Thursday, August 2nd, 2012
London is bustling for sure, but aside from the Olympics-only traffic lanes and occasional five-ring flag, you wouldn’t necessarily know from wandering around that the Summer Games are in town. There are, of course, reminders such as the display of flags in the shadow of Big Ben (pictured to the right). But overall, London and its tourists are going about business as usual, it seems. Even the taxi drivers are saying that the expected traffic nightmares have not materialized.
Find yourself in any Olympics-related place, and the story, of course, is entirely different. For me, I’ve experienced it up close at the P&G Family Home, where athletes and their families gather to relax and socialize. Many former Olympians are around, still connected to their former teammates and to the Games as a whole (and, truth be told, paid to be there as spokespeople). The Olympic spirit, a sheer enthusiasm for all things Games related, pervades the place. And I’ve been privileged to spend time here, thanks to Procter & Gamble, which is funding my trip.
The athletes and their families may come to the Home to escape the intensity of the Games, but they still gather at the omnipresent TV sets to watch, clap, and cheer for their fellow athletes at their events. No one’s gawking at the many celebrities around, but no one’s oblivious to it all, either. There’s Gabby Douglas’s mom! Shawn Johnson just walked by! Did you hear that Michael (that would be Michael Phelps to the rest of us) broke the record? And is that girl who just passed by wearing a silver medal?!
I’ve had my share of these moments—that was a silver medal around that unidentified girl’s neck—and it’s impossible not to be swept up by it. I rode the van back to my hotel with the mom of weightlifter Sarah Robles, and we chatted about her daughter’s accomplishments and what it feels like to be at the Olympics. Though at home I am glued to the TV for any Olympics, I am not by nature a fanatical Olympics fan. Here there are only fans, and happily so.
Tonight I got to see the actual Olympics. You know, the sporting events that take place between the pomp and ceremony and festivities. It was awe-inspiring to walk through Olympic Park, the site of many of the Games’ biggest events, on my way to the Aquatic Center to attend an evening of swimming. There was a different race every few minutes, plus a couple of medal ceremonies thrown in.
I got to see familiar names win their semifinal (Lochte, Phelps), and someone new to me, Nathan Adrian, take home gold for the U.S. (pictured at right). Hearing our national anthem playing and seeing our flag rising to the ceiling gave me goose bumps. I loved seeing fans from around the globe waving their own flags in the audience and hearing small pockets of cheers when an athlete from, say, Hungary or Columbia was introduced.
We hear so often that the Olympics bring the world together, and that phrase can lose its meaning from the repetition. Being here, though, I feel its meaning deeply. And for me, I’ve come to understand what it means that the Olympics is something larger than a series of athletic competitions.
And, just for fun, a few more pictures from today:
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Friday, June 22nd, 2012
Yesterday, I found myself a little awestruck when I met Debbie Phelps (mom of Olympic gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps), who is a warm, effusive, and gregarious woman — someone I could see myself talking to and with for hours, over endless cups of coffee and warm pastries.
Debbie was in New York City with her daughter, Hilary, on behalf of The Century Council, a non-profit with the mission to fight underage drinking and drunk driving through their Ask. Listen. Learn. program. Debbie had appeared on the Today Show before sitting down for an intimate lunch with some mom bloggers and online media folk to talk about her involvement in the program and to share some parenting stories from her 2009 memoir, “A Mother for All Seasons.”
She discussed her son’s own arrest for a DUI at age 19. Even though he had been taught that it was wrong and dangerous to drink and drive, he still made the mistake. “We all fall on our faces,” she said, but the key was to continue teaching values. “We need to instill what’s already known to [our kids] and to enforce and enhance it.” According to The Century Council, parents are the leading provider of alcohol to underage kids and the average drinking age is 11. As a result, it’s important for “parents to model good and bad behavior through what they do and don’t do.”
Even after Debbie and her husband divorced, she didn’t stop or slow down her busy schedule. Before relocating to Baltimore to be closer to a better swim facility, she drove her three kids (Hilary, the second daughter Whitney, and Michael) two hours each way, at different hours and on different days, to various swim practices and competitions. Both her daughters trained at Olympic levels before Michael became the youngest swimmer (at 15) to make the 2000 Sydney Olympics. In the midst of kinetic and emotional moments, known as “DP moments,” Debbie and her family relied on having “calmness and composure,” always taking time to release tension and address big issues with quiet steadiness. To remind herself and her children to always maintain an even-keeled manner, she cups her hand into a “C” and holds it up as a sign.
As Michael heads to the London Olympics (which is being touted as his last Olympics), Debbie is looking forward to taking a real vacation with her family (after having put off a trip to Disney for years). Even though she is a principal at a middle school in Baltimore, she is thinking about heading back to school herself and getting a post doctorate degree. She aims to live life to the fullest.
When asked about the best parenting advice she received, Debbie shared two. For swimming it was, “Never pack or carry [your child's] swim bags” (translation: let your child be independent and self-sufficient!). For raising kids it was, “Let them think for themselves” (translation: let them be individuals!).
Follow Debbie Phelps on Twitter at @mamaphelpsH20 | Read blog posts by Hilary Phelps at hilary-phelps.com
More Parents.com features on the Olympics:
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