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Nathalie woman’s Olympic dreams come true

As Queen Elizabeth made her famous landing during the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremonies in London Friday night, and as the games get under way in earnest this week, one Nathalie woman’s memories of a past Olympics are being rekindled.

Pam Pursley of Stage Coach Road in northern Halifax reflected back 28 years to the 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles.

She was there.

Pursley, now 66, said her dream came true almost three decades ago when she sat in the coliseum and watched the opening ceremonies of that year’s summer games.

“There were 92,665 people in the coliseum. The coliseum just blew me away,” the county resident said. “I walked around and absorbed it all.”

A Georgia native, Pursley doesn’t recall when she first realized there were an Olympics Games.

“We didn’t have television in our house until after I graduated from college,” said the health
major. “I do recall hearing about it through my studies and, at that time, I realized what it was and always wanted to go.”

Never in her wildest dreams did she think she would get to experience the Olympics in person.

When it was announced the event was coming to Los Angeles in 1984, she knew this could be her one opportunity.

“This is the year. Who knows when it will ever come back to the United States?” she said she told herself. “I ordered my tickets and had to make a first, second and third choice of what events I wanted to see.”

She recalled her first choice being the opening ceremonies. Gymnastics ranked second, and swimming was her third.

While she was able to take in the opening ceremonies, her other two choices fell to the side.

“I received a ticket for boxing. It was my first and last match,” Pursley jokingly said.

To help prepare for the big event, Pursley said she ordered the Los Angeles Times six months ahead so she could find a place to stay and become familiar with the area.

“People were renting their homes out, and luckily, I found a couple who lived out there I knew and paid them what I would have to stay in a hotel,” Pursley recalled.

She flew round trip from Roanoke to Charlotte, N.C. to Los Angeles for $320.

“My mother came up and stayed with my family while I was gone,” said an emotional Pursley. “She was very supportive of this. She knew how important it was for me.”

After much planning and anticipation, the date finally arrived for Pursley to fly across the country to the west coast.

She arrived after an uneventful flight, settled in and arranged for a taxi to take her the next morning to the coliseum.

Unfortunately, she would get a taxi driver with little experience negotiating traffic in Los Angeles.

He was brought in just to help with the busy two weeks ahead, she found out the hard way.

After working through complications with the taxi driver, she ended up giving him directions to the coliseum and finally arrived in time for the opening ceremonies.

Pursley said she was all set for the 4 p.m. start of the 1984 Olympics on July 28. The opening ceremonies lasted four to five hours, and Pursley recalled her favorite part was seeing the lighting of the torch.

Set in the same location as the 1932 Olympics, the Los Angeles Coliseum was decorated in pastel colors.

“It was almost like a fairyland,” she said. “There was no thought or concern of safety. I was alone and had no worries that I was safe.”

Pursley was 38 years old when her dream of attending the Olympic Games came true, and today she hopes youngsters who watch the Olympics, especially in person, remember what a privilege it is to witness something so historic.

While in Los Angeles, Pursley bought plenty of souvenirs to bring back to the family. She purchased flags, postcards, a backpack, a tote and T-shirts.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said. “I even hung around after the opening ceremonies to see how they would transform the coliseum back for the track and field events. Immediately, the workers tore stuff down to prepare for the track and field events.”

When asked what her favorite Olympic event is to watch, Pursley said whatever she is watching at the time is her favorite.

But when asked what Olympic moment stood out in her memory the most, Pursley recalled only one.

Japan’s Shun Fujimoto represented his country in gymnastics in the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics.

He went on to achieve fame by continuing to compete in the team event after breaking his knee during the floor exercise.

With two events remaining, Fujimoto scored a 9.5 on the pommel horse and a 9.7 on the rings, all with a broken knee.

“I recall him dismounting from the rings, which are about 8 feet above the ground and managing to stay balanced after his landing. He raised his arms up to signal he was finished and then collapsed in pain,” Pursley said. “He was worried the whole time that his team would not do so well, knowing he was hurt, so he tried to keep it hidden. However, it went on to serve as an inspiration, and the Japanese won the team gold medal.”

Pursley said she was thankful to see that dream come true and has witnessed other Olympic dreams come true over the past 30 years.

She also has rubbed elbows with Olympic greats, both before and after the 1984 Olympics.

In February 1974, she met Jesse Owens while he was a guest speaker at an event in Gastonia, N.C.

“I felt very blessed to have met him,” she said.

Pursley also housed Bonny Warner, an American luger who competed from the early 1980s to the early 1990s. She later competed in women’s bobsled from 1999-2002.

Before becoming an Olympian, Warner was selected as a torch runner in 1980. 

Pursley, along with her Brookneal Girl Scout Troop, went with Warner to Yorktown to watch this momentous occasion.

“She spoke to the scouts, and then we got to see all 50 torch runners when we went to Yorktown,” Pursley said. “I have been so blessed to be able to meet people, to attend the Olympics, and to do all these things is a real blessing.”