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What Michelle Obama told the International Olympic Committee about her Chicago (and father)

October 2, 2009 |  1:52 am

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Remarks by First Lady Michelle Obama to the International Olympics Committee

MRS. OBAMA: President Rogge, ladies and gentlemen, Mesdames et Messieurs of the International Olympic Committee: I am honored to be here.

I was born and raised on Chicago's South Side, not far from where the Games would open and close. Ours was a neighborhood of working families -- families with modest homes and strong values.

Sports were what brought our community together. They strengthen our ties to one another. 

Growing up, when I played games with the kids in my neighborhood, we picked sides based not on who you were, but what you could bring to the game. Sports taught me self-confidence, teamwork, and how to compete as an equal.

Sports were a gift I shared with my dad -- especially the Olympic Games.

Some of my best memories are sitting on my dad's lap, cheering on Olga and Nadia, Carl Lewis, and ...

... others for their brilliance and perfection. Like so many young people, I was inspired. I found myself dreaming that maybe, just maybe, if I worked hard enough, I, too, could achieve something great.

(UPDATE: Michelle Malkin did some calendar-comparing right here and figured out that Mrs. Obama was 20 years old when Carl Lewis first competed in the Olympics.)

But I never dreamed that the Olympic flame might one day light up lives in my neighborhood.


But today, I can dream, and I am dreaming of an Olympic and Paralympic Games in Chicago that will light up lives in neighborhoods all across America and all across the world; that will expose all our neighborhoods to new sports and new role models; that will show every child that regardless of wealth, or gender, or race, or physical ability, there is a sport and a place for them, too.

That's why I'm here today. I'm asking you to choose Chicago. I'm asking you to choose America.

And I'm not asking just as the First Lady of the United States, who is eager to welcome the world to our shores.  And not just as a Chicagoan, who is proud and excited to show the world what my city can do.  Not just as a mother raising two beautiful....

... young women to embrace athleticism and pursue their full potential.

I'm also asking as a daughter.

See, my dad would have been so proud to witness these Games in Chicago. And I know they would have meant something much more to him, too.

You see, in my dad's early thirties, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. And as he got sicker, it became harder for him to walk, let alone play his favorite sports.  But my dad was determined that sports continue to be a vital lifeline -- not just to the rest of the world, but to me and my brother.

And even as we watched my dad struggle to hold himself up on crutches, he never stopped playing with us.  And he refused to let us take our abilities for granted. He believed that his little girl should be taught no less than his son. 

So he taught me how to throw a ball and a mean right hook better than any boy in my neighborhood. But more importantly, my dad taught us the fundamental rules of the game, rules that continue to guide our lives today: to engage with honor, with dignity, and fair play.

My dad was my hero.

And when I think of what these Games can mean to people all over the world, I think about people like my dad.  People who face seemingly insurmountable challenges, but never let go. They work a little harder, but they never give up.

Now, my dad didn't live to see the day that the Paralympic Games would become the force that they are today. But if he had lived to see this day -- if he could have seen the Paralympic Games share a global stage with the Olympic Games, if he could have witnessed athletes who compete and excel and prove that nothing is more powerful than the human spirit, I know it would have restored in him the same sense of unbridled possibility that he instilled in me.

Chicago's vision for the Olympic and Paralympic Movement is about so more than what we can offer the Games -- it's about what the Games can offer all of us. It's about inspiring this generation, and building a lasting legacy for the next.

It's about our responsibility as Americans not just to put on great Games, but to use these Games as a vehicle to bring us together; to usher in a new era of international engagement; and to give us hope; and to change lives all over the world.

And I've brought somebody with me today who knows a little something about change. My husband, the President of the United States -- Barack Obama. (Applause.)    ###

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Photo: Michelle Obama introduces her husband. Credit: Oliver Morin / AFP / Getty Images

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