The Oklahoma softball team was in Washington D.C. on Monday to meet President Barack Obama in recognition of its 2013 national championship. Michelle Gascoigne, who was a senior on that team, offers a first-hand account of all the sights and sounds from the team's trip of a lifetime.
12:00 AM: Touchdown at Washington Reagan airport! We made it! The first group of us has officially arrived with the rest close behind. As we drive to the hotel I can't help but notice how beautiful all of the monuments look lit up at night and am eager to start touring and exploring tomorrow!
8:00 AM: Wake up! After getting ready and eating some breakfast the day has begun and our first stop is Capitol Hill! When we got off the bus we walked around the grounds a little before going into the House of Representatives building to meet up with people from Oklahoma Representative Tom Cole’s office who were going to tour us around. One of his interns is a law student at OU. It was fun to have a fellow Sooner take us around the Capitol. My favorite part was definitely inside the rotunda. The frieze around the inside of the top is a timeline of major events in U.S. history. Altogether the architecture, art, and just the size of it make it so beautiful and so rich with history.
12:00 PM: Lunch and back at the hotel to get changed and ready for our trip to the White House!
2:00 PM: We arrive at The White House! As we are waiting outside one of the gates more and more buses start to pull up with all of the other championship teams looking just as excited as we are. After a short wait, a few White House officials come out to open the gates and Oklahoma Softball is the first to enter! At this point it finally started to hit me that we were actually about to go in the White House. Throughout the walk to the entrance there were plenty of secret service men and women, as well as guards. After we made it through a couple of security checks they welcomed us in and told us that we could go in any room as well as ask the guards whatever we would like to know. At one point I think one of us was told, "Make yourself at home." At the White House?! This was really happening.
From this time we had an hour on the third and fourth floors to look around, take pictures, ask questions, etc. It was special to be the first team through everything, but neat when all of the other teams started filling in, as well. A lot of the athletes were curious as to what sports everyone played or what school everyone was from. A couple of times we compared rings with teams, and we definitely got a lot of compliments on ours!
3:15 PM: All the teams are gathered up into different areas to get ready for their time to meet and take a photo with the President. Now it really starts to hit us that we are not only in his house, but are going to get to meet him! We got put in the "Green Room," which to me was awesome because out of the rooms we saw I have definitely heard and previously learned about it the most. After figuring out how we want to pose for this very important photo, we had some time to wait, as the president was making his way through meeting all of the teams. During this time we all contemplated what it was going to be like and all admitted we were a little nervous. Every time someone came into our room I think our hearts must have jumped a little in anticipation. While we were waiting however we got to chat with the secret service agent assigned to our room and he shared stories, history and some insight into daily life around the White House.
When the big moment finally came I still don't know if it felt real. The President walked in, congratulated, welcomed, and then greeted us all individually with a handshake. When he got to me I introduced myself and he paused for a second before he told me, "Michelle, that is a great name." I will definitely never forget that! After our photos with him, he chatted with us about our current season which is underway, asked a few questions about our sport, and said that he definitely wouldn't be able to hit softball pitching!
After he left our room we were led outside and down to the South Lawn for a ceremony. After a short wait all of the teams were seated and then President Obama stepped to the podium for a short, but very good, speech centered on the heart of collegiate athletics and what it means to be a champion. He also gave a special recognition for all of the women’s teams reminding us how far we have come since the pre-Title IX days. After he left the stage we all made our way back out to the tune of a live instrumental band playing a version of "We are the Champions."
5:00 PM: We are officially off White House grounds and head to dinner! It was great to get a good meal in and compare some photos we had just taken and talk about the amazing experience we just had. After dinner we made a few last stops at the Lincoln Memorial and back to the Capitol for a photo with it lit up. D.C. is beautiful during the day, but to me there is something special about seeing all of the monuments lit up at night and reflecting on all of the surrounding water.
3:30 AM: Wake up! After what seemed like a nap we are up and headed to the airport to get back to Norman and back to class and practice!
6:00 AM: Wheels up and we officially say goodbye to D.C. and the trip of a lifetime. As much as I am grateful that I am currently enjoying an entire exit row to myself on this early flight, I am so incredibly thankful that not only The White House but the University of Oklahoma was able to make this trip happen for my teammates and me. Just like dog-piling last June in Oklahoma City, it truly is something I will cherish and never forgot for the rest of my life.