Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Momlympics

I've always loved the Olympics, even long before I ever became an Olympian.  I have never seen a Winter Olympics in person, and I was really hoping that Sochi would be my first one.  But alas, this precious little boy decided he wanted to be here in time to watch the Games, so we're doing that as a family in front of the tv at home.

Zadok on his birthday.

Happy little guy.

Growing so fast!

As I've been watching some of the Olympics, I find myself captivated by certain stories.  They always pull you in with those inspiring and heartbreaking personal stories and of course those P&G Thank You Mom commercials that have this mom crying like my baby every time they come on.  For the record, I'm blaming it on hormones. This is one of my favorite ones because I have a mom like this who woke me up at 4am to get to practice, supported me through every up and down, and was there to cheer me on at every meet no matter how I finished.  And now I'm a mom, hoping I can be to my children even just a fraction of the mom mine has been (and still is) for me.

Watching the Olympics also stirs up a little something else in me.  I can't help but get the itch to train and compete again.  I guess that's normal when you've dreamed about and worked toward something for most of your life; it leaves a mark.  But as I look at my new little team, my three kids under three years old, I realize that they already have me training for my very own Momlympics.

Each morning I fall crawl out of bed before the sun is up.  I don't even have to set an alarm.  It must be a scientific fact that if you have three children, one will always wake up before the sunrise.  And that one early riser will likely wake up a sibling, maybe two.  Usually I hit the ground running because the wake up is followed by crying.  A good jog up a flight of stairs and down a hall before coffee, heck, before peeing is how a hard core momlympian begins a day of training.

Once all the kids are up but before breakfast, they already have me doing laps around the house.  Sometimes I march in formation with the kids.  Sometimes it's an all out race.  Other times I'm just frantically gathering clothes, diapers, hair brushes and other essentials so we can get ready for the day.  All in all, a good round of cardio to get the heart pumping.

Then we sit down for a nutritious breakfast and I finally get my coffee (decaf though, I am in training after all).  After breakfast my workout generally consists of some type of wrestling and weightlifting mixture.  Wrangling two 2-year-olds into clothes when they would rather be naked or stay in pjs should be an Olympic medal event.  Then to top it off with brushing and putting up tangled hair on sensitive heads, well, I'm usually ready for a break from my training after this workout.  But to keep me pushing through, my 3-week-old is generally ready to eat, fussy from eating or needing his eighth diaper change of the morning by this point in time. 

If we have an outing for the day, this is the window of opportunity.  I twirl and swoosh around the kitchen in my socks like Michelle Kwan on ice gathering snacks and filling up water cups.  I take off down the hallways like Usain Bolt to gather diapers, wipes and changes of clothes.  Then I slam dunk it all with a flying leap like Michael Jordan into the diaper bag.  I herd my littles to the mom-mobile in record time and convince them it's a great idea to get into their car seats. Snap, snap, clip, clip, slam the door and we're off like the Jamaican bobsled team!

Generally a public outing is a bit like low-key competition.  We're on display for all the world to see and judge us like armchair quarterbacks.  I have to be on my game, drumming up coherent words to speak to other adults while keeping my kids teammates in check throughout the course of the outing.  Once we cross the finish line and are heading back home, we can relax a little bit and maybe go over how our competition went.  Sometimes there are tears after a rough event.  Sometimes there are victory songs.  Sometimes my teammates just pass out from sheer exhaustion.

Nap time at our house can sometimes be the most difficult part of my training.  There are so many variables in this equation that every single day is completely different.  I have to dance on my toes ever so delicately to ensure that all three kids not only go to bed but sleep as well.  One misstep and our rhythm is gone, sometimes for the rest of the day.  This stage of training requires nerves of steel, patience nearly beyond my understanding, and flexibility to handle the unexpected mid-nap potty break or poop blowout.

Like many sports, the Momlympics is all about planning and preparation for the big goal.  And logistics is possibly the most important tool a mom can incorporate into her daily training.  An elite mom must learn not only how to multitask but how to juggle while multitasking.  Multitasking is doing several activities at the same time like talking on the phone, watching tv and listening to your children.  But juggling is a physical skill involving the manipulation of many objects at the same time, using one or many hands (and possibly feet).  So this might look more like holding a crying baby in one arm while bouncing him, holding a book in your other hand while reading it to a second child and fishing a toy out from under the couch with your foot for a third child... all at the same time.

Overall, the Momlympics consists of frequent low-key tune-up events and every so often a large scale, nerve wracking event like traveling.  Like the Olympics, there are tears of joy and defeat.  Sometimes you feel like a gold medal mom and the world should take notice.  Other times, you feel like you've run off course and can't even finish the race.  I think, however, it's most important to note that the Momlympics never ends and the rewards are far greater and longer lasting than gold.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Your Olympic & Sports Questions Answered

Today is the Opening Ceremony for the Sochi Winter Olympics.  Sorry for the delay in getting to all of your questions, but my son, Zadok, was born on January 23rd, so we're just getting used to being a family of five in time for the Olympics to begin!

Our first family picture in the hospital.

Okay, now that I snuck a picture of my family in here, I'll get right down to business.  Thank you all for asking some fun and interesting questions!  And now, as promised, here are the answers to all of your questions, silly and serious, in no particular order.

Question: Are the underage athletes treated differently compared to the adult athletes?

Answer: It varies from sport to sport.  Each sport in each country has its own governing body.  Some sports that generally have younger athletes may have stricter rules for safety reasons (i.e. earlier curfew, may only leave athlete's village with the team, etc.).  Some sports tend to be very strict and all business, while other sports are very laid back.  But in general, there is a team manager or head coach who is setting curfews and rules for the entire team.  Generally once an athlete is done competing they are allowed to be more free, but they still must be respectful to other team members and athletes still competing.

Question: Is all of the food in the dining hall healthy?

Answer: No.  There is always a full service McDonald's in every dining hall and quite a range and variety of foods.  They usually have different cuisines to choose from- a Mediterranean area, an Asian area, a Western area, etc.  Just about every item of food served does have nutritional information listed so you know exactly what you are putting in your body.  It's also open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week because athletes are training and competing around the clock.  And it happens to be my absolute favorite place to people/athlete watch since every athlete from every country has to eat in the same dining hall.

Question: Do you ever want your kids to be involved in sports when they grow up?

Answer: I absolutely love sports and what they can teach a person about character, integrity, and life.  Right now my girls (both 2 years old) are in a gymnastics class one day a week.  I don't care so much if they are good at it, but I like that they are learning to wait their turn, listen to a teacher, try new things, gain flexibility and strength, and they have fun!  I will allow my kids to try some different activities, and they will choose what they want to do.  I will be their biggest fan whatever they decide to try.

Question: Did you get to mingle with athletes of other sports, or where you kept isolated during your time?

Answer:  That's one of the best parts about the Olympics is meeting other athletes from other sports!  If you stay in the athlete's village, you will meet other athletes, whether it's in the dining hall, the training room, the computer lounge, the transportation area, your competition venue... it's really unavoidable.

Question: Which Opening and Closing ceremonies have you enjoyed the most?

Answer:  Sydney (in 2000) was definitely my favorite Opening Ceremony.  It was my very first one, a moment I had always dreamed about, so it was super special.  It was also fun because as soon as we walked out into the arena, we saw our teammate's (Michelle Davison) mom on the big screen!  But each Opening Ceremony is exciting.  You feel that Olympic fever sweeping through the crowd and the athletes.  You get to watch the Olympic flame be lit in surreal ways and you feel like you're staring at the fire that's been burning inside you, pushing you to that very point for so many years.

The Closing Ceremonies aren't as fun for me because they mean the Games are over.  It's always bittersweet.  You have one more walk through the arena with the crowd cheering and hanging out with so many amazing athletes, but you know everything you worked hard for, that one opportunity, whether it went as dreamed or absolutely crushed you, it's gone, already a memory.  Most athletes go through a bit of a depression following the Olympics because of this, whether they medaled or not.  It's a lifetime of build up; then it's over in the blink of an eye.

Question: Aside from diving, which sport and/or teams are you the biggest fan of?

Answer:  I grew up as a gymnast, so naturally I still LOVE to watch gymnastics.  Anything acrobatic is fun for me to watch.  But it's also fun to watch and learn about new sports, especially if you've met the athletes and get to cheer for them.  In 2004, my teammate Kimiko and I met some of the badminton players, so we went and cheered them on.  We had no idea what the rules were, but other spectators explained it to us and we had a blast!

Question: If you weren't an athlete, what career do you think you would have pursued?

Answer: I've always loved architecture. Even as a kid I designed homes and buildings for fun.

Question: Outside of diving, which athletes have you had the opportunity to meet that left you a bit starstruck? Who have you met that you clicked with?

Answer: I have had the honor and privilege to meet so many awesome athletes!  Probably the one that "left me a bit starstruck" was Mary Lou Retton.  Along with the rest of America, I watched her win in 1984 and then started gymnastics with dreams of following in her perfect 10 footsteps.  She is the nicest person and has shared some gems of wisdom with me.  The first time I met her, I could barely speak.  But now I've had the opportunity to be a part of several events with her, and I can tell you honestly that she is the real deal.

In January of 2009, Shannon Miller (gymnastics), Angelo Taylor (track), Joey Cheek (speed skating) and I went to Kuwait and Iraq to visit the troops.  It was an incredible experience!  I got to know Shannon well, and we had a ton in common.

 Question: Have you ever had an eating disorder?

Answer: Yes.  Unfortunately that is not uncommon in the world of sports or for girls in general.  If you or someone you know is battling an eating disorder, I highly recommend this book:

Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance And Restoration From The Bondage of Eating Disorders by Marie Notcheva

Here is a review of the book and a link to buy it.

Question: How much free time do y'all have?  Do you get to explore the country that you are in?

Answer: At some international events, we fly in, train a couple days, compete and fly back home.  But for each Olympic Games I attended, we arrived about 2 weeks before the Opening Ceremony, and the Olympic Games itself actually lasts 16 days.  You may compete at the beginning, in the middle or at the very end.  Most of the time during that first couple of weeks as we are getting over jet lag and getting used to the competition venue.  That's generally the time that our team will do some sight seeing.  Some athletes also choose to stay after the Games are over to explore or visit neighboring countries.  At the Sydney Games we couldn't leave for several days after the Closing Ceremony, so I had the opportunity to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge with some friends from home.  In Athens I mostly just visited family because I had been there 6 months earlier for the World Cup and some teammates and I stayed a few extra days after that competition to explore.  In Beijing, our team went to the Great Wall and a Chinese circus in those first couple of weeks before the competition.

Question:  I'm doing a report about you for school.  I am in fourth grade.

Answer: Awesome!  If you need any information, check out my website:  www.laurawilkinson.com

 Question: Does 10 meter platform give you anxiety now?

Answer: I haven't been up there in a bit, so I'm sure I would have a few butterflies in my stomach! Like most things, you have to be consistently doing it to be comfortable with it.

Question: How old is the oldest person you know that can still do the dives you did in Olympic competition? 

Answer:  That's a very interesting question.  At last year's World Championships there were a couple of women platform divers that were 27 and 28 but they are doing a lower degree of difficulty.
Question: Did you walk in the opening and/or closing ceremonies at the Olympics why or why not? If you did go to the ceremonies was it as fun as it looks?

Answer: I walked at all three Olympic Games in Opening and Closing Ceremonies.  It is an amazing experience that I never wanted to miss.  I also never had to compete until usually the second week of competition.  Sometimes if athletes have to compete the next day or maybe have an injury, they elect to not walk.  There is a lot of standing and walking for the athletes, sometimes more than 6 hours, so as much fun and as cool as it is, if you have to compete shortly after, you have to make a wise decision.  Usually the only reason an athlete won't attend Closing is because they have already left to go back home.

Question: This will sound ridiculous, but can you send me the clips of Amanda Beard in the races that she won?

Answer: Um, no.  But here's her website: http://amandabeard.net/

Question: I have a question for you about Olympics as a promotional and economic event.
Do you feel like the tremendous cost of the Olympics is a service to the sporting world and to host city citizens or do you feel those two groups would be better served with either smaller facilities costs in host cities or a single site for games for many Olympiads (in Switzerland perhaps)?  Also do you still live in the Houston area?

Answer: Wow, that's an interesting thought- a single site that hosts the Games for many Olympiads.  Hm, I'll have to think about that one!  The cost is absolutely ridiculous, and I'm not sure how or if the host cities ever recover from it.  I know the athlete villages are usually turned into apartment housing after the Games, but many of the amazing venues stand empty or are severely under used in the years following.  There must be a better way to do it, but the Olympics is so huge and all encompassing of the city, I'm not sure how they would go about doing it without building all new infrastructures.  Perhaps you're on to something with the single site idea.

Yes, I still live just north of Houston.

Question: How did you break those 3 bones in your foot before Sydney? (That's painful to think about, by the way)!

Answer: I was in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, for a diving meet.  In a warm up, I was doing inward somersaults onto a mat.  I came out of the somersault a hair too early and hit both of my feet on the block of wood I was jumping off.  I completely broke the three middle metatarsals on my right foot, one piece from those bones lodged itself underneath, feeling like I was standing on a sharp rock if I put weight on it.  I also had a fracture on one of the metatarsals on my left foot.

Question: When they bring mixed country synchro in you'll make a comeback with me right?

Answer: This is from my dear friend Loudy Wiggins in Australia!  We've been joking about this for ages, and YES!

Question: Did you pee in the pool? Bahahaha! Sorry. I had to say it. Don't answer.

Answer: No! But I have unfortunately encountered some yellow hot tubs at meets that I will not get into!

Question: Who is and was your biggest inspiration!!

Answer: Honestly growing up, I admired and inspired to be like so many different athletes.  There were certain things about many people that I admired.  My first synchro partner, Patty Armstrong, taught me that you could have fun and train hard at the same time.  My coach, Kenny Armstrong, was the first person who ever believed that I could do something amazing, and then he taught me how.  We went through a lot together, and he never once gave up on me- in and out of the pool.  My diving team was always like a family to me. When they're behind you, you feel like you can accomplish anything.

Through diving, God has taught me a lot about life.  I think more than the people, God gave me a passion for this sport that was so deep and unending, that is what kept driving me. Now looking back, in so many ways diving is the perfect analogy for life- from taking a leap of faith to trusting God with the results.

Question: Where is your 2000 Olympic medal?? 

Answer: It's in an easily accessible place.  I love to have it handy if someone wants to see it or if I'm speaking at an event.

Question: Did you ever want to just give up and quit?

Answer: As my coach might answer... Does a bear poop in the woods?  Of course!  Any time you pour out your blood, sweat and tears into something and it isn't going according to plan, giving up or quitting is quick to slip into your mind.  I'm very much a Rocky Balboa type mind set: "It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward."  Life will knock you down, but you don't have to let it keep you there.

Question: I want to try on your medal as well.. AND is it really made of chocolate on the inside?! 

Answer: Nope, but it isn't solid gold either.  The gold medals are actually silver then plated in gold.  The bronze medals for the 2000 Olympics, were created from melted down Australian 1 cent and 2 cent coins - which had been removed from circulation from 1992 onward.

Question: What was your biggest fear when you were competing (besides diving head first from 10 meters high?) 

Answer: There were many different seasons throughout my diving career.  Sometimes I was afraid of failing, of not being as good as I thought I could be.  I went through several seasons where I was terrified of certain dives, thinking I might not live through practice or the meet.  Sometimes I was afraid of what other people would think if I didn't live up to their expectations (which were usually my own expectations of what I assumed they thought).  Sometimes I feared getting hurt.  Sometimes I feared not knowing where I was in the air.  There is a lot to fear in diving.  But through that fear, God taught me to trust Him.  Here are a couple of my favorite verses that helped me with fear:

"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."  Isaiah 41:10

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7

"For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." 2 Timothy 1:7

Question: Once chosen for the Olympic team, do athletes get any stipend during the time they are training but before heading to the Olympics?

Answer: Each sport operates differently.  We did not get a training stipend unless we were traveling with the Olympic Team to a training camp or something similar. And even then it was not much, just per diem.  Some athletes do receive funding from the US Olympic Committee based on finishes at prior world events.

Question: On the radio this morning they were talking about the threats to the Sochi Olympics and how many spectators, politicians, etc. are not going to go. Another of the DJs said how the Olympics bring athletes from other countries together and the athletes gain a better understanding of that country. Did you have the chance to spend some time with an athlete from another country and did you gain a new respect for that country?

Answer: Unfortunately it seems that leading up to every Olympic Games, the security threats over shadow the athletes and the event itself.  I hope that Russia and partnering security forces have everything under control, but sadly there is never a guarantee of safety.

I did have many chances to get to know athletes from other countries!  Fortunately diving is a very small sport, so as you compete on the international circuit, you get to know most of the divers.  And traveling to so many different countries and cultures, you do gain a new respect and understanding for the world outside of your own town.