What It’s Like to Watch Your Daughter Win a Gold Medal

Ellie Logan GoldThis 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.

This morning dawns grey and misty, with high humidity. Canadian geese gather on the Thames outside of our B & B, The Weir View House, in Pangbourne, a small town west of London.

Ellie won her second Olympic gold medal rowing in the Women’s eight yesterday. I am still too jazzed to sleep after waking at 4, so I set up my computer in the breakfast room, check Facebook, and read various accounts of the race. This quote in The Huffington Post by seasoned cox Mary Whipple captures a theme expressed by Ellie and other rowers throughout the week. Before the race, Mary said, “….I just told them to breathe and enjoy the moment. Feel each stroke. Be present. And we were present—the whole time. It was magical.”

During a race, the petite cox in the stern of the boat is closer to the rowers than any of us; she’s the only one facing forward, not rowing, but steering, strategizing, checking out the competition, and encouraging the rowers. Her remark makes me wonder about the mysterious connection between mothers and children at moments like these. The night before the race, in a brief Skype moment with Ellie, she told me that they were just trying to be calm.

I decided that the best help I could be would be to remain calm with her, and with the team. People asked, “Aren’t you excited?” Yes, of course, but also no—I prayed for the well-being of the rowers and felt very calm and centered in the stands; I didn’t cry, unlike Beijing when I wept my way through most of it.

In the four years prior to the Olympics, these young women train everyday but Sunday, even during brief holidays– what’s different this time is that all that training culminates in minutes and seconds of racing in front of 30,000 people. What happens during that brief time reflects everything that has happened in the years before. For Ellie, it meant finishing her undergraduate degree at Stanford. Even though she was on the college team, it meant supplementing her training at Stanford to try not to lose the national-level of fitness attained when training for Beijing. It meant, like so many athletes, not having a normal life: just days off for holidays, with no lapse in training, and virtual “lockdown” in terms of a personal life.

She views rowing as work, as a job: it’s how she earned her way through Stanford, through a full NCAA scholarship, and it’s how she’s transitioning now to the rest of her life.

Nothing is taken for granted. I listened as the announcer yesterday found it surprising that the eight hadn’t taken more of a lead against the Canadians, as if the team expected to. That sounded like complete hokum to me. Although called a “machine” during their dominating heat, this eight doesn’t underestimate the competition. They focus on making their race the best possible race for them. They race their hearts out.

It’s assumed that I’m proud of my daughter. Of course! But in this team sport, I’m also proud of all of them and in awe of the sacrifices they’ve made and experienced along the way to reach Olympic gold.

And just now, I experience an awesome surprise—Ellie walking in to the breakfast room of my B & B, while I write this–tall, fit, her legs aching, gold medal stuffed into her pocket. This time I cry. I thought she was miles away, and that I wouldn’t see her again until September, if then, but she took a train from Windsor and found me. It’s only 7 a.m., she’s due back at the athletes’ village by 9. We only have a few minutes. The race wasn’t pretty, Ellie says. She rowed harder yesterday than she ever has in her life, she says. Here I am, without make-up, bleary-eyed, my shirt inside out, with my daughter. “Hold the gold medal,” she says. I do, while holding tightly on to her. I love her. Then, with her train on its way, I let go.

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  1. by Heather

    On August 7, 2012 at 8:01 am

    This is such a beautiful story. As a coxswain, and a mother, I can understand both sides. Thanks for sharing this with us.