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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.
Find our picks for swimming and sports gear at Shop Parents!
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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Thursday, February 20th, 2014
Last weekend it was a crisp 8 degrees outside before the windchill at my cousin’s house in Vermont. The kids — my two who are 5 and 7 and my cousin’s two who are 4-year-old twins — could handle playing outside in the snowfor a full 15 minutes without whining about cold toes and the white stuff seeping into their gloves. In all fairness, it was cold. And the snow, like it has been in much of the country this winter, was incredibly deep. We couldn’t even go sledding without carving our own path out of 3 foot deep powder, and by the time we created it, the kids were over it. Frankly, I’m over this @^$%! snow too. The solution? We went swimming.
Kids playing at The Pump house. (PR image)
— namely the indoor ones — have been gaining in popularity across the country. And as far as I’m concerned, there’s no better time to visit them than during a polar vortex. We headed up to Jay Peak
ski resort in upper Vermont to their indoor mecca of water fun called The Pump House
is mostly known for it’s awesome skiing, btw.) It was a holiday weekend so it was busy — the folks at the resort said, one of the busiest times of year — but it was still manageable, i.e., the lines were never longer than five minutes and there was no whining during the wait. My kids spent most of their time on the two blue and green towering and twisting tube slides which allow kids as short as 42 inches (thank goodness) to slide down on innertubes on their own or with a grownup in the back. I zoomed down a few times — the dips and turns made my stomach drop but in a good way. The husbands went down La Chute — a free-fall water slide that sounded too scary for me (you go 45 mph!), and was off-limits to the kids (you have to be 88 lbs and 48 inches tall).
My kids are decent swimmers — defined by me as if they were to fall into a body of water, they could swim to the side without freaking out — but it was still comforting that there were lifeguards at every entrance and exit of every slide and ride who were actually paying attention. And if you are still nervous, especially for the littlest ones, the Pump House offers free lifejackets. The 4-year olds in our group wore them the whole time in the splash zone, bobbing along in the Big River (a lazy river that circles the joint) and in the family-friendly hot tub, which strangely they loved more than anything. There’s also a hot tub outside of the the glass-walled waterpark. We didn’t venture out to it, but it was fun to eat pizza and drink a beer at the bar (yes, there’s a bar for grownups!) and watch crazy people run in dripping wet bathing suits from the outdoor tub to the warm sanctuary of the waterpark. Even my daredevil 5-year-old wasn’t that bonkers! Besides, the whole point was to get out of the frigid temperatures. So if this polar vortex continues (and according to the Punxsutawney Phil, it very well might), we will be coming back again soon.
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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.”
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Friday, June 8th, 2012
Photo courtesy of Smugglers' Notch Resort
Looking for something fun to do now that summer’s here? Hit the slopes! We’re not kidding. Winter resorts like Smugglers’ Notch near Jeffersonville, Vermont, are just as fun when the sun is shining and no one is skiing. Smuggs (as the locals call it) offers summer camps for kids ages 9-17 such as H2Awesome! Water Camp for your little fishies (turns out there are a lot of watering holes and beaches in the area) and Survival Camp, a four-day adventure for camping lovers to learn wilderness survival skills. Each day focuses on a new topic – including shelter, water, food, and fire. Smuggs also offers special activities and trips such as visits to ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, where kids can discover 70 live species and participate in more than 100 interactive experiences. For families with special needs kids, Smuggs even offers their Adaptive Program. For more information about these and other programs at Smugglers’ Notch, go to smuggs.com.
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