Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Turn Mom Upside Down & It's Wow
Do you know who this woman is?
Until earlier this month I didn't either.
Her name is Debbie and she is a single mom. When her son was eleven years old, his coach approached her and said it was time for him to start training at a higher level. She thought the coach was kidding. He wasn't. He recognized the boy's skill and work ethic, and he told Debbie if they trained him right, one day he'd do things no one had ever done before.
This woman is a sports mom. She's a member of a special sorority of women worldwide who have spent countless hours and dollars to support their children in their athletic endeavors. A sports mom is a chauffeur, dietitian, nurse, psychologist and any other role she has to play. She watches her child compete and lose, and she is there to console and offer encouragement. She will dry tears and treat injuries and assure them the world isn't over. She may also watch her child compete and win, and she is there to rejoice. But win or lose, the next day the routine continues with practice, practice and more practice.
Then one day the big race comes -- the chance to compete at the very top. And for the duration, nothing exists outside that competitive arena. Her focus is narrowed to one competitor -- her child. The race becomes the longest minutes of her life. She clenches her fists, yells at the top of her lungs, encourages and urges and watches as her child gives the very best his or her body has to offer. She's done all she can do; at this point she's helpless and can only watch.
But when her child crosses the finish line first, her heart stops for just a moment as she double-checks to make sure it's true before she begins to smile like she's never smiled before.
The woman in the photo is Debbie Phelps, and on August 9th, her son Michael won his first gold medal of the 2008 Olympic games. Last Saturday, he lived up to his coach's prediction and did something no one has ever done before. He's won more Olympic medals overall than any other athlete. And he's won more gold medals in a single Olympic games than any other athlete. He surpassed the record of seven golds set in 1972 at the Munich games by swimmer Mark Spitz.
I watched her in the stands and knew in my heart how Debbie Phelps felt. Any mom knows the feeling, whether it's the sound of the baseball cracking off the sweet spot on the bat and sailing over the left field fence, sticking the dismount off a balance beam, a three-point shot arcing into the net, dancing the perfect jazz dance routine, digging a hard-spiked volleyball, being the first across the finish line or winning that eighth gold medal. It's pride and joy and a little sense of wonder about where all that talent came from.
My boys ran track in high school, and #2 son attended college on a track scholarship. He was a state high school champion several times, and in college he held a number of conference titles. He doesn't compete at the Olympic level, but I still know how Debbie Phelps feels. Many times I stood on the sidelines of a cross country course or in the stands of a stadium and I yelled and clenched my fists and watched as my son dug deep down inside to pull out the very best he had to offer. And every time I watched him receive a gold medal, I smiled like I'd never smiled before. I also wondered where the talent came from because you'd have to put a gun to my head to get me to run a mile. The DH and I joke about it being some sort of weird genetic mutation.
When he was younger, before every race I'd tell him to "win me a medal." We went to watch him at one of his college conference championship meets. After he won the 1500 meter run, he came over to me and handed me his championship plaque. "It's not a medal," he said. "But I hope it will do." That plaque hangs on my office wall and is a constant reminder that anything you can conceive and believe, you can achieve.
These days he's a graduate student at the same university where he was a track star. He's majoring in PE and is a graduate assistant coach. His goal is to be a head coach some day and help others the way all his coaches helped him through the years. And I have absolutely no doubt he'll do precisely that. Sadly, though, track and field isn't a huge spectator sport in the US like it is in other countries. Many people equate watching a track meet to watching paint dry. But I can assure you that when your kid is on that track, it's the prettiest, most interesting paint in the world.
All over the world, other mothers are watching their children compete at every level of competition. Not all will be able to share in a victory. Some will be picking their children up from a last-place finish, dusting them off and encouraging them to try again. It's something we moms do very well because it's just part of the job.
Have you been watching the Olympic Games? If so, what's your favorite summer Olympics sport? And what's been your favorite Olympic moment?
P.S. Does anyone else find it ironic that the Encore Presentation at 2:00 AM is sponsored by Ambien, a prescription sleep medication?