"Beyond proud" is how Michelle Obama told U.S. Olympians she felt while meeting with them on Friday morning, as the world awaits the evening’s opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Over breakfast at an east London sports center with some of Team USA – including women’s basketball players, fencing competitors and members of the track and field squad – the First Lady praised the inspiration they provide to those watching back home.
"Some of my fondest memories growing up and as an adult involve watching the Olympics on TV," Mrs. Obama told them. "My family would sit together for hours watching these men and women perform feats of endurance speed that would have us cheering at the top of our lungs."
She added, “My brother and I would dream about how maybe one day we might be able to achieve something just as great for ourselves.”
Mrs. Obama also told those gathered how her father, an athlete himself, battled MS, which over seven years changed him from “a thriving competitor” (as a boxer and swimmer) to someone on crutches.
"The Olympics for him was a special time for him to watch amazing athletes perform on the world stage," said the First Lady. "You never know who are inspiring: from a family on the South Side of Chicago to a young athlete going to pick up a soccer ball or start running after watching something you all do."
Noting that “we are all proud of you all,” Mrs. Obama also had some advice. “Try to have some fun. Try to breathe and take it in. But also win!”
Discus thrower Aretha Thurmand appreciated the sentiment. She told PEOPLE, “We do sometimes need to take a moment to breathe. Soak it in, take the stress level down a little bit. Everybody puts the weight of the world on their shoulders at an event like this. Sometimes you forget to breathe.”
Later, swim star Summer Sanders described the scene at the American Ambassador’s home in London – where Mrs. Obama was also a special guest – as “the best backyard party in town.”
Spurred on by the University of Florida Gator Marching Band and whoops of approval from about 1,000 kids, many from U.S. military families based in the U.K. (and to whom the First Lady gave a special thanks), Mrs. Obama sprinted to a stage platform and said, “We are so incredibly proud of you, and anytime I get the chance to show you guys love, I do it.”
The children – who were joined by such athletes as David Beckham, Carl Lewis, Teresa Edwards and Shawn Johnson – were there for a day of sports and musical entertainment, all part of Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move program to promote healthy exercise and eating.
But the main message of the day was about making healthy choices and never giving up.
"We love you," said the First Lady. "But we want you to take care of yourselves, help your families, turn off the TV, eat some vegetables – yeah, that’s part of it! – because we want you guys to grow up to have the future you deserve. Is that a promise?"