The sign on the front door catches the eye, arouses a curiosity, even tantalizes but stops short of revealing what’s inside: This is the home of a U.S. Olympian.
“The Road to London Passes Through Here” the sign reads. This is where Kim Conley grew up, where she sat in front of the television with her mom one August day in 2008, watching the Beijing Olympics, when Melanie popped the question.
“Do you think you can make it next time?” she asked, referring to Kim making the U.S. Olympic team for the 2012 London Games.
“Oh mom,” Kim said. “No way.”
“You should have seen Kim raising her eyebrows when Melanie asked that,” said Kim’s father, David.
Practically touched the ceiling they did, the way every kid does when every parent asks a question that represents something absurd like, would you like to walk on the moon, honey?
Now it’s four years later, June 28 to be exact, and David and Melanie are at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., watching their daughter in the 5,000-meter finals at the Olympic Trials. The finish line is at the opposite end of the stadium, the runners going away from the parents. David is grinding.
“The field is going around the final turn, Kim is running eighth,” he said, “and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Poor girl.’ But she starts passing people and then she’s right there at the end but because the finish line is so far away, we didn’t know.”
The results were flashed and David said, “I’m glad no one was taking pictures. That’s because I was doing this …”
All in one motion, David grabs his head, shakes it from side to side, tilts it upward, rolls his eyes then mimes a scream that, given the raw emotion behind it, would have cracked crystal.
“Right then I felt like I did when I gave birth,” said Melanie, who has had three children, “but not nearly as painful.”
The next day, in a house Montgomery High running coach and long-time family friend Val Sell had rented, a party was held in Kim’s honor. About 30 people showed up and, you bet, a video replay of that 5,000-meter finals was shown. Over and over and over, to the point that David, still in shock his daughter made the United States Olympic team, had to stop watching.
“I kept thinking,” said the 65-year old retired geologist, “that Kimmy was going to come in fourth in one of these replays.”
When an outrageous dream becomes an outrageous reality, a moment of pause is required. In fact, it took a lot of moments. When the Conleys returned to their Bennett Valley home, their porch was draped with the five Olympic rings, all glowing. American flags were everywhere.
“I didn’t cry when Kimmy made the Olympic team,” said Melanie, 53, an ostomy nurse at Sutter Care, “because I was too happy to cry. But seeing that, what our neighbors did, that made me cry.”
Melanie has a backstory. She moved around a lot as a kid, her dad working for an oil company. But from ages 9-18, she was in England. Her father, Francis Hughes, had been at the 1948 London Games.
“I had this secret, a hope Kim would make the 2012 Games and I could be back there with her in England,” Melanie said. “I never told Kimmy, though. She was under a lot of pressure as it was. After she made the team, I told her why I didn’t tell her my secret. Kimmy said, ‘Thanks mom.’”
All things being equal, Kim also would like to thank her mom for the athletic DNA she inherited. Except Melanie doesn’t have any.
“Not much,” Melanie joked.
“Actually,” David said, “it was less than not much.”
David ran track and cross country for DeAnza High School in Richmond, was the league champion in the two-mile with a 9:55.4, but never ran after high school. When it came to athletic inheritance, it wasn’t enough to even imagine an Olympic dream.
“Kimmy got her love of running from me,” David said, “and her determination and strength of character from her mother.”
The Conleys will leave next Wednesday for London and stay two weeks. Emma and Alex, their other two kids, will join them. Kim’s race is Aug.7, aired locally on NBC at 2:55 a.m. Kim is posting daily updates at kimconley.wordpress.com.
What will happen? Who knows? Melanie knows only one thing, something she learned about her daughter a long time ago.
“I knew Kimmy wasn’t going to stay inside the house,” she said with a wink, “and play piano.’
For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.