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Thursday, December 20th, 2012
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.”
Image via Luke Wooden Photography
Friday, September 14th, 2012
I recently got to have breakfast with U.S. Olympic soccer team captain Christie Rampone (I even got to try on her gold medal from London! That’s me holding it in the photo). Rampone is a super down-to-earth mom of two who is working on keeping her kids healthy just like all of you.
Rampone recently returned from the London Olympics where she led her team to its third straight gold medal. Her world-traveling daughters Rylie, 7, and Reece, 2, got to see their mom play in London and loved every minute of it.
The Rampone family doesn’t travel with a nanny, but instead Rampone and her husband balance responsibilities. “Traveling can be a struggle at times because it’s hard to keep my girls on a routine with all of the time changes and jet lag,” she said. “But the benefits far outweigh the costs. It’s taught my daughters to be more self-sufficient. They love meeting kids of all nationalities. When they’re playing together it doesn’t matter if they don’t speak the same language.”
Rampone, a spokesperson for FRS Healthy Performance natural energy supplements, gave us some tips on how she keeps herself and her kids healthy.
Find time to rest.
Rampone makes a point of relaxing despite her hectic schedule. “This summer I was hooked on ‘Friday Nights Lights’ so I would sit down and watch that after a long day of games and practice. I also like to go on quiet walks with no music, just my thoughts,” she said.
Lead by example.
“I’ve noticed that Rylie will be more hesitant to try a new food if she sees that I don’t like it,” Rampone said. “She used to not eat seafood because I didn’t like it, but after she saw me try a bite she realized it wasn’t bad.”
Teach your kids how to plan healthy meals for themselves.
Rampone teaches her 7-year-old how to pick nutritious foods by giving her healthy options and allowing her to pack her own school lunches. Beyond healthy options, she always lets her indulge in one treat.
Friday, August 17th, 2012
Editor’s Note: In a post for an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month. He will be offering different advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart from this series.
Let me say this right up front – not every child masters the monkey bars. Unlike sitting, standing, walking, potty training, or riding a tricycle, the monkey bars are not considered a developmental milestone. At well-child visits, doctors don’t ask, “Has your child mastered the monkey bars yet?” the same way they ask, “How many words are in your child’s vocabulary?” Trust me, I’m a pediatrician. There are even successful adults working alongside you who have never been able to master the monkey bars. Trust me, I’m one of them. I was never able to climb a rope or do a pull-up either. I always blamed my inabilities on a poorly-centered center of gravity. But enough about me. This is about our daughter who, happily, did learn to master the monkey bars. She absolutely had to.
Emily’s best friends in grade school were tiny wisps of girls who didn’t touch the ground when they walked because they were too light for gravity. For them, the monkey bars were as natural as breathing – they didn’t have to think twice before sailing from one end to the other, with each girl outdoing the other in speed and panache. When the monkey bars became the “must” place to be during recess, Emily was in a tough spot. Her feet did touch the ground while walking and the monkey bars were not automatic like breathing – they were more like hyperventilating. Not being a wisp came in very handy for Emily when she played sports later in life, but this was first grade and nothing mattered except the monkey bars.
Knowing no one would be at the school playground on Saturday, we packed everyone in the van and headed there for a monkey bars crash course. First, our oldest child (who was in third grade) tried to inspire Em by hopping onto the launch step and zipping all the way across, gracefully swinging from each arm to get to the next bar. He dismounted and encouragingly said, “See, Em, it’s easy!” Emily didn’t find this inspiring. In fact, she started crying. Next, the youngest child (who was in preschool) needed a turn. We held him up and walked beneath the monkey bars as he touched each one with his hands. Then he was off to the sandbox.
Finally, Emily stood on the launch step, grabbed the first bar with her left hand, stepped, and…just dangled there. Her right arm waved toward the next bar, but her body did not obey. She dropped to the ground and sobbed, “See?! I told you I can’t do it!” Of course, we asked ourselves how much of the obstacle was physical or mental. We pretended to be sports psychologists for a little while, probing her deepest monkey bar phobias. Yes, she was afraid of failure. Yes, she was afraid of embarrassment. Yes, she was sure everyone else was better at monkey bars. Yes, she would never, ever, ever have friends, in her whole life, if she couldn’t conquer the monkey bars. Ok, enough psychology – there were fewer than 48 hours before Monday’s recess. A miraculous cure was in order, and it had to be immediate.
Categories: GoodyBlog, Your Child | Tags: Harley Rotbart, harley rotbart series, No Regrets Parenting, Olympics, parenting, parenting advice, parenting challenges, parenting skills, parenting style, Summer Olympics
Thursday, August 9th, 2012
Zennie Coughlin and her husband raised two daughters, three years apart in age. Both girls swam competitively. The younger one, Megan, walked away from the sport during her first year of college. Natalie, now 29, swam on, eventually winning 12 Olympic medals–including one this week in London–and tying the record for most medals among U.S. women.
Because of the different paths Natalie and Megan chose, the Coughlin family provides a good example of how parents can successfully encourage kids to follow their passions without pushing them too far. While I was in London last week for the Olympics, I had a chance to sit down with three members of the Coughlin family–Zennie, Megan, and Zennie’s mom–while they relaxed in the days between Natalie’s races. (Alas, Natalie was not available. But the photo at right shows Zennie posing in front of a large ad featuring her daughter.)
From an early age, the girls’ parents insisted they become involved in something, some sport that would teach them discipline and keep them out of trouble. But beyond that, the Coughlins didn’t push. The girls didn’t have to stick with one sport, and each dabbled at times in other activities, only to return to swimming. But swimming competitively–certainly at the elite level Natalie has achieved–came completely from her own desire, Zennie Coughlin said.
“When she was going to her junior prom her hair was totally wet, she had to swim a relay and get ready for the prom that evening,” she said. “She has been the one to balance everything, and I think it has to be driven by the athlete and not the parent. Parents are there to support but you can’t force your kid into loving something that they might not love.”
Natalie’s competitive spirit and drive to push herself further showed from an early age.
“She always was very gifted in the pool with winning all her events,” Zennie Coughlin said. “She loved the competition–didn’t like practice that much but loved the competition…. She almost skipped over the junior times right into the senior times, and that was about the time we knew, when she was about 14, when she was at senior nationals making the finals in those events, which is pretty impressive.”
Wednesday, August 8th, 2012
John Macready competed in the 1996 Summer Games as part of the men’s gymnastics team. He’s now a motivational speaker, dad to three kids–9, 7, and 9 months old–and was in London to cheer on Team USA. Fun fact: Macready said he’s childhood buddies with the lead singer of the band LMFAO, and sang me a line of “Sexy and I Know It” during our conversation. I spoke with him at the P&G Family Home last week while I was in London. (Procter & Gamble funded my trip and arranged the interview).
At what point did you realize gymnastics was more than just a hobby?
I think for me it was when the ’84 Olympics came to Los Angeles, and I got to see it first hand and ask all about it. I was just like, “That’s what I want to do.”
What about it made you so interested in it?
It’s the entire world coming together in the most peaceful manner you can come together. Obviously, we have wars, and you see in some of our sporting events how people are fighting. I think we’re more apt to fight than ever. But at the Olympics, it’s all put on hold. Athletes are able to leave it on the floor, and they’re able to respect each other. There’s nothing better to me than to see someone be upset to lose and then to shake the gold medalist’s hand and show them respect. That’s just awesome. And you see it over and over and over again here.
What advice do you have for kids who are starting to get into sports and might be dreaming of the Olympics?
You’ve got to always understand the big picture. I think people get lost in success and in trying to go for something they forget why they’re going for it. When you make a goal, whether it’s an Olympic gold medal or maybe something outside of sports, you have to be willing to do everything to protect that goal and go after it. But you have to be completely okay with not having that goal and not making it.
You’re going to be on this Earth, hopefully, if you’re lucky, for seventy, eighty, ninety years. You’re going to have many chances to be successful. Maybe it wasn’t your plan, but you learn that it’s going to bring something else more successful. There’s more to come.
What advice do you have for the parents of those kids?
Teach your kids how to motivate themselves. If you can’t teach them how to motivate themselves you’re never going to motivate them. You’re never going to be able to push somebody to be successful. You have to teach them how to find it themselves.
Do you think you’ll be here in the future as an Olympic dad?
That would be so cool. But that would be cool for me. I want whatever’s going to be cool for them. And I also want to see different stuff. Maybe my kid will be an amazing piano player, something I’ve never experienced. For me, my biggest dream for my kids is to get to watch them do something they love, for them to be passionate. I don’t care if it’s the Olympics. I don’t care if it’s school. I just love seeing passion.
More in Parents.com’s series on Olympians, former Olympians, and parents of Olympians:
Tuesday, August 7th, 2012
Connie Carpenter-Phinney won gold in cycling at the 1984 Summer Olympics, and this year is attending the London Games to watch her son, Taylor Phinney, compete in that same sport. Taylor, 22, came in fourth in both his races at this Olympics–or, as his mom put it, he beat all but three competitors.
Far from being disappointed, Carpenter-Phinney repeatedly told a crowd she addressed last week in London that Taylor had two great races, and she implored the highly competitive Olympians, and their families, to stop treating anything less than gold as a failure.
As an Olympian who’s also raised an Olympian, Carpenter-Phinney brings a unique perspective to the topic of parenting young athletes, and offered strong words about some of the parents she’s encountered throughout the years. We spent a few minutes talking together while I was in London last week covering the Olympics. (My trip was funded by Procter & Gamble, which arranged the interview as well.)
Which is harder, competing yourself or watching your son compete?
The hardest ones are the ones when your child is competing. When your child is competing, you feel like you want to help and there’s not a whole lot you can do at the end of the day.
How do you feel about your son competing in the Olympics?
It’s been a good experience but it’s been stressful. Cycling is a dangerous sport, and I know more about this than the average parents, so I think I worry probably more than them. I know how hard it is, and I know how dangerous it is.
How do you deal with the disappointments and setbacks that are inevitably a part of athletic competition?
As a parents, you always want the best for your child, and it’s heartbreaking when your child is heartbroken. To be an elite athlete, you’re going to have more struggle than you are success. So that’s just something you need to learn to deal with.
On the other hand, if I went to the race yesterday not thinking he could medal, he would say, “Don’t you believe in me?” So there’s a fine line we parents need to negotiate between believing in our kid and not setting unreasonable expectations.
What advice do you have for young athletes and their parents?
Until a child is 15 years old, they should not specialize, unless they’re in a sport like gymnastics where you have to be a specialist at a very young age. I believe that you can’t find your sport without trying a lot of other sports. How will you know what you’re best suited at?
The child is in the driver’s seat, not the parents. A lot of times parents try to push and live too much through their children and it’s their deal. They [the kids] need to take ownership and deal with it in their way. I saw a lot of pushy parents who took it way too seriously.
I think youth sports should be about learning the rules, learning a little bit of discipline, and particularly, learning how to do your best. But I think a lot of parents have lost site of that. I really believe parents need to behave better at sporting events and with their children.
What’s the most important thing for children to learn from participating in sports?
The thing that happened yesterday that I will never forget is that the defending Olympic champion from 2008, who is my son’s hero, entered the race with a severely compromised shoulder. He finished behind my son, which wouldn’t have been expected. We were in the same hotel, and we were having a family party, and he came to our party to congratulate my son on his result.
To me, it’s all about sportsmanship. That was the classiest move of the day. So teach your children sportsmanship, because sportsmanship is what will serve you well as you go through your entire life.
More Parents.com Olympics Interviews
Monday, August 6th, 2012
While I was in London for the Olympics, I had the privilege to speak with several current Olympians, moms of Olympians, and former Olympic competitors. I asked them all for the best advice they would give to young children–and their parents–who are starting to get interested in sports and might be dreaming of competing in the Olympics someday.
Here is the advice they gave:
Margie Walsh, mother of beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh-Jennings:
I would tell them to dream big. Even if they aren’t going to be Olympic athletes, it’s okay to dream big. Support them and encourage them and tell them they can do anything they want to do. They’ll know when they don’t love it anymore, and they’ll know when it’s time to give it up. But it’s got to be their choice to play, and it’s got to be their choice to give it up. And if they’re just tired, you don’t let them give it up yet. And if they’re not good enough to get to the next level, just remind them of what they have achieved. Support them, encourage them, love them, and listen to them. And make sure it’s their dream, and they want it.
Christian Laettner, former Olympic basketball player:
Have your kid play as many sports as he can. Nowadays, the parents and coaches want to have them focus in on just basketball at age 12 or 13. You don’t have to focus in on your one sport until maybe 16 years old.
Diana Lopez, taekwondo star:
Stick to something you believe in and don’t ever quit. Here I am, a two-time Olympian. In 2004 I barely made the Olympic team, and I was crushed after that, but my parents always taught us to persevere, to keep going and to do your best, no matter what obstacles may come. And here I am.
Diana Lopez won the bronze medal in taekwondo at the 2008 Games and is currently competing in London.
Gary Hall Jr., former Olympic swimmer:
You have to start somewhere, and it’s never the top. If you stick to something long enough and you love it, eventually you will be successful.
There are life skills that are instilled, qualities that are taken away from a playing field or swimming pool, and you may not be able to appreciate that when you’re a 12-year-old youth soccer player. But later on in life, you start applying those things you learn to other things that aren’t necessarily sports related.
Gary Hall Jr. won 10 medals over three Olympics, 1996, 2000, and 2004.
More Wisdom: Parents.com Olympics Interviews
Categories: GoodyBlog, News, Your Child | Tags: 2012 Olympics Games, Kerri Walsh, London Olympics, Maya Moore, Nastia Liukin, Olympics, Olympics 2012, Shawn Johnson, Sports, Summer Olympics
Monday, August 6th, 2012
This 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.