It takes special parents to create an Olympic athlete

BY KELLY MCKENZIE

I cannot imagine the parental discipline required to produce an Olympic champion. My own meager exposure to the world of sport has taught me that I fall sadly short.

When my two children were four and five, it was suddenly imperative to me that they learn to swim and skate. Our schedule required that we do both on the same day; conveniently over the supper hour. It horrifies me now to reflect back on those meals consumed in the car as we raced from the pool to the rink. I shudder to think of my impatient hurling of the cheese sandwiches to two exhausted children, simultaneously shrieking “eat, we’re late!”

We’d then wheel into the ice rink parking lot with crumbs spilling off their snow pants. Yanking on skates that refused to lace up and hurling helmets over still damp hair, I’d push them over to their waiting instructors. You could power up a small car with the heat emanating from my frazzled cheeks.

Perhaps a teensy mistake was not zeroing in on just one sport. I encouraged them to explore several. As my daughter and son got older weekends became particularly special. Both days found us at the pool at 6 a.m. for an hour’s swim practice. On Saturdays Henry would follow this up with a water polo practice and then a soccer game; on Sundays it was Meredith’s turn to be blessed with her own soccer game.

Dreadful mom that I am, I’d invariably forget to ensure that Henry had warm socks to wear after swimming on Sundays. More often than not he wore borrowed socks as we stood on the sidelines watching his sister flying about the soggy soccer pitch.

Much to my extended family’s relief, sanity struck the winter I signed us up for cross-country skiing lessons. Not surprisingly, these took place on the already jam-packed Saturdays. One morning, just ahead of the second skiing lesson, as I was chatting with parents at Henry’s soccer game, his teammate dragged on my sleeve. “Kelly, Henry’s hurt!” I was astonished to see my six-year-old son crying in goal, his coach kneeling at his side.

With the premature death of his father, it was really important to me that our son not become a ‘mama’s boy.’ So, assuming my usual ‘he’ll come to me if he needs me’ stance, I stood back and allowed the coach to mop up the tears. The game resumed. It never dawned on me to cancel the upcoming skiing lesson.

Only when we were whizzing up the mountainside did I think to ask what happened. “The coach’s dad ran after the ball behind the net to boot it back to midfield. But he goofed and smacked me in the face with the ball.” Of course, it’s a dead certainty that most moms would have pulled the car over for a quick cuddle. Not me. Aware of the shortness of time, I stole a cursory glance at his buffeted cheek and continued on up the mountain. Relief that we’d arrived on time for skiing erased any dwindling concern I might have felt.

An hour and a half later, as my worn out children collapsed in the back seat, we set off for home. A small voice wafted up from the back. “Mom, is it normal for me not to be able to see?” Excuse me? Jolted, I pulled over onto the shoulder and leaned into the back for a proper look. Henry’s frigid face was now sporting a right eye that was decidedly puffy, swollen and red. He never should have gone skiing. What was I thinking? My frenetic scheduling was seriously harming my children. Things had to change.

They did. We dropped all but swimming and soccer. Further paring occurred when intense coaches entered the mix. “What do you mean you can’t come to soccer practice on Tuesdays because you’ve got swimming strength-and-core sessions at the same time?” My teenaged children then had to choose one sport and I left it to them. Today the only structured sport is swim club in summer. Winter is for snowboarding and skiing with their friends.

With the London 2012 Olympics upon us, our attention is drawn to the performances of elite athletes. For many, their achievements would be impossible if it weren’t for the steadfast support and guidance of their parents. One can only imagine the effort involved. I quietly salute them. These parents are special indeed.

Kelly McKenzie’s column is distributed through Troy Media at www.troymedia.com.

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