Thursday, July 26th, 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.
Hopefully, she’s sleeping now—it’s 12 :43 a.m. in London, her time, and 7:43 p.m. my time, as the jet I’m in heads north and east over Maine, Quebec, and the North Atlantic. Our time zones will converge in about seven hours, but this isn’t going to be a time to enjoy the company of my younger daughter.
As Ellie put it before she left, “Mom, I’m not going to London to see my family!” But, after months of preparation, 20 of her friends and family members are crossing the ocean, including her mother, father and our respective “steps,” to watch her row. We could stay at home and have front row seats courtesy of NBC, but not this time.
Four years ago, I thought traveling to the Olympics would be a once in a lifetime event. Ellie’s step-father Mark and I flew over the Arctic Ocean to Beijing. I stayed up most of that night, looking at the patchwork of ice and water miles below. Tonight we’ll head due east, passing south of Greenland, perhaps flying over an iceberg or two that we’ll never see.
In 2008, Ellie was the “baby” on the U.S. Women’s 8+ boat, all of 20 years old, and her personal cheering section consisted of her father Bill Logan, step-mother Jaimie, Mark, and me. We saw Ellie briefly after her first heat. Later, in the final, she and her teammates pulled out front early, rowed beautifully, and just stayed there, ending triumphantly, earning gold medals.
Not that I saw most of that race—for two reasons. First, it’s impossible as a spectator to have a great, firsthand view of the entire 2000-meter race, from start to finish. When they take off, the boats are barely visible from the stands, which cluster near the finish line. At the Olympics, Jumbotron screens offer televised snippets of each boat, but even those screens are hard to see with the crush of people in the stands. The second reason I didn’t see much of the race in Beijing is simpler: I was so anxious that I closed my eyes, and wept. Mark told me when the boats approached, and I watched the final 750 meters of Ellie’s final through a blur of tears. It wasn’t until days later, when I saw the entire race on NBC, that I could fully appreciate the stunning grace, beauty, and synchrony of that race when viewed in its entirety.
Since Beijing, Ellie has rowed in Bled, Slovenia; Hamilton, New Zealand; Poznan, Poland; Lucerne, Switzerland; Belgrade, Serbia; and numerous college competitions throughout the U.S., while she completed her undergraduate degree at Stanford.
In just a few days it all starts again. I think of pivot points in Ellie’s life that brought her here, and of the crowd who supported her along the way: her grandparents Ann and Bud Logan in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, and Walter and Rosemary Wilder in Edina, Minnesota—all of whom died before Ellie’s first Olympics. I think of her older and only sister Jessamine Logan, a staunch supporter from day one, her aunts and uncles in Maine, Minnesota, and Washington State, her friends from all over the U.S. and beyond, her house parents from Princeton, New Jersey and Vermont, her history teacher’s wife at Brooks School in Andover, Massachusetts, who suggested she try rowing; her coaches who first taught her how to row and coached her through USRowing, and her close friends who have maintained their loving support and friendship with Ellie over thousands of miles and the near-constant intensity of high-level competition. Her “social network” is a vast, powerful, loving force.
I remember when Ellie, age eight, asked me if she could be an Olympic athlete. Like countless mothers I replied, “Yes, it’s possible.” She seemed up for the challenge. Every Olympic athlete starts somewhere. And every athlete gets help along the way.
I believe that an event like the Olympics brings us together, the crowd of witnesses for each exceptional athlete.
Fasten your seatbelts, world, some of the fastest and most powerful women on Earth are at it again.