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What I’ve learned watching the Olympics

Posted Aug 14 2008 4:05pm

I’m an Olympics junkie, and thankfully I married another of us, so we’ve watched a lot of hours of coverage. I’ve learned some things, but one in particular stands out.

If you are a parent, or plan to be, take note of this.

As a child, I loved to swim. I also was always trying desperately to do gymnastics in my yard on the grass. I could do roundoffs and handstands and walkovers (not often, though, I usually landed on my back). I never mastered the cartwheel but for two years, I gave it all I had.

In the water, I challenged myself to see how long I could hold my breath. I swam with my eyes open. I got swimmer’s ear several times, which made me a bit reluctant to go under water, but never stopped me (I hated ear plugs, but I found drops that would help the water evaporate).

I was “fat” and it was a big enough concern that I was put on a very restrictive diet… but no one in my family ever thought to tap into my desire to be active as a way to help me manage my weight.

I wish they had. I’m not saying I’d have become the female Michael Phelps, but it might’ve been nice to be able to have an exercise outlet that was positive, because gym class surely wasn’t.

I roller skated, and desperately wanted ice skating lessons. My grandmother, when I began to regain some of the weight I’d lost (a combo of secret eating and puberty) began to say that if I lost x number of pounds, she’d get me Irish step dancing lessons! I wanted them, and why did I need to lose weight, exactly? I was more than willing to do it then and there…

My point is, if you have a child and that child expresses a desire to try swimming after watching Michael Phelps, give him or her that chance. Set up expectations, of course… but give your children the chance to be active if they find a way to do that that they love.

I lived in a climate where winters were often too cold for much outdoor activity. I would run around spring and summer, and lived in the pool when it was opened… not surprisingly, my weight tended to go up in the winter when I didn’t have that outlet.

If my family had actually been interested in helping me, they would’ve signed me up for some indoor swimming classes or skating lessons or dance. The reality is that I came from a very dysfunctional family that liked making me feel less than worthy of things, and my weight was a useful way to do this. It’s just the reality I come from.

But I think a lot of parents think it will be too expensive or time consuming or that their child won’t stick with it… and it might be expensive, but there are often options that are less so, and some places offer “scholarships,” like the ice rink I wanted to take lessons from - I could’ve gotten discounted rates if only someone wanted to pay and take me. If your child has a dream of learning to be a skater or a ballerina or the next Lord of the Dance, do everything you can to find a way to make that dream come true. I believe in being honest with kids, so I wouldn’t tell my children, if I were ever to have any, that they could be just like Michelle Kwan or Michael Phelps or Shawn Johnson… and I’m not entirely sure I’d want that life for my children, even if they were that good and wanted it.. but I am sure that I’d try to find a way to give them the chance to explore that dream.

What’s the worst that happens? They take a few karate lessons and hate them? So, you’re out some gas and a few bucks and a bit of time.

What’s the best that can happen? They find a physical activity that they absolutely love, that makes them feel good about themselves, that makes them stronger physically and mentally.

There’s nothing to lose, and so much to gain.



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