Life as an Olympian Mom
The 2010 Olympic Winter Games are half a year away. A handful of hopefuls are working hard at conditioning their bodies for competition, always maintaining focus on the ultimate dream – the chance to prove their merit on the world stage. Among those gearing up for the performance of a lifetime is a distinct group of athletes. Not only are they fierce competitors – they are also mothers.
Being an Olympic Mom requires a special arsenal of skills.
Mother of two-year-old Aria and an Olympic medal-winning cross-country skier, Sara Renner says the ability to multitask has been a huge asset in her training:
“Sometimes Aria doesn’t want me to leave her before she falls asleep and I do my visualizing then.”
“While she is singing Twinkle Twinkle, I’m imagining racing the last 200 meters to the finish line at the Olympics.”
Janice McCaffrey, mother to Scott, 23, and Jamie, 22, competed in three Summer Games – Barcelona, Atlanta, and Sydney – as a racewalker. She notes that being a mom was a rarity on the team, and required a lot of juggling.
“It was a pretty hectic schedule,” she says. “When the kids were really small I was also doing my master’s degree and was training. I found getting training in meant squeezing it into little time slots that other people would maybe just use for lunch.”
“Kids can really handle anything.”
“I’d go training and eat my lunch at my desk. When other people would go home and sit in traffic, I would have my gym bag and would go to a park for a work out before going home,” says McCaffrey.
Though Renner initially worried how Aria would cope with her crazy schedule, she found her daughter actually “thrived seeing new things and being around my team.”
“Traveling the World Cup with a toddler has taught me how adaptable kids are and how they can really handle anything,” says Renner.
“Like most moms, I worried about her sleep, her health, long van rides and her lack of vegetable consumption. It was more of a question of me worrying when I shouldn’t have.”
McCaffrey recalls when she started competing again soon after having Scott, she had similar concerns about how the family would manage:
“I was so worried about (my husband) Bill taking care of him when I was away,” she laughs, and quickly adds “most mothers are like that anyways, and I think our kids are pretty flexible because they grew up in a flexible environment.
“Perhaps they don’t realize it, but there are other parents who’re so regimented about their kids napping and where they sleep and when they have to have a bath. They become very confined to what they can do,” says McCaffrey.
“When you’re a parent, you’re never just an athlete.”
Within this balancing act, however, both women prioritize motherhood above all else.
“I make the most of my time that I have to train and do the best job that I can,” says Renner, “but when I walk in the front door, I’m a mom. I have never felt more motivated in my career, but motherhood has given me my priorities.”
McCaffrey found she had to make tough choices. The national team demanded more of her time than she was willing to give.
“I cut every corner I could, so that I wouldn’t have to be away from my family as much.” “I never went on the training camp which was a preparation time when you’d go and just be an athlete. But when you’re a parent, you’re never just an athlete. You’re always a parent, and then you’re an athlete,” says McCaffrey.
Of course, it’s not all just fun, hard work, and Games for the mothers. They say their children will receive ongoing benefits from exposure to their Olympic spirit.
McCaffrey feels her children learned what it means to support someone; they cheered their mom on at races all over the world:
“When I see my kids show a passion, I get behind them completely. I think they got behind me and I’ll get behind them.”
“They understand that both Bill and I believe in a lot of hard work, and that hard work pays off.”
Though Renner notes her own athleticism may have contributed to Aria loving “her running shoes and her bike helmet,” she also identifies another special benefit for her daughter:
“Aria sees all these strong women, not only me but also my teammates.”
“I hope she can see that dreams are worth chasing and she will do the same in her life.”
The most successful Olympian moms in history
Rumyana Neykova – Mother of Emil and three-time rowing medalist from Bulgaria; competed in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008 Summer Olympics
Ekaterina Gordeeva – Mother of Daria and Liza, and two-time gold medalist in pair skating; competed on behalf of the Soviet Union in the 1988 Winter Olympics, and on behalf of Russia in the 1994 Winter Olympics
Lisa Deshaun Leslie – Mother of Lauren Jolie, and four-time gold medal basketball player from the USA; competed in 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008 Summer Olympics
Dara Torres – Mother of Tessa Grace and four-time gold medal swimmer from the USA; competed in the 1984, 1988, 1992, 2000, and 2008 Summer Olympics
Shirley Strickland de la Hunty – Mother of four and seven-time medaling runner from Australia; competed in the 1948, 1952, and 1956 Summer Olympics
Fanny Blankers-Koen – Known as “The Flying Housewife” from the Netherlands, mother of two and four-time gold medalist in track and field; competed in the 1936, 1948, and 1952 Summer Olympics