Teen makes Olympics tour with experienced guide

Like a lot of teens this summer, Natalie Garrick kept friends updated while she was away on vacation.

“I kept putting pictures on Facebook,” the Snohomish 15-year-old said.

For friends who didn’t know Natalie’s whereabouts, guessing wasn’t hard. Her pictures weren’t typical shots from a mountain trail or local lake. She posted scenes like those being watched by TV viewers all over the world.

“My friends were like, ‘Are you in London?’ ‘Are you at the Olympics?’ ” she said.

A sophomore at Glacier Peak High School, Natalie is past the age when a teacher will likely ask, on the first day of class Tuesday, for a paper on “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.”

If that did happen, her essay would be a winner.

“The whole thing was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience,” Natalie said. “It feels like it was just a dream.”

That dream was made possible by Natalie’s grandmother, Peyt Turner, who took the teen on the whirlwind London trip Aug. 2-9.

Turner, 71, lives in White Salmon, across the Columbia River from Hood River, Ore. It’s a small town, but Turner is a savvy world traveler.

“I’ve made all seven continents,” Turner said last week from White Salmon. London wasn’t her first Olympics. In 2004, Turner took a grandson to Athens for the Summer Games.

“And I’m going to Rio in 2016,” Turner said. “An Olympics is the only place you can go and find the total community of the world. Everybody goes knowing lines will be long, knowing it’s complicated. We were undaunted.”

Natalie hadn’t done much traveling before landing in London. With her family, she’s been to Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, where Turner goes each year.

London broadened her horizons, but that wasn’t the only aim. Natalie is a volleyball player now on Glacier Peak’s varsity team. By last spring, Turner was lining up tickets for two days of Olympic women’s volleyball events at London’s Earls Court.

They saw teams from Japan, Russia, China and Brazil. A game pitting the women of Brazil against the Chinese stands out. “It was an uproarious event, with the Brazilians coming in with freaked-out green or yellow hair,” Turner said. “It was the most fun and noisy event.”

They didn’t see final games or a medal ceremony — those tickets were prohibitively expensive or unavailable. Brazil won the gold medal in women’s volleyball, with the U.S. team winning silver and Japan getting bronze.

For Natalie, it was a chance to see astonishing athletes. “The competition was so intense it was crazy — way more intense than college,” she said. “The ball never hit the ground unless there were bodies flying for it. They made it look so easy.”

An outside hitter on her team, Natalie brings what she saw on the London court back to Glacier Peak. “We’ve already been practicing for a week. We’ve got six returning on varsity and six new players. It should be a really good team,” she said.

Sightseeing, theater-going, and figuring out the London Underground “Tube” system filled the rest of their week. They saw the musical “Chicago” at the Garrick Theatre, which shares a name with Natalie.

As a member of a travel club, Turner found lodging in a private home in London’s Wimbledon district. They had breakfast with the homeowner, and talked with her about their experiences.

They took a spin on the London Eye, riding in a capsule of the massive Ferris wheel along the River Thames. At the Tower of London, a witty guide in historic garb shared grisly tales of beheadings. In Hyde Park, with hundreds of Londoners, they watched Olympic events on huge TV screens. Natalie was allowed into a London bar, ordering lemonade.

Both grandmother and granddaughter were awed by the 1,000-year history of Westminster Abbey, where coronations are held and monarchs are entombed. “It’s an amazing place,” Turner said. “I wish I could have taken pictures. We weren’t allowed to,” added Natalie. “There’s gold all over the ceilings, and the architecture is mind-boggling.”

It’s been 32 years since I went to England with my mom. We still talk about that trip. And Natalie won’t have to write, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” to hold onto memories of London with her grandmother.

“The whole place was beautiful,” the teen said.

“Travel is gaining the value of all the other people in the world, the way they think and live,” Turner said. Homecoming is the flip side of that experience, teaching another lesson.

“It helped Natalie see how lucky she is,” Turner said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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