The Olympic creed was first stated by the founder of the modern Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, and it is as much a cherished ideal today as it was a century ago: "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part.
For ten glorious days in February 2002, my three sons and I were privileged to be a part of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games. I truly felt, even though I was only a spectator, that I was also taking part.
Chris Klug's Olympic Miracle
So perhaps it was fate that brought me to Salt Lake City on February 15 on a crisp afternoon in the Wasatch Mountains under a brilliant azure sky, far from my home, to celebrate not only my 50th birthday with my sons and numerous friends, but the bronze medal performance of U.S. Olympian snowboarder Chris Klug, who was just as glad to be taking part as I was, no doubt more.
I can only imagine what the day must have felt like for Klug, who was competing less than two years after a lifesaving liver transplant and, fittingly, just one day after National Organ Donor Day. "Without the gift of the donor family, I wouldn't be here today. They're the real heroes," Klug told reporters. While he said he hoped his fame as the first organ transplant recipient to win an Olympic medal would "get families talking about organ donation," he said he never felt any pressure to win to make his ordeal worthwhile. He was just happy to be alive.
"I thought I was going to die waiting," Klug said of the days before his liver donor was found nineteen months earlier. "I was pretty scared. I wasn't thinking about snowboarding or coming back and winning a bronze medal. I was just thinking about hoping to live, hanging out with my family and continuing with life as I know it." Even if he had not medaled, Chris Klug probably would have agreed with de Coubertin that the most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part. The same should hold true for youth sports.
Parents of Olympic Athletes: Passion for Sport is Key
A highlight for me while in Utah was to be able to just hang out with my family and all of the new families that I met. What I learned from the parents of Olympic athletes is that they did not push their child into becoming an Olympian; they introduced their child to a number of sports when they were young, and that it was their child's inner passion, the fire within, that drove them to become successful in their sport. In other words, they lived the "just take part" credo Baron de Coubertin so eloquently and succinctly expressed in the Olympic Creed.
Karen Ruggiero, mother of three-time Olympic ice hockey medalist and MomsTeam contributing writer, Angela Ruggiero, has told me numerous times that "I never did much to encourage Angela to play hockey; she loved playing the game. There was no need to push her." Angela's younger sister, Pamela, is often asked whether she is jealous of Angela, to which she simply answers, "No, she is doing what she loves. I am only jealous of all of her teammates, who get to see her all of the time."
Lynn Mayer, the mother of freestyle skier Travis Mayer, told me how his love of mogul skiing propelled him to an unexpected silver medal. She said that he told her that when he entered the starting gate at the top of the mountain and saw the sea of spectators below, he beamed with joy because no crowd larger than about a hundred people had ever watched him perform. "I just love mogul skiing so much that I wanted to do the best that I could for myself and my country," he said later.
Adapted from the book, Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (HarperCollins 2006) by Brooke de Lench, founder of MomsTeam.com.