By In Stuff

Rio Diary Day 1

Day 1: Laura Graves

The wonder of the Summer Olympics is how huge it is — this is not to downplay the splendor of the Winter Olympics but, let’s not kid anybody, they are two very different things. The Winter Olympics are an international celebration of winter, of snow, of ice, of the extraordinary things human beings have learned how to do on those surfaces. We (and I mean “we” as in “human beings, not me) can go very fast. We can jump very high. We can create beauty and art. It’s lovely and exciting.

But now think about the Summer Olympics.

We have the world’s biggest swimming championship here.

We have the world’s biggest track and field meet here.

We have the world’s biggest gymnastics championship here.

We have a tennis tournament with some of the world’s biggest stars. We have a golf tournament with some (fewer) of the world’s biggest stars. We have a basketball tournament with Kevin Durant and Diana Taurasi and Carmelo Anthony, among others. We have a worldwide soccer tournament with Neymar and Carli Lloyd, among others. We have most of the world’s best shooters, archers, fencers, wrestlers, boxers, weightlifters, table tennis players, divers, rowers, judokas, sailors, cyclists. We have the world’s wildest beach volleyball tournament, and the world’s most violent water polo tournament, and a miniature rugby World Cup.

It’s all too massive to wrap the mind around.

On Day 1, Laura Graves offered a nice reminder of the enormity of it all. I wrote about Laura Graves before … she was a bartender and cosmetologist up near her childhood home in Connecticut when she decided, once and for all that it was time to follow her dream: And her dream, oddly enough, was to compete in dressage.

Dressage — I’ve learned a lot about this in the last few months — is a fascinating equestrian event. In dressage, the rider is not supposed to guide the horse in any way — no pulling of the reins, no talking to the horse, no visible cues at all. The ride is supposed to look utterly effortless — judges watch this stuff very closely. The horse runs through a series of complicated steps and skills, and the rider must communicate through the subtlest of gestures or, ideally, through telepathy. The horse and rider are supposed to be one. It’s an ancient art form.

It’s also a sport that often has been connected to royalty and the insanely rich, so Graves’ connection to the sport is unusual. When she was young, she was so psyched about dressage that she convinced her parents to help her get what was essentially a mail order horse for $10,000 — this is a sport where a great dressage horse can cost upwards of a million dollars.

The horse, Verdades, Diddy for short, was basically nuts. Nobody could ride him. He was afraid of everything. Graves herself was thrown off Diddy so many times that the time her back was broken, her mother didn’t even come over right away (“Oh, look, Laura was thrown on her back again”). There was absolutely no reason for Graves to believe that Diddy could ever be a world-class dressage horse, but she believed anyway, and slowly she and Diddy formed this bond. And after countless hours of work (“Relax Diddy that’s just a garbage bag) and work (“Relax Diddy that’s just a television camera”) and work (“Relax Diddy that’s just the wind,”) Diddy began to evolve into something else, a graceful and extraordinary athlete.

And so one day, Graves quit her various jobs, moved down to Florida, subsisted on popcorn and Ramen Noodles, and began the craziest dream imaginable.

“So,” people would say to her after meeting her, “you ride horses for a living?”

“So,’ people said to her in the days leading up to Rio, “you ride horses for living!”

This is the magnitude of the Olympics — all these sports, all this greatness, and, oh yeah, it is also the biggest equestrian event in the world. And here’s Laura Graves with Diddy. They get to the venue here in Rio, and she walks Diddy in the wind, and she is astounded once again at how far he’s come, how far they’ve come. She thinks about the many steps they’ve taken together, the many fears they conquered, the countless times it all seemed pointless and fruitless. Here they walk at the Olympics, and they are Olympians, polished, unafraid, a champion.

“Honestly,” she says, “I had to stop for a moment just to think about how we got here. I’m so proud of him. I feel like we’re ready. It’s like a dream.”

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14 Responses to Rio Diary Day 1

  1. invitro says:

    Laura Graves is one very cool chick but she loses a point for that “Diddy” business. She should’ve picked something like “Verdy” or really anything but “Diddy”.

  2. Anne says:

    What an inspiring young woman, I will be looking for her and Verdades in the olympics and wish them both the very best. Enjoy every moment!

  3. Austin says:

    Reminds me of Hunt for the Wilderpeople, where the kid names his dog Tupac.

  4. Vidor says:

    Dressage is a ridiculous non-sport and has no place in the Olympics. Watching a horse prance around is not an Olympic sport.

    I know that’s not a very nice thing to say in an item about a young girl following her dreams, but really, dressage is idiotic. First, it’s not even a sport with human athletes. Second, the horse isn’t even racing! It’s just prancing about! Why not make the Westminster Kennel Club dog show into an Olympic event?

    Also, “enormity” is not a synonym for “enormousness”, and Joe as a professional writer should know not to use it here. Unless he’s actually saying that the Olympics is “a great moral wrong or sin”, in which case, maybe he should use it.

    And on that note I’ll end this obnoxious post.

    • Mike says:

      “And on that note I’ll end this obnoxious post”

      After 11 lines of unsolicited, gratuitous crap, finally a line with some substance.

      And to think I was about to give up . . .

      • Vidor says:

        “After 11 lines of unsolicited, gratuitous crap”

        Well, if you like horse prancing, there will be plenty of it.

    • JustBob says:

      Your comment inspired me! I love positivity like this (or is it positiveness?)! In fact, it inspired me to look up the definition of the word “enormity”. Well would you look at that? Here’s a great article from the website “”. I assume they’d know what they’re talking about, I mean, since “grammar” is right there in their name (see how I included all three of the “they’re”, “there”, and “their” in one sentence? And I did that on accident.).

      Enormity has a few meanings. It’s sometimes used to refer to (1) extreme wickedness, or (2) a monstrous offense or evil. The word comes from the French énormité, which mean irregularity, and these more extreme senses developed in English a century or two after the word entered the language.1 But enormity is also frequently used interchangeably with enormousness, which means the quality of being great in size, number, or degree. This is not wrong, nor is it a new development; the OED lists examples of enormity used this way from as far back as the late 18th century, and plenty more examples are easily found in historical searches. 2

      The use of enormity as a synonym of enormousness peeves some people, and it is commonly called an error in writing on these matters. But trying to preserve the old senses of enormity is a losing battle given the word’s relative rarity and its similarity in sound to enormous, which unquestionably has to do with largeness and abundance. Plus, when we search the web for recent instances of enormity, it is clear that the word is almost always a synonym of enormousness in recent popular usage. Of course, people who don’t want to let go of precious language peeves tend to scoff at popular usage, but English is made by English speakers, and this issue has been settled in the minds of most English speakers.

      In any case, for careful writers who wish not to cause confusion, avoiding enormity might be the best option for now. There are plenty of good synonyms to use instead.


      The use of enormity to mean enormousness is rife in all types of writing in this century. Here are a few examples chosen at random out of a great abundance:

      The enormity of the news that bin Laden had been killed left Wheaton College graduate student Meghan Cahill wrestling with her emotions Monday. [Chicago Tribune]

      We are overwhelmed because we recognize the enormity of the problem but have no clear sense of what can be done. [Living in Denial, Kari Marie Norgaard]

      Although fully subscribing to this aim, it is unclear whether the leaders of the time fully understood the enormity of accomplishing such a task. [The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics]

      We do understand that it is already a Herculean task to conceptualize the enormity of a three-dimensional, seemingly infinite material universe from your perspective. [The Cosmos of Soul, Patricia Cori]

      Mr Smith said he was rushed into theatre so quickly after being told he would receive Mr Rogers’ organs, he did not have time to consider the enormity of it. [BBC News]

      In a century, as the population of Delhi has grown from around 200,000 to its current enormity, the ruins and the villages now stand not in open countryside, but atop roundabouts. [Newsweek on Daily Beast]

      Of course, counterexamples—instances of enormity used as a synonym of wickedness—are easily found, but they are not as common as examples like the above:

      And many others cried, too, sickened by the death toll, the enormity of almost 10 years of fear, death and terror. [Washington Post]

      Only after Germans had appreciated and digested the enormity of their Nazi past … could they begin to live with it. [Postwar: A History, Tony Judt]

      A refusal to grasp the enormity of the crime being committed continued for a long time. [Telegraph]

      And in many such instances, it’s difficult to tell whether the writer means enormity in the wickedness sense or the enormousness sense, as the word often comes up in reference to enormous wickednesses.

      • Marc Schneider says:

        I never knew that enormity referred specifically to a great evil. You learn something new every day.

    • Mark Daniel says:

      Why are people such assholes when they are online?

      • Vidor says:

        I’d like to think I’d be willing to say dressage is stupid in a face-to-face conversation. It’s horses, prancing! And they give medals to the horses that the judges think prance the best.
        Baseball is struggling to be an Olympic sport but horse prancing has a comfortable spot, it seems.

      • Dan says:

        That’s an idiotic question.

        Wait, never mind…

    • Asherdan says:

      The balance, strength and physical control required to make intricate paired equestrian movements look as simple and reducted as ‘prancing around’ is why horsemanship is one of the revered and ancient athletic skills.

      But I’m biased a little maybe. I’ma go home and tell Oakey Doke to relax, it’s just a trash can, for the jillionth time.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I know you’re getting killed for this post, and you did go to unnecessary lengths to make your point. But there are a long list of “sports” that a lot of people question. Among those that only hit the headlines at Olympic time, there are sort of ridiculous looking activities like Synchronized Swimming, Rhythmic Gymnastic. There are competitions that don’t require much athleticism like shooting. There are the equestrian sports. There are the traditional sports that some argue are not sports, like Golf. There is a long list.

      The problem with arguing against Dressage is that horse related sports appeared in the second modern Olympic games in 1900. Dressage appeared, as a military related sport, in 1912. So, it’s not exactly new to the Olympics, though you can certainly still call it “not a sport”. But the modern Olympic themes were not necessarily thinking about strictly sports and certainly not sports in the way we currently think about them. Consider that, at that time, basketball didn’t exist. Football was played in very few places in the US and baseball was still in the dead ball era.

      So…. I give it a little room without critique. I just don’t watch things that I don’t enjoy and those things that, in my mind, are not sports. As a general rule, sports involving judges are sports I’m not that interested in. It’s hard for me to figure out what makes one person 1/10 of a point better than another.

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