I don’t know what made me more nervous: watching Mikalea Shiffrin hurl down the women’s slalom course at Sochi, or watching her mom, Eileen, at the bottom of the course. While I”ve never raced a slalom course myself, I know all too well the anxiety of being a ski racer’s mom, watching your child lay it all out on the side of a mountain at high speeds. And let me tell you, it’s not an easy thing to watch.
Maybe that’s why every time I see the P&G Thank You Mom Olympics video tears start to stream down my face. I know all too well what it feels like to pick your kid up, wipe away the tears, ice the aches and pains, and start all over again the next day. Ski racing is not a sport for the faint of heart, the moderately committed child or the non-supportive parent.
I’ve written before about how impressed I am with Mikaela Shiffrin; when my son and I met her last year at Squaw Valley, she couldn’t have been more humble, gracious and down to earth. Success at a young age can certainly change a person, as we unfortunately see all too often in our celebrities like Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, so I was curious to see how Mikaela handled not only her rise to fame, but also the incredible pressure being put on her in an already pressure-filled sport. The world saw heavily favored Russian figure skater Yulia Lipnitskaya disappointing results. We watched Yuna Kim’s stoic tears of disappointment. But whenever interviewed, Mikaela seemed to have it together – win or lose, she was focused, calm and ready for whatever comes her way.
It’s that mental toughness, I’m convinced, that pulls her and any ski racer through the tough moments-those instants when one bobble can make the difference between flying through the finish, and tumbling down the hill. It’s that extreme focus that comes from hours and months and years of preparation that show them that win or lose, there’s always another day and another race. It’s that determination that reminds young athletes that this is only the beginning.
And that mental endurance, that persistence that makes the difference between commitment and collapse, is precisely why moms like Eileen Shiffrin and thousands of other parents support their young racers. 99% of athletes will never see the fame and notoriety of those we see in the Olympics. Our children may never reach the pinnacle of their dreams. They can wake up early, lug their gear through snowstorms and down through snow, ice and rain. They can sacrifice the typical teenage experiences like proms, football games and weekend sleepovers without any guarantee of the future. But if they can end up with the ability to believe in themselves, and the belief that determination will be the vehicle to success in life, I’m happy to wait at the bottom of the course. What’s that compared to a little stomach ache, when the results can end up like this:
For a couple of years, she’s heard people calling her the next Lindsey Vonn. After the race Friday night, a Slovenian reporter called her a young Tina Maze. “It’s amazing to be compared to them and I’m honored to be compared to them but I don’t want to be the young Tina Maze or the next Lindsey Vonn,” she said. “I want to be Mikaela Shiffrin and hopefully this gold medal is going to prove that.”
That’s all the thank you I really need.
- U.S. teen Shiffrin wins slalom gold (photos) (yakimaherald.com)