Evanston grad Simspon spreads the Olympic gospel
Diane Simpson, the president of the Midwest Champter of U.S. Olympians and Paralympians, rounds up athletes for the Walk to London event in Chicago. | Photo by Marc Monaghan
Updated: August 6, 2012 6:32AM
As one career ends, another begins.
Four years earlier, in 1988, Diane Simpson earned her spot in the Seoul, South Korea, Summer Games, as the reigning national champion remained home.
But in 1992, it was the Evanston High School graduate who headed to the U.S. Rhythmic Gymnastics Team Trials wearing the crown.
“I was beaten out by someone who went on to perform with Madonna,” she recalls.
Simpson, the President of the Midwest Chapter of Olympians and Paralympians, wouldn’t trade either experience. Her chapter includes more than 330 Olympic and 80 Paralympic athletes from five states. She says Glenview’s Brian Hansen, who skated at the Vancouver Games in 2010 and is one of the chapter’s newest members, is very active with the group.
Her six-year term may be coming to an end this summer, but Simpson will forever be pushing the Olympics.
Drawing on a journalism degree from Northwestern, she writes press releases promoting the Midwest Chapter-sponsored Walk to London 2012 in Chicago’s Armour Square Park, highlighting the importance of regular exercise. She provided commentary for a national television network during the 1998 Goodwill Games. And, perhaps in her biggest undertaking, she worked as the manager of athletes relations and communication for the Chicago 2016 bid committee.
“I worked as a volunteer for a year and a half because this was so important to me, trying to bring the Games to my city,’’ she says. “But the reality is, Brazil did a tremendous job and it’s never been to South America. They deserved to win.
“I feel going forward we should try again.”
That’s the Olympic athlete in Simpson speaking. The reason she feels so passionate about the sports spectacle is because of what she learned while pursuing her own berth.
The fire began when Simpson was 7 and watching the 1976 Montreal Games on TV as Romanian gymnast Nadia Comeneci scored the first perfect-10.
“I said, ‘I’m going to go to the Olympics some day,’ and my grandfather said you can do anything you set out to do as long as you put your mind to it,” Simspon says.
But finding the right sport proved more difficult than winning a gold medal. She tried gymnastics, soccer, baseball and figure skating. When a gymnastics coach suggested she try rhythmic gymnastics, she proved to be a natural.
Once she found her path, Simpson worked hard to stay on it.
“My Olympic year, I was training every day, 7-9 hours a day. I was in Bulgaria for a couple summers, working 11-13 hours a day,” she says. “It really is a huge investment, emotionally and physically.”
She cites injuries for a too-early end to her gymnastics career, but said running the 2003 Chicago Marathon brought back memories of competing in South Korea.
Simpson, who lives in Northfield with her husband Hollister Bundy, son Jonathan and daughter Alexis, is making plans to take her 13-year-old daughter to London. She runs her own public-relations firm and is paying their own way because she wants Alexis to see firsthand why her mom has devoted so much of her life to the Olympic Games.
And if the trip helps light a competitive fire in Alexis, and someday she decides that someday she would be an Olympian, too, that would be just fine.
“I think every parent wants to be proud of their children, but at the same time it’s a huge undertaking,” Simpson says. “It’s a huge accomplishment — not everyone can be an Olympian. I always tell kids they can be an Olympian in life; it’s got to come from the heart. You really have to believe in yourself.”
A belief in the Olympic Spirit helps, too.