Kerri Strug may best be known as the American gymnast who helped the U.S. team win gold for the first time when she vaulted on an injured ankle—and had to be carried off the mat by her coach—in the 1996 Summer Olympics. But Strug is not only a determined athlete, she's a dedicated mom to Tyler, 3, and Elena, 15 months. Parents met up with Kerri in Times Square for Epson's Swimming in Ink event. Just like Epson's new EcoTank printer, it doesn't seem like Strug will run out of juice anytime soon.
P: We're coming up on 20 years since the epic 1996 Olympics. I remember watching you with my parents. I feel like that moment—when you vaulted on an injured ankle and your coach carried you off the mat—became iconic of perseverance. How you feel about that?
KS: It's great that that's my moment that people associate me with because it represents a lot about me and who I am as a person. I think [perseverance] is an important trait that you need to have in life. Life is gonna throw you curve balls and it's how you deal with them and your attitude and your work ethic. Prior to that vault I was known as this gymnast that had a lot of talent but was never mentally tough and couldn't put it together when it counted most. So that vault is much more significant to me personally than people realize because it was my last chance to prove to myself and everyone else that "No! I can do it!"
P: You were part of the Magnificent Seven and in 2012 we had a resurgence with the Fierce Five. How do you think we can raise girls to be strong and support each other when they're also competing against each other—and not just in the gym?
KS: It always was an interesting dynamic in gymnastics because it's an individual sport and you're vying for those spots, but then at the World Championships and the Olympic Games you're supposed to come together and be a team. I think USA Gymnastics has done a phenomenal job in terms of trying to blend the girls and make them a unit. They also realize they can win as a team and if they put their energies together that would be the most gratifying. There's no question women are competitive and I think we do pay attention to detail, we do want to succeed, a lot of Type A perfectionists so that leads you towards an individual path. Nonetheless, nobody can do it alone.
P: What's the most valuable lesson that athletics taught you?
KS: I really believe being dedicated, persevering in terms of motivation and focus, those are so important throughout life and as a gymnast you have to learn those things. We hear teachers, parents, coaches tell you, "You have to work hard. You're going to fall down, but you have to get back up." Until you actually go through that experience you don't understand it. It's just words.
P: What advice do you have for young kids with dreams of going to the Olympics?
KS: For me, for so long it was just a dream, but if you hold on tight to it and you work really hard it is possible. Maybe you won't get everything you had hoped for, but there is a silver lining and you're going to grow as a person and learn so much. Athletics are phenomenal, you don't have to be an Olympian to get all these fabulous characteristics out of sports. A lot of kids today can get a college scholarship, that's like half a million dollars. That's pretty spectacular.
P: What advice do you have for parents who notice that their child has an athletic gift?
KS: It's so hard that line of being supportive and [not] being pushy. I have a 3-year-old and I'm already struggling. When you see that they're gifted in something, you want them to want it. But if they don't—if it's not that innate desire—it's really not your place to push. That's the hardest part for me as a parent—you want your child to succeed but it's got to come from within. That being said, you can't let them dabble in every single little thing; they need to finish the season. You need to teach them it's not instantaneous euphoria. Sometimes you gotta pull through for your team and you sometimes gotta stick it out, but not for the long haul if you're really unhappy.
P: How has it been as Tyler adjusts to his baby sister?
KS: He loves her, but is a little bit too aggressive. He is sincerely hugging and kissing, but I keep trying to explain delicate, soft. I don't know if it's really in his vocabulary. He's very proud of her on many levels. It's interesting to see how he already has that protective factor. When he has a play date or something and a young girl comes over and takes one of her toys he automatically takes it away and says, "That's my sister's!" Everyone says that once you have children you just can't imagine life without them and that's so true. They're my everything.
P: What is the best parenting advice you have ever received?
KS: My father always says you raise your kids to be independent, that that's the best gift you can give them. So that's what I refer to because I immediately want to coddle. Already I'm thinking, Oh my goodness he's 3-and-a-half and he still loves for me to cuddle and lay in bed. My husband says we should put him down and walk away and I'm like, "But in a few years he's going to tell me to get lost." I want to enjoy this time as much as possible. I like on some level that they are dependent upon me. Nonetheless I want them to be smart, confident, independent kids. I live five houses down from my parents. Once I knew I was expecting I wanted to live close to home. I hope that we will have a similar situation with my kid's children down the road.
Ruthie Fierberg is an editorial assistant at Parents. Though she does not have children of her own, she's practically been raising kids since her first babysitting job at age 11. She is also our resident theater aficionado and has interviewed tons of celeb parents. Follow her on Twitter: @RuthiesATrain.