Behind every young champion is a family who sacrificed something: time, money, energy, etc., and they’d never trade the experience for what they gave up.
Our in-house sage, Ellen, recently texted these profound words to some of the posse last weekend, and they seem particularly fitting to share this post-Olympics week. Ellen’s statement was in response to several of the posse’s offspring recently achieving goals they have been striving toward for years. The accomplishments range from earning a pilot’s license, winning high school state championships, securing national tournament berths, starring in a debut performance on a club team, claiming a spot at the NFL Scouting Combine and, in December, winning a Pop Warner Super Bowl. We have delighted in the success of each other’s children. For some, the victory is just the beginning, while other achievements mark the bittersweet end of a long journey.
When it is your child’s turn to take center stage, the nerves are amplified, and the pit in mom’s stomach threatens to swallow her. Watching your child on the verge of victory is almost as agonizing as consoling him in defeat. You know the effort your child made to reach that spot. You’ve lived it with him from the front seat of the car, the sidelines and the bleachers. You altered your schedule and sometimes your sleep patterns to get her to practice. Your memory is filled with the unique scents of the chosen endeavor (e.g. chlorine, hot-house sweat, freshly cut grass). Out of the sacrifices have come unique friendships borne of shared experiences.
Rare indeed is the child who can appreciate those sacrifices until the day her own child shows an affinity for something outside himself and the nurturing of that love begins. For aMl and her son, Swayne, the newly minted pilot and voice of the popular blog, From Private to Professional Pilot, that moment arrived when Swayne was just a toddler. His mom fostered his obsession with trains and planes by frequently taking him to the airport to watch takeoffs and landings (before 9/11) and, with picnics, to a spot overlooking the local train yard. As he grew, the two would plot travel by plane and train and began making pilgrimages to airshows and flight museums. Now almost the moment he was legally of age, Swayne has obtained his private pilot license and stands on the precipice of a long career in aviation.
For the vast majority of us, these recent successes will not lead to a profession (or any monetary remuneration). The rewards are much more intangible, yet equally valuable. I chuckled ruefully when I heard the story of the Olympic half-pipe gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington, whose father would sell a head of cattle from their Idaho ranch every time she had to travel to a competition. She, at least, could visually see her family’s sacrifice as the herd is now gone, but you know her parents never once begrudged the cost to let her live her Olympic dream and take her place on the medals stand.
While you are in the midst of being your champion’s people, it is easy to forget the joy that initiated the journey. Seeing the look of pride on a child’s face when he realizes that he has a special knack for an activity that he loves inspires his parents to plunge right in as well. At our house, the primary sport has been swimming, and for eight years I have served as a USA Swimming official. The by-product of this job has been meeting a lot of great parents throughout the state whose paths I never would have crossed but for the sport. As my son hangs up his goggles after years of 4 a.m. wake-up calls, I know that I wouldn’t trade our experiences for anything, even for a trip to Tahiti. Maybe one day he will appreciate how we rearranged our lives around his training and meets, but for now I am just glad that he knows he left everything he worked so hard for in the pool.