While the Road to Rio is a long journey counting down to Summer 2016, Olympic medalist Katie Ledecky has had tons of success in her (so far) short career. At the age of 15, she was the youngest swimmer on Team USA at the London 2012 Olympics, where she took home the gold in 800m freestyle (for which she also holds the world record). Katie and her mom, Mary Gen, sat down with Parents at a Winter Olympics viewing party sponsored by Swim Today to get her take on swimming, her family’s incredible support, and all things Olympics.
KL: I think the competitive atmosphere and the people that are involved in the sport. It’s a great outlet to meet friends and engage with them. That’s what I have always enjoyed.
MGL: When the kids first joined the summer pool we really didn’t know anybody there and that’s, I think, one of the reasons she and her brother decided to join the team. Right away they had like a hundred friends. The thing I think is interesting about swimming is that it’s not just one age that goes and practices together. It crosses a couple of ages and it’s co-ed. She’s working out with girls and guys and they have such great camaraderie and ability to support each other. You don’t see that with a lot of other sports.
P: Did you gravitate to swimming on your own or did your parents guide you?
KL: I think my mom taught me how to swim when I was probably 3 or 4. But then I joined summer swim team with my brother when I was 6. Then we joined a club swim team that fall. So I’ve been swimming on teams since I was 6, but up until about age 10 I played basketball and soccer, a few other sports. Once I got to about 9 or 10 I started to go to swim practice over basketball practice. I Gradually I just started to lean towards swimming.
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P: What’s it like to raise an Olympian?
MGL: Well, it’s been great. We always say that she makes us look good—our kids make us look good. My husband and I feel that we’ve gotten a lot of support from our community, our club, our summer team. I’m very very proud of her. I’m proud of how she’s handled it.
P: Does it sometimes feel like a full time job to be the parent of an athlete at this level?
MGL: You know, I think no matter what she would have decided to do, it’s great to see one of your children finding and developing the passion. My feeling is is that it’s not really hard to support your child in whatever direction they want to go—whether it’s sports or music or academics. It’s been pretty easy to support her.
P: What does it mean to you to have your Mom and your family cheering you on? How does it help with some of the pressure of these moments?
KL: It’s the best. They’re at every meet. They take me to every practice. That support means a lot to me. At the Olympics I saw them in the stands and knew they were there. It was kind of a relaxing thing to know that. I was 15 years old and traveling with the team on my first international trip. My parents had prepared me well for it and I knew how to handle it all.
P: What is your message to young aspiring athletes?
KL: If you find a sport that you’re passionate about stick with it and be dedicated and mainly just have fun with it. That’s what success will come from. If you’re happy doing something and you have friends doing it that’s gonna be your best path to success.
P: What’s your message to the moms of aspiring athletes?
MGL: Mine would be the same. To really make sure your children are having fun. If they’re not having fun with it, find something else or support them looking for other outlets and make it fun. [Swimming] is great for building confidence in both my kids, making great friends, learning how to support goals, setting goals and reaching those goals and setting new goals, helping them to be organized. As long as they’re learning from it it’s good for them.
P: Looking ahead to Rio, what are you most excited about?
KL: There’s a lot in between, but yes it is coming up quickly. I just want to make the Olympic team again. That’s going to be the biggest challenge. I’m excited most about training over the next two years. I have my goals set and I’m excited to see what my limit is over the next two years.
Football season is now in full swing. Whether your little athlete plays on a team or prefers to watch from the sidelines, you’ll want to encourage a positive attitude towards sports. We spoke with Andrew Luck, quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, to get his advice for keeping kids moving and encouraging a healthy lifestyle.
Make sure it’s fun. “Even as a professional athlete, if it’s not fun, something is wrong,” Andrew says. He recommends letting your child play as many sports as she wants. “Diversity helps. Playing basketball helped me become a better football player.”
Emphasize the commitment. “My parents never forced me to play anything, but if I started a season of any sport, I had to finish it out,” he says.
Help your child prepare correctly. That means fueling up on the proper foods, getting enough sleep, and understanding what the body needs.
Practice, practice, practice! “I used to throw for hours with my dad after work,” Andrew says. “But on occasions where he didn’t have a lot of time, we’d just do five minutes. Even that helps.”
Andrew also gave us his tips for throwing the perfect spiral. Perfect the move yourself, and then teach your little one:
1. Grip the football correctly. Hold the ball so that your ring and little finger are across the laces and your thumb is underneath. Your thumb and index finger should make an “L” shape. Don’t grip the ball too tightly–you should hold the football firm, but it should still be moveable and comfortable in your palm. 2. Position your body. Face 90 degrees away from your target and turn your hips to the side you throw with. Keep your front shoulder pointed at your target. 3. Keep it by your ear as you prepare to throw. This will keep the ball at the proper height. 4. Release the ball with your fingertips. As the football leaves your hand, it should only touch your fingertips. The last part of your body to touch the football should be your index finger, giving it a nice spin. 5. Practice makes perfect. Play a game of catch with your child, and you’ll both get better through repetition.
Want to win a $15,000 grant for your school? Andrew has teamed up with Quaker Oats and Fuel Up to Play 60 for the Make Your Move video contest. Film and submit a video of students showcasing how they are active by November 27, and your school could win all sorts of great prizes! Check out the video below for more details.
We recently had the chance to talk with Lashinda Demus, Olympic hurdler and mother of five-year-old twins, Duaine and Dontay, about balancing life as a star-athlete and mom. Here, the 29-year-old track star shares her struggle with pregnancy and her experience adjusting expectations in order to fulfill her dream to become a legendary competitor and parent.
Do you think that in today’s society there is pressure for women to establish their career first and then have family, rather than the other way around?
I think that [we put pressure] on ourselves. The more vocal women are, the more we want to attain and do [we think], “Well I just need to get straight first.” And I think, “What happens to having a union and you guys working together?” Some women think when you become a mom or married, you automatically fit into this box of what a wife and a mother are supposed to be. I fell into that, too. I would find myself not dressing up, not going anywhere, and just making sure [my boys] look good. I didn’t care how I looked. I had to snap out of that.
Your biography refers to your pregnancy as unplanned. What was the original plan?
I always wanted kids, but my plan from the beginning was to compete until 2012, which would have me making three Olympic teams. I made ’04 my junior year in college, and then I hoped to make ’08 and then ’12. Then, I’d be 29 and start having a family. My husband and I were together for four or five years before I got pregnant in 2007. It wasn’t planned at all and I don’t think I was ready to have kids and that’s why I went into my little depression. I find that I’m more attached and more hands-on now because I constantly think about how I didn’t even want to be pregnant and that sets me straight. Now I’ve made my twins a part of my dreams.
Once your life started to take this different course, did you consider becoming a non-working mom?
I did not. I would get discouraged because I knew my body went through a drastic change and I thought “I don’t know how I’m going to get back to being number one in the world athletically, after having two human beings in my body.” I’m actually one of those women that won’t mind being the stay-at-home-mom. That’s one of the things that I think I’ll like to do. But at that point, I knew I was gonna get back at it.
You said your goal was to go through 2012.
I’m going to go to 2016. Once you’ve run as long as I have—I’ve been running since I was five years old—you want to make sure you finish the book. I want four things out of my track career and that’s an American record—which I have—a world championship title—which I have—Olympic gold and a world record. Almost had that gold this year, so I have two more on the bucket list.
Do you see that in your boys, that thirst to be the best?
I see not a will to be the best, but I see them wanting to please me, and that’s scary. That’s why I kind of keep them away from track…for a while. I don’t want them to think they have to stand up to what I’ve done. To me, that’s a lot of pressure. I want them to be passionate about something, but not passionate about pleasing me or outdoing me.
How is it being the mom of twins?
I always wanted twins that had that “I feel what you feel” thing, and they really have that. They’re best friends. My family is a family full of fraternal twins: My great-grandmother had four sets and they’re all fraternal.
That’s quite the legacy. In past interviews you mentioned that your legacy is what you want to leave your boys. Other than the markers, what message do you want your legacy to send them?
The message of greatness—not just in athletics, in whatever you’re passionate about. Since I was a little kid, something was put in me that I’m the best at this. I want them to just exude greatness. I’m going to have grandkids one day so I want them to have an example of “she was a woman, a mother, an athlete and she still, she put her best on the line all the time.”
With the end of the London Olympics rapidly approaching, you may have noticed that there hasn’t been much coverage of baseball or softball at the Games. Actually, neither sport has been at the Games; after the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted to remove them.
Jennie Finch is a strong supporter of returning softball to the Olympics. Once called “the most famous softball player in history” by Time, Finch led the U.S. women’s softball team to a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics and a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics. Finch retired in 2010 and now spends most of her time taking care of her children with her husband, baseball player Casey Daigle. They have two sons together, Ace, 6, and Diesel, 1, and Finch recently announced that she is pregnant (congrats, Jennie!).
Tell me about your work with Hershey’s.
The program is something I’ve always been about: balance. Finding balance in your life, and happiness through well-being, and enjoying precious moments that we don’t get very often. I’m excited about putting the “active” part back in family activity. My role within the campaign is promoting a way to live in the moment and enjoy it. I’m one of the Good Life Gurus, and we have a Good Life Promise to live in the moment; for me, it’s finding time to be present with my boys.
You’re promoting how to make physical activity fun for the entire family. What are some ways you keep active with your family?
With our boys, we have so much fun with just a cardboard box or a ball. My husband gets involved with playing games of Wiffle ball or setting up a goal and playing soccer.
What about your little one?
He just takes off in his walker and chases, follows, and bounces a ball — his favorite toy. On rainy days or days when it’s too hot outside, we build forts inside. We make little treats like banana chocolate chip cookies using Hershey’s recipes. These are the little ways we engage the whole family. We also have a trampoline and play games like tag or hide-and-seek.
Will you encourage your sons to play sports?
Definitely. Having played my whole life, I’ve been able to see firsthand the benefits of sports. There are so many life lessons that transcend the playing field, such as teamwork, leadership, discipline, and sacrifice. My older son is playing T-ball now and we’ll see if he likes it. There is so much pressure at a young age to be part of individual and team sports, but whatever his passions are, we’ll let him decide what he wants to do.
You showed the world that it’s possible to be feminine and an athlete. What’s your message for little girls who want to play with dolls but who also want to get dirty?
I loved having a bow in my hair and I did wear makeup on the mound, but to each her own. You can still compete and be whoever you want to be, in whatever makes you feel comfortable. One of the greatest things about sports is the diversity within it. There’s room for everything. It doesn’t discriminate against anybody. It’s about ability and having fun, being outside, being active. Off the softball field, I always tell young kids, young girls especially, to find their gift and run with it. We’re all made differently. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Instead of constantly comparing ourselves with others, find your gifts and let them shine.
What did you learn from being an athlete that applies to motherhood?
Sacrifice and discipline. Also, not to take things seriously. With my 6-year-old, I may say, “Crying will only get you a snotty nose and all worked up over nothing.” As an athlete and a mother, you just have to let loose and have fun with your kids while being a kid with them.
Parents, coaches, and health educators can benefit from this DVD as kids become interested in and take more part in sports. Serious problems can occur if the body isn’t used to new exercise routines, so this 2-hour DVD offers easy step-by-step guidelines on how kids can strength train safely and prevent sports injuries.
Kids can also develop strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility without enrolling in expensive gym program, and learn the proper way to stretch before and recover after workouts. Flashcards within the DVD also offer instructions on how to exercise for specific sports at all player levels (beginner, intermediate, advanced). A related mobile app will be available in the near future.
Research: Video Games Help with Creativity in Boys and Girls
That finding, thought to be the first demonstration of a relationship between technology use and creativity, comes from a new study of nearly 500 12-year-olds in Michigan, conducted by researchers at Michigan State University’s Children and Technology Project.
Board Approves Idaho Online Class Requirement
Education officials on Thursday gave final approval to a plan that makes Idaho the first state in the nation to require high school students to take at least two credits online to graduate, despite heavy criticism of the plan at public hearings this summer.
Breakfasts With Protein, Fiber Start the School Year Right
New research shows that you’ll feel full longer and may get less hungry throughout the day if your first meal has protein-rich foods, such as eggs, Greek yogurt, low-fat dairy products or lean meat, and fiber-filled fare, such whole-wheat bread, whole-grain cereal, fruit and vegetables.
Athletes to Get Help Prepping for College
The students will learn rudimentary study skills and time-management techniques; take an SAT preparation course designed by The Princeton Review; and discover how to navigate the admissions process and financial aid. This College Readiness Initiative is the latest push by the Boston Scholar Athlete Program, a charitable foundation working to fix chronic failings in Boston’s high school sports programs.
Parents aren’t just worried about improving their children’s reading prowess, they’re also worried about improving their children’s athletic prowess. A recent NYTimes.com article revealed parents are involving their babies and toddlers (from 6 months to 2 1/2) in exercises that develop their coordination, motor skills, agility, core strength, health, and fitness.
Companies are now competing to offer exercise and sports DVDs aimed at young children that show jumping, kicking, and sports movements. Children-oriented gyms are also offering sports classes, particularly soccer, to improve children’s physical development. These sports DVDs and classes not only help kids combat childhood obesity at an early age, they can also give kids an advantage later when they play sports in schools.
However, some pediatricians and fitness experts are skeptical that enrolling toddlers in sports classes can speed up coordination or lead to careers as all-star athletes. Kids could actually strain muscles or fracture bones at an early age. Plus, other studies have shown that even if kids grow up to play more sports, they may not get enough exercise. According to Reuters.com, kids on sports teams can spend more time developing skills and strategies than playing the actual sport. Plus, as more physical education classes and recess are reduced in schools, sports classes are still not enough to provide well-balanced exercise and physical activity.
Still, maybe a little exercise is better than having no exercise at all, and starting at a younge age might develop better health habits. As a parent, would you enroll your toddler in a sports or gym class? Would you want your toddler to be the next big sports star? Share your comments below.