Woman to Women
Michael Phelps: It Takes a Mom to Raise a Winner
Michael Phelps’ Mom Serves up a Lifetime Breakfast of “You Can Do Its” for a Champion Son
-Mary Beth Sammons
TV viewers across America may have been jumping up and down with collective cheers this week for Michael Phelps, one of the most celebrated athletes in the Beijing Olympics. But in our “moms of the Betty world,” the Kleenex “Let it Out” moment could have sent waves of tears swelling through the 4×100-meter relay.
Talk about mopping up the pool deck. When Michael presented his winner’s bouquet of flowers to his mom, Debbie Phelps, the woman who has been his champion his entire life, we were groping for life vests to keep us emotionally above water.
If there is a lesson behind this nine-time gold medal winner’s success, we’ve got it: It’s his mom. All week – with every successive gold medal (and by the time this is published he’s probably snagged a couple more) we’ve been jumping on our couches chanting: “You are the champion, Debbie.”
Because from our perch in the grandstands of momhood, we totally get how it is not easy being the mom of a multi-Olympic gold medal-winning athlete. Imagine how many times Debbie has had to squinch Chlorine out of Speedos? Think about all those parental free styling moments of “coaxing” a teen to get out of bed at 4 a.m. for practice, i.e. – “come on son, jumping into frigid waters for hours of training is good for you. I’ll make you Mac and Cheese for lunch!”
Thanks to Debbie, all of us moms have been ripping through the sports headlines and fixating on our TV screens this week (we’re practically wearing goggles and flippers), fascinated by the endurance and stick-to-it-tive-ness of a single mom who defied all the odds and said “my son WILL succeed,” when teachers predicted that the youngest of her three kids was never going to make much of himself. He couldn’t sit still in the classroom they said. Bet they were biting their lesson plans this week when gold medal after gold medal, Michael’s aquatic hyper-activeness sent a message to moms globally to go green with their kids – meaning make naysayers green with envy and keep on cheering on your kid, no matter what.
I especially can relate to at least some of Debbie Phelps must have felt Sunday and am voting her as my Google champion of the Olympics. As a single mom of a very athletic, yet not so keen on the classroom son, I felt every ounce of the win Sunday in my bones. It flooded me (pardon the water metaphor) with memories of a time not so long ago, on a particularly exhausting day, when the challenges of raising three kids on my own and bringing forth (with the ease of a butterfly stroke – you get what I mean) the champions inside them seemed overwhelming. Calling my son Rudy (aka the kid who struggled to make the Notre Dame team), his high school coaches turned to me and said, “He gets it. He told me today that he won’t give up. That you (meaning me) reminded him of Lance Armstrong’s mom. That he knows no matter what, you are ALWAYS there for him.”
So cycling/swimming Olympic mom, or just me, suburban mom of a former high school star athlete who struggled, (a lot) and learned how to lose (the hard way), I’d like to think I’m on the same team as Lance’s and Michael’s moms. We’re a group of women, moms (single ones to be sure), who deemed our kid as successes and refused to succumb to obstacles large and small. As seasoned mom veterans, we too have vowed to never, ever be sidelined from being front and center for our kids, the cheerleaders of their lives.
I cried that day for my son — and for me – and pledged to never, ever give up. (And believe me, there have been some challenges in this game.)
I cried with joy for Debbie every night this week, as every one of Michael’s flip turns set up the momentum to another gold medal. She dove into the deepest, darkest waters of parenting to save a son from drowning, when other lifeguards refused to throw out a line. And she’s carried him on the crest of the wave of success. Go Debbie!!! You deserve the gold medal.