The Emotions of Watching Your Child Compete in The Olympics

This post was written by Jennifer Kierstead, the mother of Olympic gold medalist Eleanor (Ellie) Logan who is going for her second gold medal in London with the US Olympic Rowing Women’s 8+boat. Based in Maine, Jennifer is a freelance writer and President of Jennifer Kierstead Consulting. She helps nonprofits and technical small businesses prepare grant proposals to support their work.

Not only was rain predicted for this day of heats at the rowing racecourse west of London, but hail!

The sun is bright but we wear many layers and bring umbrellas for the trek to Eton Dorney, near Windsor. We walk over a mile from the entry to the stands while the skies glower and it keeps getting darker.

The races proceed nonstop from 9:30 a.m., one heat after another: the men’s double sculls, the men’s light 4’s, the men’s single sculls, the women’s single sculls, the women’s lightweight double sculls, and the men’s lightweight double sculls.  It rains, briefly, then the dark clouds split and skirt the course. At 11:50, the women’s eight heats begin (see picture).

We aren’t seated in the family and friends section across the water, rather, we’re sitting in the stands opposite with our friends from Wisconsin, Nick and Diane Somers, and a crowd of 20,000-some people from all over Great Britain and the world. Rowing is one of the most popular sports at the Olympics, to match the sport’s long history and popularity in England. The Englishwoman seated behind me, learning of my daughter’s presence on the W-8, hands me a biscuit, quietly leans over and says, “Because your daughter is on the 8, I’m rooting for her.”

We talk about the “spirit of the games”—“Isn’t this the way it should be?” I say, and then, suddenly, out of nowhere just tear up, thinking of the devastating battles in Syria, and how frightening that must be for the children, women and men in those areas.  Wars and crimes against humanity don’t cease with the Games.

Just three years after WWII, London hosted the Olympics, as it was itself recovering from the devastation of war.  My thoughts return to the race before me at the venerable Eton College.

My daughter Eleanor (“Ellie”) Logan is with her teammates in the first of two heats. They dominate their race from the start, well ahead of Great Britain, Germany, and Australia. This is my first glimpse of Ellie, who is kept apart from family, friends and media prior to their final. In Beijing, we were able to see her after her heat—not this time. I magnify the image I take of her and her teammates on the eight, their muscles rippling.

They are rowing smoothly and powerfully. The British commentator refers to them as “the American machine.”  “Several gold medalists are on this boat,” he says, and I know one of them is my daughter.

It’s an astounding feeling. I’m her mother, yes, but Ellie’s phenomenal athletic ability, discipline, and drive is all coming from her.  She inherited my long arms and her father’s height, but that doesn’t explain what really propels her. Ellie was looking for a sport in which to excel from a very young age.  She tried and excelled in swimming and basketball, from age eight on, before being introduced to rowing in high school. Rowing is where it all came together for her, in an extraordinary way.

The first heat concludes and boats in the second heat start down the course, visible only via the Jumbotron screens until they come within range of the stands. Canada wins the second heat and proceeds directly to the final with the U.S.  All the other teams will race again on July 31 for a place in the final on August 2.

I won’t see Ellie before then. I’m thinking of her, though, as I watch the streams of people walk by me. They were all here today because they love the sport of rowing, or, in some cases, the rowers themselves.    Countless others watched this heat around the world. In the end, only one of these people can say she is Ellie’s mother. I’m her mom and I’m proud of her.

I pick up my raincoat, join my husband and friends, and begin the long walk back to the shuttle. Within an hour, the skies open and it pours.

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  1. by Jane McIntosh

    On August 1, 2012 at 6:13 am

    I am filled with emotion as I read your beautifully written article. I have thought about you often and the pride you must feel watching your daughter make dreams a reality.
    It comes as no surprise to me knowing her mom & dad, that beyond being an Olympic Gold Medalist that Ellie is a wonderful human being who will continue to make a difference in the world and positively impact the lives of others!
    You should be proud of yourselves, Ellie was blessed with wonderful parents!! See you soon!

  2. [...] I have a new and delicious question for my rivals in the B&B trade: “How many Olympic medal winners’ families have you entertained this season?”  I ask it casually, and in my best Linda Snell manner, with an air of knowing superiority. (I don’t often get to feel superior, believe me). But I could not resist the temptation to have a very small brag about my latest guests from the USA – Mark and Jennifer Kierstead, and their friends Nick and Dianne Somers. Jennifer  is the proud – to say the least – mum not just of an Olympic gold medal winner, but a double Olympic gold medal winner: daughter Eleanor (Ellie) Logan was in the US rowing team which won gold in London 2012 and also last time round in Beijing. As a professional writer and a mother Jennifer was asked by Parents magazine to keep a blog of her experiences as she watched Ellie rowing at the Olympic site in Eton – here it is.… [...]

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