Editor’s note: Carlo Prandini and wife Theresa of Clovis are providing updates on their experience as they await daughter Jenna’s Olympics debut Monday in the 200-meter heats. Here is Carlo’s account of their journey to South America.
After years of hope and a few weeks of preparation since Jenna made the U.S. team, we hit the road for Rio on Thursday. My father, “Pop,” who turned 85 last week, shuttled us to the Fresno Yosemite Airport at 9:30 a.m. to begin what ended up to be a 26-hour journey to our rented apartment in Rio.
Busy airports and full planes are standard for this time of year, but there was an Olympic spirit in the air. Maybe it was the American flag scarf my wife, Theresa, was wearing that was the conversation starter, but friendly folks in line, TSA employees and flight attendants all asked where we were headed or recognized the name. We heard plenty of “Go USA” and “Go Jenna” comments and well wishes.
Our first stop was Dallas and like FAT, every restaurant and pub had a TV on with enthusiastic viewers cheering the USA regardless of sport. We couldn’t help but notice the Olympics helps draw all Americans together during these divided and often polarizing times. Sports can do that.
From Dallas to São Paulo, we started encountering groups of folks on their way to Rio and the scarf continued to attract comments. We met a family from New Jersey heading to watch their daughter triple jump and upon further discussion found our daughters had actually met in the Olympic Village. We shared a row on the plane with three guys who ran track at Toledo University and now work around the country. They all flew to Las Vegas for a reunion and are staying with a friend in Rio. They have tickets to watch Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, the USA men’s basketball team – and now will be sure to root for Jenna, too! All the elements for a great trip. They were pumped.
The Brazilian people have been helpful, friendly and welcoming. The travelers as usual are a blend of sleepy, bewildered and impatient but generally positive. The closer we got to Rio, the more diverse and interesting our fellow passengers became.
In São Paulo, all TVs were tuned to the Olympics. No CNN or SportsCenter; all Olympics all the time!
There was more Portuguese and less English spoken and we met people from Britain, Switzerland, Jamaica, Iraq, Canada and China. Not to mention Chicago, Pennsylvania and New York.
The taxi driver from the airport to the Copacabana area was a wealth of knowledge even speaking limited English. The traffic was slow but not 405 rush hour slow. Interestingly, there were popcorn vendors wandering through the stopped traffic. Our driver said we would pass though a couple communities “that are not good on your eyes,” meaning they were pretty shabby and rundown.
However, passing through a tunnel under the hill where Christ the Redeemer stands, we emerged in the Ipanema and Copacabana area with high-rise apartments, palm trees and blue water!
Raul the doorman, handyman and whatever-you-need guy greeted us warmly as did Monica, who manages the rental. Pleasant and helpful, we had a crash course in everything we needed to know about Rio. She reminded us to take it easy and enjoy ourselves. “Brazil time you know,” she said.
Twenty-six hours later, we made it!