Published on August 28th, 2012 | by Shellie Ward0
Raising an Olympian
My oldest daughter Haven has been obsessed with the Olympics. Even after it was over, she continued to watch the Olympic swimming, diving, and gymnastics competitions On Demand for two additional weeks. This past Monday, she was bummed that the Olympics On Demand had expired.
Whenever my kids show an interest in something, I try to expose and sometimes I may go overboard. When Haven first started swimming on the developmental swim team, she was so intimidated, her body was sore, and the coaches did not want to hear any excuses. At one point, she wanted to give up the sport. As a parent, it can be a challenge to know when enough is enough, and when to push your child through the times when they are fearful or challenged. I love to hear the back stories of the athletes, but P&G in particular, focused on the parents of the Olympians. I found myself relating to the parents, and sharing in their joy as their children competed. There is so much sacrifice and selflessness in raising an athlete, as long as you do it for the right reasons. It’s the parents that have to schedule, shuffle the kids to practice, ensure homework and studies are done, but also provide balance to their lives.
Gabby Douglas’s mother, Natalie Hawkins, had to sacrifice the joy of seeing her daughter every morning. She did this by allowing Gabby to move and train thousands of miles away in Iowa, all so that Gabby could pursue her dream. The sacrifice was hard, but it paid off. But those decisions at the time were difficult, and I’m sure there were people around Natalie that didn’t approve of those decisions. In addition to the time and energy, parents have to fork over a lot of cash for a decade’s worth of team fees, equipment, specialty camps, and travel.
I recall in 2000, my very good friend, (more like a sister) Latasha Colander-Clark standing on the podium in Sydney receiving her gold medal for the 4×100 relay. I remembered the sacrifices she made to stand there. I remembered her never being home. I remembered her transferring from our high school to be with the best coaches in the area. I remembered taking road trips with her family to the Penn Relays.
I took the girls to Augusta, Georgia to visit Latasha, where she is currently the track coach for Paine College. Our families broke bread and then we took the kids to a splash pad in Evans, GA. Later that evening our kids began to crash one by one, and it gave us an opportunity to reminisce over our teens and early twenties. For the most part, Latasha was always away running around the world and I kept up with her via the newspaper, while me and her sister Kris were busy being normal teenagers. Latasha’s parents Mr. and Mrs. Colander recalled her being elected Homecoming Queen for her high school. (I was in college at this time) She accepted the crown and bypassed all of the homecoming festivities to rest up for a track meet the next day. They also told a story of how every society club wanted her to participate at their debutante ball, going as far as offering to fly her from wherever she was in the world to be at their cotillion. Tasha declined them all to remain focused on her track career.
Growing up, I was very close to her parents, and even closer to Latasha’s older sister Kris. What was amazing was that, Kris was never slighted, or overshadowed by her track-star sister. Her parents ensured that each child was supported in their respective interests and activities. It dawned on me that Kris never seemed envious of all of the glory Tasha was receiving. I asked Kris was she ever jealous or have the “MARSHA MARSHA MARSHA” complex that Jan Brady had. Not only was she never jealous, but managed to get a track star hubby out of the deal!
The purpose of the trip was so that (1) I could see my friends, but (2) Haven could see an actual Olympic Gold medal as well as meet an Olympian. When Latasha went to her safe and pulled out the medal, it dawned on me that most people will never see an Olympic gold medal much less touch it. Haven got to wear it! I realized I’d never seen “IT”. This moment became more meaningful and surreal in that I was able to take my child to have an experience like no other. I hope that this will be a memory she will never forget.
As Latasha and I talked to the wee hours in the morning catching up on our lives, spending time with her parents, and my ace Kris, I felt affirmed in my role as a parent. I want to help my daughters to find their strengths, face their fears, and become successful women.
Thumbs up to all the parents who bring snacks for the little leaguers, pack swim bags, taxi, wash uniforms, play catch, order the coach’s awards, pass out trophies, raise money, kiss the boo boos, cuts and bruises, help them through adversity, teach them prayer, teach them sportsmanship, integrity, honesty, pull them out when grades suffer, expose them, and most of all …..love them!