Photo Credit: Kelly Wallace/iVillage
When Brendan Hansen was around nine-years-old, he met Olympic gold medalist Nelson Diebel at a swimming meet and tried on one of his gold medals. He came home and told his mom, “I want one of them.” What did his mom say? “I said, as any mother would when a son comes home, I’m like, ‘Okay Brendan … that’s very good, that’s nice, now go up and clean your room,” said a laughing Miriam Hansen (pictured on the right).
Miriam might have acted like business as usual after Brendan met Diebel, but she says her son, at that same time, was swimming at speeds that put him in the top 16 in the country. “He was at a very elite level, and I knew he had something special,” she told me during an interview at the P&G Family Home, which is for athletes and their families, just before her son helped Team USA win the gold in the 4 x 100-meter relay.
Being around so many athletes and their moms this week made me wonder when they knew their child could make it to the Olympics and what they did to support their children’s dreams.
Cindy Falgowski says her daughter Katelyn, a two-time Olympian in field hockey, followed in the footsteps of her two older sisters who played in college, but stood out from the time she was around 10-years-old. “I think every time we went to an event, the coaches would just say things to me that were like, ‘This child is unbelievable,’ ‘This child is like a sponge,’ ‘She soaks up every bit of the game,” Cindy said. “So, from a very young age, from that point of view of others telling us, we knew we had a diamond in the rough there.”
Dana Vollmer, a three-time gold medalist in London who became the first woman to ever swim the 100-meter butterfly in under 56 seconds, also showed herself to be a gifted athlete at a pretty young age, said her mom Cathy. “I think we knew … she could be really good if we just got behind her and took her wherever she needed to go and were willing to spend the time to do that," Cathy said, which in her case meant driving about four hours a day (that’s right – four hours a day!) with Dana to and from practice since there was no indoor pool in their town.
It’s hard to believe, but Jeffrey Porter, who will compete in the 110-meter hurdles and his twin brother, who played in the NFL, were made fun of in middle school for how slow they ran. “They were slow, but they kept on at it, kept on and kept on and kept on … until everyone was amazed,” said proud mom Linda Porter, who added that she always told her boys to shoot for the stars. “If you don’t get the stars, you are not going to be far from it, so I always encouraged them to do their absolute best.”
Being positive may be one ingredient in trying to raise an Olympian. Another, Miriam Hansen says, is following your child’s lead. “The secret sauce is let them do what they want to do and let them be happy,” she said. “And just support them all the way through and let them have fun with it.”
Ironically, Brendan, who turns 31 later this month and is a dad-to-be, told his mom he’s not going to put his kids into swimming. “I said, ‘Look Brendan, they’re going to do what they want to do. You can’t stop them. Whatever they want to do, they’re gonna do,” said Miriam.
And that includes trying to make it to the Olympics if they put their mind to it.
The cost of Kelly’s travel to London was paid by Procter & Gamble.