Happy Mother’s Day!
When athletes ascend to the podium to receive medals, we rise on the shoulders of our support system. None of us can accomplish what we do without support. Parental support is desirable but not absolutely necessary. My brothers and I had the gift of compassionate, loving, and giving parents.
My parents instilled in my two brothers and I the idea that we could do anything we believed.
My mother was my biggest fan. Many times when I was growing up and competing, I would ask for some extra coaching, better skates, etc. Her answer was always, “Let’s find a way to make it happen.” Rarely did I—or my brothers—hear no.
My mother died in April 2000. She is still with me in my heart and soul today. I feel her presence now and know that she is very proud. Both of my parents have had a profound influence in my life. When I came back to skating around 1997, my mother gave me $300 for new skates. I could afford my own skates, but she knew how much I loved the sport and she wanted to see me skate again. Accepting her generous gift, I started skating again.
Even though my mother is gone, I still feel her presence and influence. One philosophy my mother passed on to my brothers and I was to try all sports and activities that we could until we found something that matched our spirit and physical capabilities. My brothers and I were all pretty good athletes. I tried a number of things before settling on speed skating. It suited me because I had great lower body strength, pretty fast running speed, and the stamina to do distance work. Since my younger brother Bart was only 21 months behind me in age, we were very competitive. Bart had great upper body strength and was great at being upside down, so gymnastics suited him. Mike, my youngest brother, was five years younger than me and had a great scrapper ability. He turned out to be a great short track speed skater.
When I was about 13 and my brother Mike was 8, our mother would also wake us up at 5:30 am two days a week to skate. Short track ice was hard to schedule when competing with hockey teams. The only time our Park Ridge Speed Skating Club could get ice was at 6-7 am Tuesday and Thursdays. I remember catching the bus to Junior High school at 8 am; my classmates were sleepy eyed still. I had already been up since 5:30, had breakfast, went to the rink, skated an hour practice, back home, changed, and walked to the bus stop. My mother was there for us every step of the way, not a hint of regret, just undying support. That was her job, and she did it with a smile on her face everyday. What my mother was doing then, helped us to be the people we are today.
One weekend our family had competitions all over the state of Illinois. Mike and I had a short track event in East St. Louis. We went with another skating family in our club. Bart had a gymnastics meet in Champaign; he was accompanied by my father. My mother had an Illinois state championship bowling tournament in Peoria. After the competitions were over, we met in Champaign Sunday evening to drive home together. After that weekend, my mother decided to put aside her competitive bowling for a few years. She did resume it when it was not so much of a conflict and when she could devote some time to practice again.
All of our support networks are based on the first and most important one with our mothers. The amazing marriage I have today with Maripat is one result.
I love you Mom, you’re the best!