Renowned Planetary Astronomer Heidi Hammel on A Wrinkle in Time

I’m very pleased that Dr. Heidi Hammel agreed to a print interview about this book! I’ve long believed in the power of books, especially for young minds. My childhood home didn’t have children’s books but I recently read A Wrinkle in Time for the first time. Dr. Hammel’s experience makes me wish I’d had it as a child!

Planetary astronomer Heidi Hammel
[Photo credit: Mike McGregor]
VL:  How did you come to read A Wrinkle In Time?

HH: On my tenth birthday, in 1970, my 11-year-old brother gave me a copy of A Wrinkle in Time. This was the scholastic paperback edition, blue with series of concentric rings around three small characters.

wrinkle in time 1970
[Source: Wikipedia]

VL: What was going on in your life at the time?

HH: I was just a kid, a young girl specifically, at a time when girls did just girl things. Sugar and spice and everything nice. Glass ceilings everywhere. Invisible glass ceilings—most girls didn’t even THINK of doing things other than being a wife, a nurse, or a teacher. Maybe a daring girl could be a flight attendant or a secretary. But no real girls did science or space research or math. (Madame Curie was a unicorn, a historic anomaly, not a real regular person.)

VL: I can absolutely identify with that. I read the Cherry Ames series about the adventures of a nurse. Although she was a great role model in many ways—daring and caring and a problem solver—in high school I wanted to become a surgeon. Although I was valedictorian of my class, I was counseled to become a nurse instead—albeit with a B.S. degree so I could move up in administration. I do admire your determination! But tell me, in what way(s) did the book affect you?

HH: The book blew my mind. Here was a girl like me – her physical description was mine, from the limp non-descript hair to the glasses and teeth that would need braces; her school life was like mine – interested in things that other girls were not like atomic particles and space, and not really accepted as “popular.” Yet, for all her faults – indeed, specifically BECAUSE of her faults – she completed a hero’s journey. What an eye-opener. What a LIFE opener. A literal literary role model. If an ordinary girl like Meg could find her father across all of space and time, then all things were possible for me. When, years later, a special teacher suggested I apply to MIT for college, I had a “WWMD” (what would Meg do) moment, and said “sure!” The rest is history, as they say.

wrinkle time storm reid
Meg Murry will be played by Storm Reid in the 2018 film [Source: IGN]
VL: Did you ever reread A Wrinkle In Time? When and why?

HH: I’ve reread A Wrinkle in Time many times over the years. During my high-school years, as an undergraduate at MIT, while in graduate school for physics, as a young mother, and even now. I reread books I love, because the stories ring true, and because I sense different overtones based on who I am and what I have experienced in my own life. Things that may not have registered to me as a 10-yr-old, or 30-yr-old, or a 50-yr-old take on new meaning when viewed through the lenses of varied experience.

VL: So true! In my younger years, when my primary escapist reading was murder mysteries, I never reread them. Once you know “who done it,” what’s the point? The exception back then was Jane Austen, whom I discovered in college and have reread many times since. Now, since I started writing them, I seldom read mysteries. My escapist reading goes in all sorts of directions and I reread often! I also tend to give books I love to others. Have you ever given A Wrinkle in Time to others? If so, who and why?

HH: I gave this book as gifts to friends as a young girl, especially those friends who I thought might share in the vision of what young women could be and could do.

I read it aloud to my own children, so they could travel through the tesseract with me to worlds so different from – yet so like – our home planet.

VL: What other books by Madeleine L’Engle have you read?

HH: I’ve read all of her books. The complete Kairos and Chronos series, as well as her books for adults.  I admit to enjoying the “young adult” books more than the books specifically for adults.

[Source: BellaOnBooks]
[Source: BellaOnBooks]
VL: Has any other book been as influential in your life? If so, please elaborate what, when, and why.

HH: I think the only other book that comes close to having a visceral impact on me would be Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. In this book, Bradbury paints a tapestry of human exploration on Mars through a series of short stories that are as much poetry as science fiction. The stories are deeply human emotional stories, but told from the perspective of Martian natives. It was brain-bending in an orthogonal way to A Wrinkle in Time but nearly as powerful and evocative.

martian chronicles bradbury
[Source: Book Addicts]
VL: What a recommendation! Perhaps I have my next escapist read lined up. But to close out here, what else would you like to say about A Wrinkle in Time and/or Madeleine L’Engle?

HH: My hope is that each generation of girls and boys have Madeleine L’Engle’s books placed in their hands at a young age.

VL: I join you in that hope! And thank you again for sharing your experience with and thoughts about this powerful book.


Planetary astronomer Heidi Hammel
[Photo credit: Mike McGregor]
Planetary astronomer Heidi B. Hammel graduated from MIT and the University of Hawaii, and did her post-doctoral work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. She is Executive Vice President of AURA, which operates astronomical observatories including the Hubble Space Telescope. Dr. Hammel is also an interdisciplinary scientist for NASA’s next great space observatory: the James Webb Space Telescope. She has been profiled by The New York Times and Newsweek Magazine, and in 2002 Discover Magazine identified her as one of the 50 most important women in science. Dr. Hammel has been lauded for her work in science communication, including the San Francisco Exploratorium’s 1998 Public Understanding of Science Award. Asteroid “1981 EC20” was renamed 3530 Hammel in her honor. You can read more about Dr. Hammel here.

Stay tuned for our #WrinkleReRead giveaway of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and Becoming Madeleine, a biography of the life and works of Madeleine L’Engle written by her granddaughters.

Reading for the Week Ahead

[Source: Twitter]
In these hectic days, even if you only have minutes, I have reading suggestions!

reading week ahead spongebob theatre

The December 18 & 25 issue of The New Yorker contains a two-column theater review of SpongeBob SquarePants the musical. No kidding: THAT SpongeBob SquarePants, who debuted in 1999 and, as Tommy Smothers might say, took the storm by country.

The play has all the pun-intended characters, from Mr. Krabs to Squidward Q. Tentacles. It has songs by Cindi Lauper, They Might Be Giants, and others.

The review is lively, well-written, and very positive. Read the review even if you have no intention of hieing off to NYC any time soon.

[Source: Academy of American Poets]
If you’re a more literary type, sample a little Charles Simic. Simic immigrated from Belgrade in 1954 and started publishing poetry in his twenties. He’s won tons of awards, including a Pulitzer. He served as Poet Laureate of the United States in 2008 and 2009.

reading week ahead new selected poems charles simic

This book contains nearly 400 poems spanning fifty years, including about three dozen revisions and seventeen previously unpunished poems. Simic is witty, broad-ranging, and fresh. He can enthrall you for as many minutes—or hours—as you can spare.

reading week ahead
What if you have time for nothing but assuring that you acquit yourself well throughout all the celebrations? Sarah Chrisman to the rescue!

reading week ahead true ladies proper gentlemen
Many of the issues people faced in the 1880s and ‘90s are surprisingly modern as well: invasion of privacy, divorce, dealing with people from other places or cultures, technologies developing at mind-boggling speed…

reading week ahead table contents
For your convenience, advice is organized by topic. You will find sound guidance, such as telling husbands to give their wives (one at a time, please) every advantage it is possible to bestow, and—as far as possible—to patronize merchants of their own town.

BONUS: There are watercolors and illustrations throughout.

[Source: Wikipedia]
If you are introspective and/or looking for inspiration, Mark Nepo’s got you covered.

Nepo is a poet and teacher, and—by the way—a New York Times Bestseller.

reading week ahead book awakening mark nepo
Oprah Winfrey, among others, recommends this book. It contains 366 dated entries, including one for February 29th. Each begins with a brief quote, followed by author’s reflections to inspire your own musings.

However, there is also a subject index with multiple entries under such headings as sadnesses, truth, and quiet teachers.

FYI, here is the beginning of the entry for today.

reading week ahead sugar tree

Even though time is short, happy reading!

Are You a Book Addict?

book addict
The Cambridge Dictionary defines addiction as “the need or strong desire to do or to have something, or a very strong liking for something.”  By this definition, aren’t we all book addicts? So what’s wrong with that?


According to the Wikipedia definition, addiction is a brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences. So that isn’t sounding so good.


But it gets worse! says addiction is “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming… to an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.”


book addict reaching shelf
To determine the state of your reading health, answer these 30 simple yes-or-no questions.

The VL Book Addiction Assessment Questionnaire

1) Do friends and/or family often tell you that you read too much?
2) Do you have books in every room of your house?
3) Do you read more than ten (10) hours a day?
4) Are books the biggest line-item in your budget after mortgage payment?
5) Are you looking for a bigger house because you have no more space for books where you live now?
6) Have you ever hung a bookshelf from the ceiling of a room which has no available floor/wall space—such as a bathroom or pantry?
7) Have you resorted to steel girders to support the weight of your books?
8) Are your pets showing signs of jealousy? For example, does your cat pee on your books? Does your dog eat your books? Does your pet lie on your book or e-reader and bite you when you try to remove him/her?


9) Does your spouse, partner, or roommate ever hide your book or electronic reader?
10) Has your significant other ever deleted the Kindle app from all your electronic devices?
11) Has your partner ever ripped the last 10 pages from your book and refused to return them till you have engaged in conversation for at least 30 minutes?
12) Do you travel with two suitcases, the bigger one solely for books?
book addict suitcase
13) Do you own both a Kindle and a Nook so you don’t risk missing an e-book by an author who isn’t traditionally published?
14) Do you sleep with your electronic reader?
15) Do you have four or more stacks of books on the floor beside your favorite chair?
16) Have you ever bought the same book three times?


17) Do you have cards for five or more libraries?
18) Would you pass on the opera, symphony, theater, museum, or Antiques Roadshow in favor of a used book sale?
19) If you’re in a doctor’s waiting room and discover you have only one book, do you experience increased blood pressure, shortness of breath, and/or tremors?
20) Have you ever pawned a family heirloom to buy a book?


book addict pawn shop
21) Have you ever stolen a book?
22) Do you have nightmares about being stranded on a desert island with no books?
23) Do you have more than ten water-damaged books from reading in the bathtub?
24) Did your spouse cite “book abandonment” in filing for divorce?
25) Have you ever taken a cut in pay and/or changed jobs so you would have more reading time 9:00-5:00?
26) Would you rather read than eat?
27) Have you ever been fired for reading on the job?
28) Have you ever been fined for driving while reading?
29) Have you married someone based on the size of his/her book collection?
30) Would you trade your first born child for books?
book addict baby

The Results

If you answered yes to one of these questions, take care. Taper off on your book buying and reading before it’s too late.


If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, seek help immediately! Consider therapy, possibly residential rehab, to break your habit before it breaks you.
crazy book addict
One last thing: If you know any symptoms of book addiction not covered by these questions, please notify me so that the assessment instrument can be updated and improved.

Writers Need to Read

writers need read
At the very least, writers need to read what they write. This almost goes without saying. Why would anyone try to write in a genre s/he doesn’t enjoy enough to read? But beyond that, there are guidelines for romance, Christian fiction, etc. So writers need to know what their (potential) readers expect.


But beyond what one reads, there is the issue of how one reads. Speaking for myself, since becoming a writer I find myself extremely sensitive to poor writing. I’ve mentioned this before. It’s everything from choosing the wrong pronoun to using the almost-right word—think lightening versus lightning.


I’ve discussed this with other writers. Judy Witt said, “I catch typos, misplaced words, slow starts, ‘padded’ descriptions, and more. But beyond that, I also file away for later use the many great techniques, clever approaches, and deft turns of phrases. Reading helps my writing.”
writers need read
Another writing colleague reads to strengthen descriptions. Becky Kelly said, “Taking poetry, and analyzing it. Mary Oliver is a good example of action slowed down to the n-th degree so that the reader knows exactly what’s going on in a visual scene or sensory experience.” She also likes to use the four senses (other than sight) to hone in on the exact perception the writer is trying to convey.


Many writers are great fans of writing exercises. Examine a scene for how unique similes and metaphors might strengthen the writing.


And how about reading for information? This is one of my favorites. Tidbits picked up reading for pleasure can sometimes be incorporated into my own writing—for example, that in the 19th C, getting drunk could be called getting foxed.


writers need read
Think about why you read—and how it helps your writing.

How People Read

how people read
I read slowly. Back in college I tried to learn speed reading, but it just didn’t work for me. I always feared I’d miss details. Now I read both for pleasure and to gather information important to my writing. I still read slowly, savoring the words, images, and ideas.


I also read voraciously. This dates from my childhood, when I took home as many books as I could carry from the county bookmobile every two weeks. (I’m not alone here, but I also know people who came to reading well into adulthood. For them, stresses imposed by school or parents made it a chore rather than a pleasure.) Now, my voraciousness is especially true of fiction. I love finding a series and reading one after the other as fast as I can—which, being a slow reader, isn’t all that fast! Still, when the individual books are shorter, that sometimes means one a day.


I’m not alone. I know a woman who reads so many books that she actually has a budget item for book purchases.


kindle reading
For pleasure reading, I choose Kindle. I read with slightly enlarged type, and carry it everywhere—while en route and while waiting.


For research, I prefer physical books—books I can bookmark, underline, and annotate. (Yes, I know people can do those things on electronic devices, but I am not one of them.) For reference books, I don’t go cover-to-cover. I skip around, and treasure a good index to help me find the relevant pages.


I recently discussed this with my writing group. Judy Witt and I agree that the last thing we do before sleep is read. But more often at home, I read in a recliner, feet elevated.


How do you read?
how people read

A Different Read

 These are the appointments that will affect virtually all aspects of our lives in the near future. I’m urging you to do your research. Read about each of them, trying to find the strongest facts in support of and against the nominees.


Then, contact your senators. Your representatives can’t represent you if you don’t share your opinions. Tell them what you want them to do and why. (This last is optional.)


In Virginia, that would be Tim Kaine (phone # 540-682-5693) and Mark Warner (phone # 804-775-2314). I was told that the most effective contact is a phone call to the person’s local office. You will get through immediately and be treated politely.


If you don’t live in Virginia, comparable info for your senators is available online. Ditto for members of Congress. Alternatively, you could call the congressional switchboard at 202-225-3121, and they will transfer you to the appropriate office. Unfortunately, when I tried to do this, the switchboard was swamped and I didn’t get through.


american flag
We are citizens even before we’re writers. Be informed. Be involved.

Reading Christmas!

reading christmas literature wikipedia
I love Wikipedia! Whatever your Christmas reading wishes, you can probably fill them here. This particular site presents lists of literary works which are set at Christmas time, or contain Christmas as a central theme.



reading christmas cecelia ahern gift
[Source: Goodreads]
reading christmas harry heathcote of gangoil anthony trollope
[Source: Amazon]
It lists fourteen novels alphabetically by author, ranging from Cecelia Ahern (The Gift) to Anthony Trollope (Harry Heathcote of Gangoil).  There are classics by Dickens and a mystery by Agatha Christie, some more like fables and others geared toward children.


Short stories and collections

reading christmas hans christian anderson fir tree
[Source: Amazon]
reading christmas kurt vonnegut while mortals sleep
[Source: Amazon]
Short stories and collections are treated the same way. Fourteen are listed in this category, from Hans Christian Andersen (The Fir-Tree) to Kurt Vonnegut (While Mortals Sleep). Again there are mysteries by Agatha Christie, but also by Arthur Conan Doyle. Moving. Emotional themes range the gamut, and I venture to say that things with Christmas themes are often strong on emotion.


Poetry and Nonfiction

reading christmas twas night before christmas clement clark moore
Poetry and Nonfiction have fewer offerings, only four, so I’ll mention them all.
  • Clement Clarke Moore (‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, originally published as A Visit from St. Nick).
  • Dr. Seuss (How the Grinch Stole Christmas).
  • Anne Sexton (“Christmas Eve”)
  • Francis Pharcellus Church (“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”—a newspaper editorial)

This is just one handy list. You can also search for Christmas Traditions, History of Christmas, Mysteries set at Christmas, etc.
If you love Wikipedia, too, you might consider logging on and making a donation of $3, $10, or whatever. They are currently fundraising to keep the site free to the public, and it is the season of giving.

What Writers Can Do With Catalogues

ll bean catalogue
I get a lot of junk mail. In November and December, I sometimes think I must be on every catalogue mailing list in the country! I’m a recycler big time. But the mantra is reuse, repurpose, and recycle. I don’t know how a catalogue can be reused, but I turned my thoughts to repurposeHow might writers use catalogues? Primarily as a character note.


What mailing lists a person is on can say a lot about character. Besides catalogues, solicitations for donations and ads are very telling. What sort of character gets solicited for CARE, American Cancer Society, the Audubon Society? What about the American Indian College Fund, St. Joseph’s Indian School, etc.?


pendleton catalogue
Catalogue purchases can reveal socio-economic status. Hammacher Schlemmer, world tour offerings, and Breakstone are not geared to people intending to meet basic needs—
—unless we’re talking about obsessions as a need.  People who get catalogues for computer gear, athletic wear, or books—and order from them—offer lots of possibilities. What about the person who orders yoga gear repeatedly but never does yoga?


And sometimes catalogues can cough up a plot device.


hammacher schlemmer catalogue
Consider the robot on the Hammacher Schlemmer cover. What might a sci-fi writer go with that? Or, considering magical realism: what if this toy gives the child recipient superpowers? What might a writer of erotica make of “the any surface full body massage pad”? What might a mystery writer make of “the best compact zoom binoculars”?


Advice to writers: View your catalogues, ads, solicitations, and other junk mail with a view to inspiration! And then recycle.
national geographic catalogue

Communicating Without Words: Campaign Lessons

You’re a writer—so for purposes of this blog, communicating without words means without dialogue. And there are many reasons you want to be able to do this. The presidential campaign offers several educational examples.


whsv scott inmate hillary trump
See full post at
In Staunton, VA, for the Robert E. Lee High School Halloween, Principal Mark Rowicki dressed as presidential candidate Donald Trump, complete with Make America Great Again cap. Secretary Stephanie Corbett dressed as Hillary Clinton in “jail house orange” outfit, complete with a chain around her waist and a badge indicating she was inmate Clinton.


The costumes provoked a storm of comment, from those who claim they were just funny and timely costumes to those deeply offended and/or outraged. The latter say things like, “If they’d both dressed as presidential candidates, that would have been fine.” Or, “How dare they? Clinton has never been convicted of anything illegal!” Or, “How might the kids feel, seeing their principal dressed like a man who’s said he wants to deport them or their families?”


Lesson for writers: Having two or more characters absolutely committed to differing interpretations of the same event is an excellent way to build tension and conflict. And, BTW, consider what our clothing says about your character in general and in specific scenes.
donald trump hillary clinton candidate toilet paper
If you look online for “candidate toilet paper,” you will find a myriad of choices. There are several options for Clinton and Trump, but also other 2016 presidential candidates: Presidents Obama and George W. Bush, and Mitt Romney, among others. The version that says “Dump with Trump” claims to be humorous and appropriate for both Democrats and Republicans. The one picturing Hillary and Bill Clinton together says, “Not Again!” so the intention is clearer. The seller who urges customers to choose the candidate they hate the most is the most direct of all.


Seeing just the TP: funny, disgusting, disrespectful, disdainful? More than one of the above?


Lesson for writers: Even if you think the meaning is absolutely clear, there’s always room for differing opinions. In your stories, you need to make the context clear, and/or state the interpretation(s) you want the reader to consider.


Just for practice: List as many inanimate objects as you can that you think convey a clear and unequivocal attitude/character of the owner. Then ask someone else to read the list and see whether you get disagreements.


halloween hanging dummies
A Kendall, FL homeowner hung two dummies from a tree in his front yard for Halloween. (See Daily Mail for one complete article about this, or search online for Halloween effigies of hanged black men.) They are reminiscent of lynchings of real black people. Note the nearby sign supporting Trump for President. The fallout was immediate and widespread. The presumption was that the man who hung the dummies is publicly supporting Trump. Subsequently, a neighbor said the sign was hers.


Lesson for writers: When two things occur in close proximity in time and/or space, they often lead people to assume they are related. This is an especially effective device for mystery writers who want to introduce red herrings and/or lead the sleuth to solve the crime.


TAKEAWAY FOR WRITERS: When it comes to plot devices, the presidential campaign is clearly the gift that keeps on giving!
oops did i roll my eyes out loud
For future consideration: The Loud Voice of Body Language!

Bicycle History to Celebrate UCI Road World Championships

In the beginning. . .

When my interest is piqued, of course I turn to research. A friend told me that the gift shop at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens has two books on the history of bicycle racing in Richmond. True confession: I did not buy them—but you might want to. In the meantime, I did go on-line. As usual, Wikipedia has a lengthy article on the history of the bicycle. You might also be interested in visiting the Smithsonian Institute website, for their series America on the Move. These include pictures. Also, A Pictorial History of the Evolution of the Bicycle has great pictures

I’ll share with you some of what I learned. First of all, the immediate ancestor of the bicycle was the Draisine, also called a Velocipede, Hobby Horse or Swift-Walker. It was designed by Baron von Drais in 1817 and looked like a bicycle, but had no pedals. So one moved by walking along, feet on the ground, while seated. It was made of wood, with iron bound wheels, and weighed nearly 50 pounds. Even so, speeds of eight miles per hour were feasible.

By Wilhelm Siegrist (1797-1843?) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Although a two-wheeled bicycle with pedals may have been created as early as 1839, Pierre Lallement filed the earliest and only patent for a pedal-driven bicycle, in the US in 1866.

sketch for original pedal bicycle
Original pedal-bicycle. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.

Soon after, in 1869, a pedal-bicycle was invented for ladies.

Velocipede for Ladies
Velocipede for Ladies by Pickering and Davis, New York. Engraving from Google’s scan of The velocipede: its history, varieties, and practice, author J. T. Goddard, page 85 in chapter Velocipedes for Ladies. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.
A subsequent major development, the Ordinary or high-wheeler was first made abroad in 1869, and in the U.S in 1877. Depending on the length of the rider’s inner leg, the front wheel could have a diameter up to 5 feet! It was light-weight, fast, and dangerous. Because the rider’s weight was so high and so far forward, a bad patch in the road could cause the rider to “take a header” over the handlebars. The rider couldn’t fall free of the machine because his legs would be trapped under the handlebars. Broken wrists were common. And of course, death was possible. Women’s clothing as well as the social norms of the day made this “ordinary” bicycle unsuitable for women. Cycling became associated with reckless young men. Cycling clubs and races blossomed.


The next major development came in 1885, when John Kemp Starley created—but never patented—the first successful “safety bicycle.” His improvements included a steerable front wheel, wheels of equal size, and a chain drive to the rear wheel. Bicycles became very popular for both work (commuting, deliveries, etc.) and pleasure uses. In 1895, Chicago put its mailmen on bicycles. The safety bicycle was the first bicycle suitable for women.

Whippet Safety Bicycle
Science museum [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
A 1889 Lady's safety bicycle
A 1889 Lady’s safety bicycle. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.

As far as I’m concerned, developments since then are all just tweaking! As the automobile became the preferred mode of individual transportation in the US, bicycles have been taken over for pleasure and exercise. As of the 1970s, cycling was the nation’s leading outdoor recreation. Still, bicycle messengers flourish in major US cities. In other parts of the world, the bicycle is still the “workhorse” of preference. In the People’s Republic of China, the Flying Pigeon was the government approved form of transportation, considered essential for every household, along with a sewing machine and a watch. In the 1970s, the post-Mao leader Deng Xiaoping defined prosperity as “a Flying Pigeon in every household”—which reminds me that in the presidential campaign of 1928, a circular published by the Republican Party claimed that if Herbert Hoover won there would be a chicken in every pot. A lucky duck. True confession: my mind works in mysterious ways.

Flying Pigeons, chickens in pots, and lucky ducks

And that seems as good a place as any to end this!

UCI Road World Championships

From the UCI Road World Championships Richmond 2015 website:

The Road World Championships (Worlds) is cycling’s pinnacle event, held annually in an international city as chosen by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) through a competitive bidding process similar to the Olympic Games.

Worlds is a nine-day event, featuring 12 Championship races for Elite Men and Women, Under 23 Men and Junior Men and Women. It is a rare opportunity for the athletes to compete for their country, just as they do during the Olympic Games.