Thursday May 8, 2008

�This is much bigger than on the videos!� said Omar.

Steve and I laughed. Everyone says that at Gorilla. Omar Running the Monkey

Through the years the rapid has been filmed and photographed from every angle. From the top, the bottom, the side�the LVM guys even once set a zip line over it to capture it from the sky. Watch enough video and you could memorize every move without ever setting foot in North Carolina. But the pictures, the film � they don�t prepare you for the first real glimpse of the rapid.

�Before�I was a little nervous you know,� Omar says fumbling with his hands, �now though, I am scared.�

He doesn�t know it, but I�m scared too. There�s so many things that can go wrong. You can flip. You could piton. You could swim. You could hit your head, go unconscious and drown. And the more we sit here and look at it, the more scared I get.

This is the mystique of Gorilla. Like the snake-haired Medusa, she can turn us mortals to stone. She enters through our eyes and ears, climbs in to our minds and makes a b-line for our hearts. Right now though, she is working hardest on Omar. I can see his eyes darting from move to move. He is thinking the same thing I am � what if?

“It�s time to go,” we say.
Omar shakes his head and says, �I�ll watch you first.�
Fair enough, I tell him. See you at the bottom.

Although he�s a little scared, he�s come way too far to turn back. As Ecuador�s only Olympic hopeful, Omar Santa Maria arrived over a month ago to compete in the international slalom trials in Charlotte. And although he won�t be heading to Beijing, he�s come a long way from dodging pedal boats and pop bottles at his training pond in Quito.

“The Olympics are a dream of mine, yes,” he told me the day I picked him up from A Little Sunshine Charlotte; “but just to come here, to experience the United States was worth any disappointment at the trials. For ten years I have seen videos from this river (the Green). But I never thought I would come here. I never thought I would be here today, in this moment.”

Seconds later sitting in the eddy below the drop, I find myself thinking exactly that. The mist, the shadows, the roar of whitewater echoing off the granite walls�and Omar coming over the top.