Team M-O-M: Denise Gold and Melissa James Relish Raising Olympic Skaters
At the Olympics tonight, Gracie Gold, 18, and Ashley Wagner, 22, compete in the Ladies’ Short Program for Olympic Figure Skating (and again on Thursday in the free skate). But the spotlight isn’t just on the ice. Their mothers, Denise Gold and Melissa James, called in from Sochi to talk to Parents about raising Olympic athletes, courtesy of P&G’s Thank You Mom Campaign, which has been recognizing that no athlete reaches this level on her own (which all you moms out there already know).
P: What is it like to be the mother of an Olympian?
DG: It’s really just a dream. It’s amazing. To be a part of this group, all of these parents have dedicated their lives to helping their kids achieve this goal and that’s amazing.
MJ: I don’t know who has the bigger smile, the Olympians or the moms who have watched them get there. It’s just a very special feeling for all of us.
P: Tell me about the camaraderie between the moms of the Olympic athletes in Sochi. What are the emotions? How do you guys feel as a group?
MJ: All of the figure skating athletes train by themselves with separate coaches in different areas. Nobody knows each other, but suddenly we go to the P&G house to meet all of the moms from all of the sports. We are so fortunate to have a safe environment to sit and relax. I was chatting with [ski slopestyle bronze medalist] Nick Goepper’s mom, and I learned she has gymnastic daughters. We had a great talk on how to raise daughters in sports.
DG: I was at the team figure skating medal ceremony. Our kids were getting medals and it was really crowded. The Russian crowd is very enthusiastic—their signs and their chanting; the energy was amazing. I’m very short so I couldn’t see, but when our kids came out I shouted, “Gracie! Gracie!” and the Russian crowd parted. It just opened up and everyone pushed me to the front so I could see Gracie. I’ll remember that forever.
P: The Olympics come around every four years, so your daughters have been working towards this moment for four years. But when they get on the ice they only have a few minutes to put all those years to the test. How do you help your daughters cope with the pressure?
DG: We text and I say all of the things that I can think of to remind Gracie that she’s worked hard, she’s well-trained, she’s never been so ready for this moment. I remind her that what she does is good enough.
MJ: My job is just to help Ashley stay calm. When I go to practice and sit in the stands, we do a little “Hey, Mom” and “Hey, Ashley” [routine]. I’m there for [putting] a little special gleam in her eye.
P: When did each of you realize that skating was more than just a hobby? How did you encourage that talent without worrying about the future?
DG: It was very gradual. Gracie was always a very gifted athlete and talented at whatever she did in other sports. People would say, “You ought to take her to…,” and then list some place. I thought, how’s that going to work out? What if she changes her mind and we’ve uprooted the whole family? I was a reluctant parent until she actually made it to the US Championships as a novice.
P: Both of you also have other children. How do you balance parenting an Olympian and another child without him or her feeling overshadowed?
MJ: Ashley has a 20-year-old brother who’s a junior at Pratt Institute. Right after he found out Ashley was [going to the Olympics] we almost booked his plane ticket. [Then] he called and we had a heart to heart. He said, “I love my sister, she loves me, but I really need to focus on myself.” I made sure to send him a big chocolate chip cookie on Valentine’s Day that said, “You Rock.” As a mom you have to think outside the box and tend to each individual child.
DG: We’ve had the blessing [of Gracie and her twin sister, Carly]. They are both skaters, and they know each other like no one else. Carly’s a huge part of Gracie’s success. She’s a very important part of the team.
P: How has the amount of traveling over the years affected your lives?
MJ: We moved to so many places [as a military family], so I’ve had to find Ashley an ice rink [each time]. But we have a fantastic photo album and fantastic memories, and her brother was able to travel with her a lot more when he was younger.
DG: Gracie didn’t travel internationally until very recently. I’ve been to Tokyo [about] four times. I love taking in all of these different worlds. Skating has opened up all sorts of doors, not just for Gracie but for our whole family. We’ve met the most amazing people.
P: When the girls finish their Olympic careers, have you considered what your life path will be?
MJ: I’ve already started my own life; I found my own sport. I’m a rower. I did it in college and I went back to it. I still have a competitive edge, and it’s a really great flip-flop when Ashley comes to my sporting events and cheers me on.
P: What are you feeling as your daughters get ready to compete in the final ladies’ figure skating events?
MJ: For me, the pressure’s a little bit off and I’m a little calmer. I just want Ashley to have the best realization of her dream.
DG:I just hope that [Gracie] is happy with her performance. That’s what I want every time.
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