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kids and sports ’
Monday, June 2nd, 2014
The FIFA World Cup kicks off June 12 (just around the corner)! Parents caught up with U.S. soccer team striker Jozy Altidore to get his insight on the upcoming tournament and starting kids young in athletics. At the age of 24, Jozy has some pretty mature insight into the values that make a successful, kind kid—on the field and off.
P: How you were drawn to the sport at such a young age and what makes soccer a great sport for kids?
JA: My family, from their background, it’s kind of a natural thing. They’re from Haiti and in Haiti soccer is basically number one. My dad is of Haitian descent and he got me into soccer since I was 3. I’ve been playing ever since then and I just fell in love with the game.
P: What makes soccer special for young kids?
JA: I think any sport [is great] for kids because it keeps them off the street. I know that’s important. That’s one of the reasons why my family put me in, to make sure I was doing something that required discipline. I think soccer is great because it’s a team game, being able to function in a group. It’s kind of a brotherhood; you’re a group of guys and you grow together as people and as players. You travel together; you play; you go through a lot. It’s a great thing for young boys and young girls to get into. Most importantly it’s fun!
P: You turned pro at age 16. What was it like to still be a kid navigating a world of professional athletes?
JA: It was next to impossible. I struggled with it at first, obviously. There’s so much to do and you’ve got such little time and adjusting to playing with grown men and not children, that was hard as well. Just getting used to what comes with being a professional, the criticisms, fans and all that. [You have to] quit worrying about if everyone is going to like what you do or like you as a player and just try to have a positive outlook on everything and work hard. That was the biggest challenge I think for me.
P: What was your most memorable moment from the last World Cup?
JA: Just walking out of the tunnel that first game because I’ll never forget it. I cried a little bit. It was just so surreal to me. It was just amazing. I don’t think I’m going to be able to replicate it. It was so special to me.
P: What are you most excited for about the upcoming World Cup now that you’ve already been? Will you still have that adrenaline walking out of the tunnel?
JA: Most definitely. Hopefully I arrive at the World Cup in a more mature way and not that youth where I’m just excited and I want to run everywhere and bounce off the walls, you know? Hopefully, I arrive there with more of an understanding of what’s new for me and how I can help the team to the best of my abilities. Just try to impact the tournament in the best way I can for my teammates. I’m looking forward to that.
P: Is there any one match that you’re most looking forward to?
JA: The first match is special for a lot of reasons. It’s the first game of a childhood dream. You can’t replicate the feelings that you’re going to feel on that day. You can try. You can play a lot of big games against big opponents, but that feeling as a player that I’ll have walking out of the tunnel against Ghana will be immeasurable. I’m excited for that. I’m excited to be part of it and I’m excited for the guys to have that experience, as well.
P: You started the Jozy Altidore Foundation back in 2011. What inspired you to do this?
JA: Well in 2010 I went to the place in Haiti with the earthquake. I was shaken up because it hit close to home for me being that my family is from Haiti. I just felt helpless like I couldn’t do anything. It was in that moment where I felt like I should try and do something. My family helped me figure out how to do that by getting a foundation. I could have donated something, which I did, but I thought having a foundation would be a more hands-on approach. I looked into it and I started it and I haven’t looked back. It enables me to help in many different ways, not only Haiti but in many different areas.
P: Your foundation’s mission statement says that you specifically want to serve underprivileged children. What is it about young kids that you relate to or feel for? What draws you to help that population?
JA: I’ve always been a big fan of the youth. I guess when you go everything so young that kind of just happens. I want to help the youth and see them do well.
P: You’ve said that no one is ever too young to make a difference. How do you hope to encourage young people to volunteer and raise money?
JA: I think it’s an easy thing. Kids are very naïve in a sense where they just want what they want. So if they want to help, they’re going to help. I think that will naturally just happen. I think kids just have a good heart and are genuine about their feelings. I figure that the best way to teach [generosity] is to teach them young because that’s the time when our hearts are the purest and you know they’ll get the most out of it.
P: Aside from this spirit of volunteerism, what other values did your parents impart to you that you have carried on and have made you so successful?
JA: My dad always says to be modest. To this day he always says it’s better to be modest, it’s always better to listen and sometimes not speak. He said it to me yesterday, actually. He’s always saying that to me. I think a lot of kids and a lot of people sometimes lose sight of that. I think it’s something that might be simple, but I think we oftentimes don’t do it.
P: Do you have any message for young kids who are dreaming about careers in athletics?
JA: To dream big and big and bigger! I think that’s important for kids. You can’t really tell anybody that “You can’t do” something. I think they have to believe they can. With that and with being persistent, they’ll make it whether it’s being a big time athlete or something else. I think we need our kids to believe in themselves and believe in what they can do.
P: Father’s Day is coming up. Do you have any plans? Anything special you do on that day even if you’re not with your dad?
JA: In my family—I don’t think I’m dissing anybody else—but I try to make them feel that they’re special every day whether it’s how I call to speak to them or give my mom a call when she’s least expecting it because for me my parents have been instrumental for me from day one. [Father's Day] will be a nice day to express that again, but I try to do that every day because I’m so thankful. I’m so grateful. I don’t know where I’d be without them.
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athletes, confident kids, Father's Day, generous kids, kids and sports, Olympics, soccer, volunteerism, World Cup | Categories:
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Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014
The Sochi Winter Paralympics took place March 7-16. Previously known only as a summer Paralympian in wheelchair racing, Team USA member Tatyana McFadden took on the snow in Russia—where she was born before being adopted into an American family at the age of 6. As part of Team Liberty Mutual, McFadden rose to the top. Born with spina bifida, the now 11-time medalist (track and sit-ski) chatted with Parents about overcoming obstacles—in life and in athletics, her adoption experience and her family, and fighting for equality in sports.
P: How does it feel to have won even more medals now in the winter Paralympics?
TM: It was just an amazing, fulfilling experience for me. I definitely exceeded my expectations. I really expected just to be in the top ten for the 12k and I got fifth and then in the sprint, I just really wanted to make the Finals and I medaled. And in the 5k I really wanted to be top 10 again and I got seventh.
P: Summer Paralympics, Winter Paralympics, New York Marathon, Chicago Marathon, the list goes on. What was it like to train for so many different events simultaneously?
TM: It was very difficult. I ran marathons all the way up until November  and at that time I was still in college. I graduated just this December , so as soon as I graduated I headed out to Colorado for snow training. It was a very continuous schedule.
P: You encountered quite a few obstacles in your childhood. When you were in the orphanage in Russia, how much of an understanding of your condition and your potential did you have?
TM: Living in the orphanage for six years, I never saw myself as any different. I walked on my hands for the first six years of my life. I didn’t have a wheelchair, but I was a child of determination and drive. If I wanted to get somewhere I would do it and I would do it by walking on my hands. You know, many others think that living in the orphanage was a huge setback in life, but being adopted into an American family brought me opportunities to rise on so many levels, as a student and an athlete.
P: Do you think that your lack of wheelchair as a child led you to gain the strength that has now served you as an athlete?
TM: I think it was just the personality that I have. I wasn’t going to let anything stop me. I always had a Russian saying “Yasama,” which means “I can do it myself and I can do it by myself.” I didn’t want anyone to help me and I think walking on my hands made me extremely strong. But it was just having that drive and determination at such a young age. As soon as I was adopted, I became involved with sports to help be gain a healthy lifestyle.
P: Tell me a little more about your family and the adoption process and coming to America.
TM: The adoption actually saved me. I was very sick and very anemic living in the orphanage. I was born with spina bifida and I was laying in the hospital with my back open for 21 days, so it was quite a miracle that I lived without getting an infection and dying. I do believe there is a purpose for me being here and being alive. I also believe in fate and I remember a woman walking in [to the orphanage] and I looked at her and I told everyone that was gonna be my mom. It was just the strangest feeling. From that moment I really connected with my mom and here we are 19 years later. She’s been so supportive in helping me be the person that I am today.
P: You have two younger adopted sisters, Hannah and Ruthi. What’s that like all having different origin stories and coming together in one family?
TM: There’s lots of culture involved. I mean, we love each other. My middle sister Hannah is also a Paralympian. She’s missing a tibia and fibula, so she’s an amputee. She was in the final of the summer Paralympics with me in the 100 meters. That was the first time ever in track that siblings competed against each other. And my younger sister Ruthi, she plays basketball. We’re all involved with sports and athletics. It’s fun just having that one thing in common. I’ve always wanted a big family.
P: When did you first discover your passion for sports?
TM: Around age 7 when my mom got me involved with a para sports club called the Bennett Blazers. She got me involved with a sports club because being so sick and very anemic, the doctors said, “She probably has a few years to live, just help her try to live a healthy lifestyle.” But my mom really thought otherwise and she said, “No, I’m gonna help her get healthy.” The way to do that was to get me involved with sports.
I started gaining weight. I started becoming a lot stronger. I was able to be more independent. I could push my own wheelchair. Then I started to do my own transfers in and out of the wheelchair. Before I knew it I could do almost everything by myself. Sports allowed me to do that and I wasn’t even focusing on how far I could take this sport. I was just focusing on Wow I can live a healthy lifestyle. If it wasn’t for my mom, I wouldn’t be a healthy person and have fallen in love with sports.
P: Your work with the Bennet Blazers and your battle to pass legislation for equality in high school sports is so important. Tell me a bit more about your quest for equal access to athletics.
TM: I was a very different high school student. Coming into freshman year, I came back from the Paralympic games in Athens winning a silver and bronze medal and the only thing I wanted to do in high school was to be part of the track team. I was the only physically disabled wheelchair athlete at my high school and I remember the principle saying, “Get involved!” I wanted to be involved with track. First, they denied me a uniform, and then at track meets they had to stop the entire meet and let me run by myself. That’s not what it should be about. We should all be included as one.
P: So the idea is to have integrated teams of those who are in wheelchairs against those who are not? Not for a separate division or town leauges?
TM: It’s for people with physical disabilities to be part of high school sports. It was never to compete against, it was just to run along the side of. That’s what should happen especially if you’re the only athlete. If there were several others than of course we would have our own heat. It’s just about showing your athletic ability. It’s the 21st century and no one should be denied that. And if they’re denied high school, imagine what problems they’re going to run into later in life that they could be denied. Now it’s a federal law.
P: What is your message to kids with differing abilities and to parents of those kids?
TM: There are definitely gonna be challenges in your life and there’s definitely gonna be several setbacks, but it’s about being able to come back from those setbacks and rise in your own way. For me, I rose because of my mom and then in high school I rose because of the lawsuit creating opportunities for others. Now being an 11-time Paralympic medalist, I know these setbacks make us stronger so we can rise as individuals.
One mom’s story about adopting a child with spina bifada:
Photograph: Tatyana McFadden; Courtesy Liberty Mutual Insurance
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Wednesday, March 19th, 2014
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.
P: What makes swimming such a great sport for kids?
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.
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.
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Photograph: Katie Ledecky/United States Olympic Committee
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Wednesday, March 12th, 2014
Our journey to Brazil continues! This week: Olympic bronze medalist Caitlin Leverenz and her mom Jeannine. The mother-daughter pair sat down with Parents at a Winter Olympic viewing party sponsored by Swim Today to talk about the personal rewards of swimming (it’s not all about medals), the importance of family, and why she’s focusing on the now.
P: What makes swimming such a great sport for kids and adults?
CL: I just learned so many things from it. I’ve had so much fun. I had to learn from a young age time management, how to get my homework done. I laugh because it was a threat if my mom wouldn’t let me go to practice. I had to get my homework done and learn how to manage other things in my life so I could still make it to practice because that was really what I wanted to do at night. It’s just been such a great platform for allowing me to talk about who I am and what I want to do in life and really learn about myself. In so many ways the personal growth is the bigger success than any medal I’ve won.
JL: I remember when she was in third grade she said she wanted to quit school and just swim and I told her she couldn’t be a dumb swimmer she had to be a smart swimmer. But, through most of grade school she was a very quiet little girl. I remember taking her to her first day at kindergarten and she was hiding in my skirts. The confidence as a person that she has built through her gifts of swimming has just been incredible. This little shy girl who hid behind me is now up on the world stage.
P: Tell me, Mom, what does it take to raise an Olympian?
JL: Oh gosh. Well you have to know that when she was 8 and doing really well just in her local level, my dad looked at me and said “Maybe she’ll go to the Olympics someday.” And I looked at him and I said, “I hope not.” And he said “Why?!” And I said, “Because you have to give up your entire life for it.” Little did I know what our road was going to be at that point. I think she’s given up a lot of her life but I think the gifts she has received through swimming and that our family has received has been immeasurable. It’s been worth every bit of it.
P: What does it mean to you to have such support from your mom and your family?
CL: It’s been tremendous. You know,during the Winter Olympics, when Noelle Pikus-Pace won her medal in skeleton she said: “We won a medal.” I just love that. When I won a bronze medal, it was a “We won the bronze medal.” I got to see [my family] right after I finished my race and have this we did this, we finished and we just did something amazing moment. There were so many things that parents and a family have to sacrifice. I don’t think any Olympian would be where they are without that good foundation of a family and support behind them.
P: What is your advice to moms of aspiring athletes at any level, but especially at this high level?
JL: Make sure they’re having fun and let it be their sport. It’s not your sport. So, if they’re not having fun figure out why and move them to a different sport if that’s what it takes. Just love them no matter how they do. Any time Caitlin got out of the water I’d say “Great swim!” and I’d give her a hug and she’d go “Not really, Mom.” And I’d go, “It was to me.”
CL: Which was huge, being an athlete. There are points where I didn’t want to keep swimming and my parents would say “We’re going to love you whether you swim or not.” My motivation to swim and do well was never because of pressure from my parents, it was always their support that allowed me to do well.
P: Gearing up for Rio, what are you most excited for?
CL: Well, the Winter Olympics got me excited just to race again. I love watching Team USA. Being a part of that is just so special. There’s just so much that builds up and leads up to the Olympics, that’s just the culminating point. The time in between from now until Rio is such an important time in terms of enjoyment and growth and learning that you know I try not to look too much ahead to Rio and just enjoy what I’m doing right now.
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Photographs (from top down): Caitlin Leverenz/Arena; Caitlin and her mom, Jeannine
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Wednesday, March 5th, 2014
As our countdown to Summer Olympics 2016 continues (only 884 days to go!) we have two-time Olympic medalist Nick Thoman. Currently holding the world record in 100-meter backstroke, this 27-year-old swimmer got his start at a young age. Parents caught up with the champion and his mom, Kathy Brewer, at a Winter Olympics viewing party sponsored by Swim Today to discuss why swimming is a great sport for kids, his family’s role in his success, and his plans for Brazil.
P: What makes swimming such a great sport for kids?
NT: A lot of my best friends were swimmers with me. The friendships that you build along the way are definitely one of the things that brought me into it initially. [My sister] Vic was swimming and she was having a lot of fun and I was bored, bouncing off the walls so Mom found a speedo small enough and tossed me out in the water.
KB: Swimming was also the best way to find babysitters because you had all-age swimmers. You have kindergarden through high school. You really get to see the high school swim-team kids interact with the younger kids. You really see their character.
NT: It’s true. You did always use swimmers. I never knew why.
KB: Because they were really responsible!
P: What does it take to raise an Olympian such as your son?
KB: I think Nick’s determination. He and Victoria were both determined kids. The focus in swimming is all about lifetime bests. It’s inevitable that you’ll compare yourself somewhat to other people, but the coaches and the parents get you to focus on bettering your own time. But, we don’t coach our kids. Just let the coaches do the coaching and you’re there for the moral support. Good or bad, I love you. I’m proud of you.
P: How important was it to have the support of your parents to alleviate that pressure?
NT: It was awesome. One of the things that I actually remember most from the Olympic trials was my father sent me an email the day of my event and I didn’t actually see it until I had made the Olympic team, but it basically said “No matter what happens, we’ll all still love you.” That was a fantastic thing. He was always, both he and my mother, very very supportive. They did a great job of not coaching me and I know that was hard, [especially] for my father because he was also a swimmer. I really do appreciate all the support I’ve had. Driving me to practice at 4:45 in the morning. Hell, even when I got my driver’s license my mom would wake up and make me breakfast before I went.
P: What a good mom!
NT: She is a good mom!
KB: It makes a big difference if you get involved, too. That shows your kids you’re really supportive of all their efforts. Swim meets from the outside might seem boring, but if you get involved it’s not boring at all.
P: What does it feel like at the Olympics right before your event? What goes through your mind? What are you feeling?
NT: It’s kind of a surreal experience. I’ve only been once and I swam a total of four times. Ending up with two medals at the end was just amazing. There’s a feeling that you get—or that I got—that I knew I was going to go out and have a good race. I didn’t know what the outcome was going to be; I didn’t know how I was going to place, didn’t know that I was going to win a silver medal, but I knew that I was going to race my best for myself, for everyone that supported me, and for my country and that was just a great feeling.
P: What is your message to young aspiring athletes?
NT: Have fun! Just go out and have fun and what you’re passionate about will call you back. Swimming always called me back. I even took nine months off last year, didn’t know if I was going to retire or not but swimming, again, it called me back. Have fun doing whatever you want to do—be it sports, be it musicals, whatever you get into.
P: Mom, what’s your advice for the moms of aspiring athletes?
KB: Oh boy. Be supportive. Allow the children to show their commitment to a sport and whatever they choose to commit to, be there for them. Back them up. One of the things that helped me was finding someone professional to talk to. Because I didn’t want to make my stress his stress. That was really important.
P: Gearing up for Rio, what’s on for the next two years?
NT: I took almost all of last year off and it really got me re-focused and hungry again. I was at a point where I didn’t know if I wanted to swim or not after the last Olympics. Taking that time off really helped. Coming up this year I’m really hoping to make the Pan Pacific Championships and the World Championships next year and we’ll see how we do.
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Photographs: Nick Thoman, Courtesy United States Olympic Committee; Nick with mom, Kathleen Brewer, and sister, Victoria Thoman
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Wednesday, February 26th, 2014
Another Olympic fortnight has come and gone and the torch has been snuffed in the Sochi snow. You know what that means? Countdown to the Summer Olympics 2016! Last week, Parents attended a Winter Olympics viewing party hosted by Swim Today to cheer on Team USA and ease on down the Road to Rio with some of Team USA’s most prized Olympic swimming medalists.
First up: Dara Torres, twelve-time Olympic medalist and mom to Tessa, 7, and stepmom to Krista and Lucas, 14. We sat down with the woman who appeared in five Olympic games—and was the oldest member of her Olympic team in both 2000 and 2008—to chat about life as mom-athlete, getting in shape after baby, the recent Sports Illustrated controversy, and all things swimming.
P: What you do you hope your kids learn from your many accomplishments?
DT: I think the biggest thing is: Don’t put an age limit on your dreams. I had such a long career. As I got older I learned not to listen to the negativity, or to use it as a positive. There are so many people who said, “Oh she can’t do this. She’s too old.” Whenever they said that it just fueled me even more. So: Turn negatives into positives and don’t put an age limit on your dreams.
P: You started off so young, then became the oldest woman on your team—not just in your last Olympics but in the one before that. What kept you going?
DT: You know, it goes by so fast. You talk about your kids growing up and it goes by so fast, but I look back on when I went to my first big international meet and it seems so long ago. The biggest thing [that kept me going] is I was able to go away from the sport a little bit to re-fall in love with it. To miss it again. When you’re in something for so long, you kind of loose the oomph, you know? I think that’s what separated me from some athletes who did the sport for so long [without a break]. I was able to fall in love with it again.
P: What is it about swimming that makes it such a great sport for young kids as well as a lifelong sport for adults?
DT: I think the biggest thing for everyone combined is the health and fitness aspect. It’s easy on the joints. It’s great cardiovascular exercise. It’s a great team sport and an individual sport. You have relays. You have individual events. Its’ a nice combo. For kids, especially, the great thing about it is that they’re not sitting on the bench. You’re always participating, you’re always part of the team, you’re always in the swim meets. So, I think that makes it a little bit special. I see my daughter and she’s not particularly super athletic, but she loves it.
P: Is swimming her “thing”?
DT: We haven’t really figured out what her thing is. She’s only 7. She seems to like lacrosse and tennis, but swimming is something she’s been doing all year. I don’t push it, but she seems to really like it a lot.
P: It was just a little over a year after you gave birth to Tessa that you won at Nationals. How were you able to get back into that kind of shape? And, what is your message to moms trying to get back into shape after Baby?
DT: Make sure you do stuff while you’re pregnant. I’ve always loved exercise. I’ve always loved the way it’s made me feel—releases stress. I love the way it makes me look. [Pregnancy] was really hard for me at first because I wasn’t swimming, I was just going to a gym and I kept getting sick. Until I thought I can swim! I get sick in the gutter and I can just keep going. I gained 35 pounds, but it was all here [in the belly] and within two or three weeks it was all gone. I got back in the pool about a week and a half after giving birth and then swam at the meet three weeks after giving birth. Again, it’s a little out of the ordinary. I’m not telling parents to go do that. But I think if you get into fitness and exercise and you do that while you’re pregnant, and not using it as an excuse to eat everything you want and gain weight because you’re pregnant, I think that it’s easier to lose the weight.
P: What was or what is the most challenging thing about being a mom and an athlete?
I think the most challenging thing is finding a balance. You look at working parents and they’re working kind of like I’m training. I really look to working parents out there as my inspiration.
P: What is your favorite part about being a mom?
DT: That it’s not about you. You know? That you’re taking care of this little thing that has unconditional love for you and you have unconditional love for them. And it’s just a great feeling.
P: What is your favorite thing to do with Tessa?
DT: We have a lot of little things we do, but she has two step-siblings now and so I try a date night with her or something special. Up in Massachusetts where we live the schools have half days once every few weeks and I’ll take her out and we’ll go to lunch or the mall or something.
P: And I have to ask the question. There’s a lot of controversy going around about the SI cover with Barbie and whatnot. I know that you modeled for them in the past. Tell me about your choice to do that and your philosophy on this.
DT: I was thrilled when I got asked to [model] because I grew up as a tomboy. I was like in love with all my brother’s friends. They had wanted nothing to do with me because I was such a tomboy. I thought I’m gonna show all my brother’s friends, look who’s in Sports Illustrated now! (And all the girls who thought I was such a tomboy growing up in school.) So to me it was great. I wasn’t into dolls or makeup growing up and so it was new to me being taken care of and dressing up. It was almost like doing something that you missed out on as a kid. The funny thing was that I wanted to wear the hot sexy suits and they kept putting me in speedos and I was like, “I don’t want this! I want two pieces! I want to look hot!” There’s stuff out there that some people like and some people don’t like and this is their tradition and they’ve done it every year and it’s gotten a little more raunchy and risqué, but it’s once a year. If the girls don’t think it’s right or their parents don’t think it’s right then they won’t do it. I’m more for freedom of expression and speech.
P: We’re at the tail end of the Winter Olympics. The next thing is Rio. Is there any sort of camaraderie between Winter Olympians and Summer Olympians?
DT: I went and gave a talk to the women’s hockey team before they left for Sochi. The sports are so different; the trials are so different, but I think you find the athletes in the Summer Olympics really cheering on the Winter Olympians because you know what they’ve been through, you know how hard they’ve worked and the competition and the nerve before you compete.
P: Tell me about Rio. Where can we expect you?
DT: Hopefully sitting on my couch watching and cheering everyone on. I’m done competing. I think when I went to my last trials and missed the team by 9/100 of a second, that was kind of it. My time was still good; it’s just that the girls are getting that much faster. I just thought it was time for me to sort of move on and be there a little more for my daughter and for my stepkids. I’m very happy.
Kick off your countdown by browsing the latest swimming gear at Shop Parents.
Photograph: Courtesy Mike Comer/ProSwim Visuals
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Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
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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Thursday, February 6th, 2014
The 18 straight nights of TV coverage of the Sochi Olympics start today! But as we gear up, be sure to also mark March 7, 2014 on your calendars for the first ever broadcast of the Winter Paralympic Games. In recognition of this momentous occasion, Parents chatted with U.S. military veteran and member of our Paralympic Sled Hockey team Rico Roman. From his tours in Iraq and his injury to life as an athlete and father of Juliet, 12, and Raul, 10, Rico shared his experiences and his excitement for what’s to come.
P: How do you feel about going to Sochi and representing Team USA?
RR: It’s just a great feeling to be a part of a team again, to wear the red, white, and blue and represent USA.
P: How are the emotions similar and different to what you felt when you represented your country in the service?
RR: I feel just that same pride in putting on that uniform and being able to represent my country. It’s just a little different. I know that going over there to play hockey is just a game and it’s just to have fun and represent my country, but going over there to war is a tad bit different. You can always not come back, so that’s always in the back of your mind. In some ways, it’s very similar—being a part of a team. We’re from all over the United States, just like you are when you’re with your platoons and squads in the army, so that is very similar. The different accents. The different cultures and the different foods we like, so I love that part of it.
P: How old were your kids when you first left home to go overseas?
RR: I want to say Juliet was 2 and Raul was a couple months, because when I left I was carrying him around and when I came back he was crawling and standing. I was blown away.
P: Obviously, you felt a sense of duty and pride, but what was it like to leave them home when you had to go?
RR: It’s hard. It’s really hard to be away from your loved ones when you’re deployed. You constantly think about them. You constantly want to make sure that they’re good and that they’ve got everything they need. I would pray for them over there, even though I know they’re okay I would always say a little prayer for them. And you miss them. You miss them so much. My wife would send me pictures and I would always try to write letters.
P: When you became injured and you came home, how did your role as a father change with your new abilities?
RR: I don’t think it changed, you know. I just felt, Hey, I’ve got to get better and I need to get better and take care of my family. It goes in part with this Liberty Mutual RISE program that they have going on: With every setback there’s a chance for a comeback and to rise up from that. With me being injured, I didn’t really look at it as, This is gonna be the end and I’m never gonna be able to do the same things. I do them, I just have to do them a little differently now.
P: You were injured when your kids were quite young. Did they notice anything different in terms of the way you related to them and played with them?
RR: They did. They understood. I was in limb salvage for about a year. The doctors saved my leg, but it couldn’t bend and it was very painful. My kids have seen that and they’ve seen that I was really either very medicated, unfortunately, because of the pain, or I was very cranky because of being in pain. I’m the one that opted for the amputation and sure enough my daughter was really worried. She said, “Is it gonna grow back?” She was really nervous about it. My son knew right away from being around other injured service members that “Oh you’re gonna get a robot leg!” But they handled it very well. They seem to be very proud of me. I’m blessed with two great children.
P: Are your unique abilities everyday to them now, or do they recognize how extraordinary it is that you’re going off to the Paralympics?
RR: I think that they think it’s just me being me. One of their teacher asked my daughter—I guess she found out that I’m an amputee—and she asked, “So what can your father do?” And my daughter says she looked at her and said, “Everything.” I was so blown away that she said that. I don’t think it’s even part of the equation. We go about our days like no big deal. They love teasing me. Sometimes if I don’t have my crutches I’ll kind of hop around on one leg and they’ll have their pajamas on and they’ll fold their leg up in one of the pajama legs and hop around the house [laughter]. It’s a lot of fun.
P: After your accident and later your recovery, did you ever dream that you would end up taking the path of an athlete?
RR: No, I never did. I was always very into sports and I was so fortunate that I did my rehab in San Antonio, at The Center for the Intrepid. We had Paralympians come and speak with us. It gave me that drive that if I ever found a sport that I could play and get a chance to play in the Paralympics that I would really go for it. It just so happens that worked out.
P: What was Operation Comfort’s role in helping you find sled hockey?
RR: Operation Comfort invited me to do an MS-150, it’s a bike ride for multiple sclerosis and Operation Comfort helps veterans with disabilities due to combat. We did this bike ride and from there they had asked me to come and try the sport of sled hockey. They are the ones who sponsored this all-veteran team there in San Antonio. After playing for 8 months, our coach at the time, Lonny Hannah, was on the national team and said he thought I could make the Paralympic team. I didn’t even know there was a Paralympic team for this sport. I thought this was just the local, fun, rec thing to do. I tried out for the 2010 Vancouver games, but I didn’t make the team. I had to rise up and work really hard to make this national team. I made it the following year and have been on it now for four seasons, so I’m so excited to play in the Paralympics coming up.
P: Are your kids into sports? Do you hope that maybe one of them will take on hockey?
RR: Oh definitely. Texas is not that big into hockey, though. Football is #1 there. My son plays a little football. My daughter just finished basketball season so now she’s starting swimming. My son, I just got him started with skating lessons.
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P: What do you hope your kids can learn from your experiences, everything from your service to your injury and recovery to now your representing Team USA?
RR: I’m hoping that they’ll learn that you never know what life’s going to throw at you and to just be happy with what you’ve got and always to work hard at the things you want. Focus on things that you want. Tell yourself that you can do it and go get it.
P: Is your family coming with you to Sochi?
RR: They are. I’m so excited about it. They’ve never seen me play in the international games. They’ve seen me play in the club league but this will be the first international tournament and it’s the biggest thing, of course, the Paralympics. I’m very excited about them coming. I would love to eat some local food and enjoy the scenery with them and hopefully they embrace all of that and take it all with them.
For those at home: The Paralympic Games will be aired on NBC for 50 hours of coverage. This is the first time this is to ever happen.
Celebrate the Olympics and Paralympics at your house with this themed cake!
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