Walking for Finland
"How clumsy? I mean, people are pretty clumsy in general."
"Yes. But I'm the most clumsy a clumsy person could possibly be."
"I don't know about that."
"A few hours ago I was in the Qantas Lounge. Is that the name? I knew some Hungarian friends with passes. This is my first time outside of Europe, by the way."
"We walked up to the bar together. They ordered while I poured some water from the jug. But instead of pouring, I knocked it backwards and it fell on a tray with 30 clean glasses and then the tray fell and it all smashed on the floor."
She showed me a tightly bandaged right hand, as a flight attendant wheeled past and asked us about drinks. We both had coffee. She almost dropped hers.
"So, how did you get into it?" I finally asked, waiting for the right time.
"No, walking in the Olympics," I asked.
"It's a long story, and very, very silly."
"The flight's another 40 minutes. Let's hear it."
From age 7, she said, her best friend wanted to play every sport you could imagine. Athletics, hockey, soccer, handball. All of it. But she never liked doing it alone, so she dragged her closest companion to everything.
"That was me. Every time. Even when I didn't want to go. I was a good friend, though, so I did it all. Even competitions."
"But guess what?" She continued. "I was clumsy. Like the clumsiest, most hyperactive kid you've ever seen. I couldn't be left alone."
"So you know what happened? I came last in every race. Every time."
Not one to give up, her friend became determined to find a sport she wouldn't come last in.
They tried everything, but nothing worked. They almost gave up. And then they entered a competitive walking meet.
"I couldn't mess that up, could I? It was walking. Nothing to break. Only two rules. Go forwards, and don't trip over yourself."
"And how did you go?" I asked.
"I came third. I got a medal!"
"Wow! And how many in the field?"
After that first ego boost, she went back for more and fell in love with the community.
Since so few people were in the professional walking business, let alone in a small country like Finland, she was prioritised as an athlete and earned a place in the Olympic team.
She was all set to compete in London in 2012, but a "clumsy" leg injury put her on the sidelines and she missed the trip.
Her best friend is now an Olympic heptathlete, which makes a lot of sense. her sister is a triathlete.
"I was just too clumsy enough to anything but walk. As quickly as possible."
"I remember one time when I was 5, my parents entered my sister and me in a downhill skiing competition. I was young, but it was important to me, from memory."
"My sister was 3. She was so young that she needed these special skiis because her feet were too small for normal ones."
"When the race started, intead of going straight down like a normal child, I spent the next 20 minutes tripping over myself, getting up, and tripping again. All the way to the finish line."
"To make it worse, my sister, with her special child skiis, raced past me half way down. And as she glided down the slope she gave me this look of 'are you ok?' She's 3. Do they even have that look?"
As we started the descent into Melbourne, I agreed that no, I didn't think they did.
The cabin lights turned on and doors opened quickly after landing.
"It was nice to meet you Jon, and thank you for the good talking!"
Before I could answer, she threw on her backpack and was off like a bolt down the aisle.
I tried to catch up, but it turned out she's a really fast walker.