Perhaps the emotion was just too much for her, or maybe it was just the peak of a long journey for the young fencing champion from
A 21-year-old Molly Sullivan Sliney stood in the middle of a crowded stadium during the opening ceremonies for the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea. When the torch was lit, she started crying.
An unknown USA teammate came up, put his arm around her and understood completely.
"Everyone has a story as to how they got here," he said.
Sullivan Sliney, who is married and lives in Bradford, looks back at the Games and could not agree more with the statement.
"When you walk through that archway and everyone starts screaming, you realize you're with the best athletes in the world," said Sullivan Sliney, who later competed in the '92 Games in Barcelona. "Everyone has worked so hard to get there. It just makes it real."
The two-time Olympic fencer certainly has the credentials to be considered among the best. She made her first national team at age 13, won two NCAA fencing titles at the University of Notre Dame, and won two Pan American Games gold medals.
That first Olympic experience still stands as her favorite athletic moment.
"It's interesting when you're older because you appreciate more than when you're actually there," said Sullivan Sliney. "I now realize the impact of being part of an elite group. The second time around I stepped back and absorbed so much more.
"It's just such a bonding experience. The Olympic village is set up so that every country has an area but then there's a community in the middle where everyone eats and does things. It's an incredible mixing experience and it's secretive."
She added she knows people from different countries who met and later got married.
The Olympic I.D. opened a lot of doors ... literally and figuratively.
"That was a cool experience because you had a free pass to a lot of things," she said. "You had opportunities to go to parties you couldn't go to before with more access than other people."
Sullivan Sliney admits that she went out more in '92 than in '88 and experienced more of the city because she was older her second time through.
"The way the country was represented was amazing," she said about her time in Seoul. "The kids walked around in full costumes. I remember taking a picture of a little girl in a full Korean dress. I still have the picture."
Now 41, Sullivan Sliney is still very much involved with fencing. The mother of two — Michaela, 10, and Troy, 9, dabble in fencing but at this point prefer other sports — she is a fencing instructor at recreational departments in Andover, Acton and Haverhill.
She is also a motivational speaker, reaching out to kids from 2nd to 8th grade about the adversity she faced early in life.
"I had dyslexia and my self-esteem had dropped and I was acting out in school," said Sullivan Sliney, who was introduced to fencing one night when her younger sister's kindergarten teacher came over for dinner and told her about the sport. "My father said that this was an opportunity for me."
She soon met her first fencing coach, retired Peabody firefighter Joe Pechinsky, who helped her become a future Olympian and more importantly, gain confidence.
When 10-year-old Sullivan Sliney first met Pechinsky at the fire station, he was in the middle of giving someone else a lesson. Pechinsky stopped when she arrived.
The Fencing Hall of Fame coach then wrote her name on a blackboard, asked her if it was spelled correctly, and then artistically transformed the letters into a beautiful bird in flight.
"He said you can become anything you want," she recalled. "He was more than just a fencing coach. He also gave me the importance of education. If we went someplace he made sure we didn't just go to the gym. We went to other places and saw other things."
A little bit of history
Between training for the Olympics, the Pan American Games and numerous other tournaments, Sullivan Sliney has been to over 20 countries and all across the United States.
She said that while training in Hungary before the '88 Olympics, she had to step back and appreciate that she saw things that people read about in history books.
Little did she know the history she would witness a few years down the road.
From 1991 to 1992, the fencer trained full time in Poland, about eight hours a day.
"At that time it was changing over from communism. I came home for a bit and then went right to Barcelona. There were a lot of things happening at once," said Sullivan Sliney, who retired after the 1992 Games.
Coupled with her time spent in '88, the young athlete witnessed her fair share of historical change, mostly centered around the fall of the Berlin Wall.
"In '88, before qualifying, I went and lived in West Germany and then to East Germany to go to the World Cup. In '92 I did the same thing but now the Wall had come down, so I saw both sides of the world," she said. "The experience hit me when I came home."
The Sullivan Story
Name: Molly Sullivan Sliney
Residence: Bradford, Massachusetts
Education: North Andover High School; Notre Dame
Family: Husband: Keith Sliney is creative director of the Boston Celtics, designing tickets, brochures, banners and marketing material; Children: Michaela, 10; Troy, 9
Athletic Achievements: Two-time Olympic fencer (1988 and 1992), University of Notre Dame's Female Athlete of the Decade (1980s), Won two NCAA championships, Won two Pan American gold medals