversations about dreams and plans for big changes. Following the pattern of 2018, another monumental event happened in the summer: I was a recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage ESPY Award, along with hundreds of my Sister Survivors. For those who don’t know what the ESPYS are (I didn’t know until earlier this year myself), it’s an award ceremony for sports, hosted by ESPN.


Wikepedia describes the award as “presented annually to individuals whose contributions "transcend sports". According to ESPN, "recipients reflect the spirit of Arthur Ashe, possessing strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of peril and the willingness to stand up for their beliefs no matter what the cost".


This year, the Arthur Ashe award was given to the Sister Survivors for standing up against the abuse of Larry Nassar and the enablement of Michigan State University. ESPN said that it was awarded to us to, “…acknowledge the power of their voices, and to shine a very well-deserved spotlight on what speaking up, fighting back, and demanding accountability can accomplish.”

Upon invitation and my acceptance, ESPN set me up with a flight, a shuttle from the airport, 2 nights in a stunning hotel, $100 to any of the hotel’s bars and restaurants, professional hair and makeup by the Armani team, free head shots, a free ticket to the ESPY after party (tickets sold for $1790 per person!), and a gold cuff which is ingrained with the word courage. Needless to say, we were treated like celebrities.

When we arrived at the dress rehearsal, there were 150+ stand-ins with our names on their shirts, practicing our entrance and exit pattern on the Microsoft Theater stage. Then it was our turn to do so. We walked in and walked out, and then in and out again and again, until it was like clockwork. There were labels sprinkled throughout the audience, identifying where big-name celebrities were planning to sit. Danica Patrick, the host of the show, practiced looking at the correct celebrity when his or her name was mentioned on the teleprompter. When this was complete, we were invited to sit down in the audience to watch the intro video that was to be played the following day at the awards show.

One of my head shots from the ESPYS.

One of my head shots from the ESPYS.

The lights dimmed to black and the screens became illuminated with our faces, some of us as young children and few of us as adults. We all knew these photos were the ones we sent in when asked to provide a photo of ourselves at the age the abuse began. Some women sobbed and others remained completely silent. It was a very solemn event, especially since it was the first time a large number of us were together in the same place.

The following day brought much more lighthearted events. There were swarms of makeup and hair professionals running around the styling rooms, and a frenzy of excited women about to make their debut on national television. Our greenroom was filled with therapy dogs and delicious food for us to munch on while we waited for us to be called to line up. When it was finally our time (we were the final award of the evening), I opened the side door of the theater since I led the line up onto the front row of the stage.

When I entered the theater, and saw 7,000 people seated along with the cameras that were broadcasting the show to 3.9 million people, I could feel the immediate jump in my blood pressure. I grabbed the hands of the women standing next to me as the lights dimmed to black and the video about us began once again. Unlike the first viewing, when I was one of the silent viewers, I was much more audible. I could not help the loud crying that was coming from me, and now the many women around me watching this. I looked into the audience and saw many people with tears running down their faces.

As the video ended, Jennifer Gardner, the presenter of the award, announced the army of women, which queued us to enter. It was the most powerful moment of my life. I looked into the faces of my sister survivors as I walked onto the stage with 7,000 people in the background. I watched as every audience member gave us a standing ovation, applauding and crying for us. I will never forget how I felt standing on that stage, particularly the overwhelming feeling that came with the recognition for my courage and resilience.

 
 
 
 

In the days following the ESPYS, Luke and I spent time in Venice Beach, Hollywood, and Ventura, California. We were immediately intrigued with what California offers: the culture, the opportunities, the weather, and the food. You name it, we were interested. Talks of places we would like to move are frequent in the van der Veen home, but this time around, something felt different. The more we spoke about it, moving to Los Angeles began to feel more and more like a potential reality. As we flew back to Michigan, we began brainstorming the steps we would need to take this fall to get ourselves there by the end of 2018. Discussion of these plans closed out our summer and ushered us into a very busy fall.

 
Melody van der Veen