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Kelly VanderBeek - Sunday Feb. 9, 2014 09:06

Every Olympian is somebody’s child

For mothers of Olympic athletes, their children will always be their babies

Sochi accreditation for Kelly VanderBeek's son Cooper
Kelly VanderBeek's son was just three weeks old when his photo was taken for his Sochi accreditation. (@CooperGFord on Twitter)

After packing three weeks’ worth of Pampers diapers so my three-month-old son can join me in Sochi, I am reminded of how a mother’s job is often done behind the scenes: planning, organizing and supporting.

In Sochi, I have the honor to give CBC’s viewers a behind-the-scenes look at a mother’s Olympic experience.

The moms we’re covering have long since packed away their diapers, but their memories of doing so remain vivid since their children – now Olympians – will always be their babies on some level.

I’ll be connecting with moms like Manon Goulet, Dee Howell, Kathy Gregg, Cheryl Simundson and others. They may not be household names, but they have given Canadians idols worth cheering for, including Charles and Francois Hamelin, Dara Howell, Jamie and Jessica Gregg, Kaillie Humphries and more.

As my husband and I, two Olympians ourselves, begin our biggest role yet – parenthood – we hope to pick up a few tips ourselves in the coming weeks. But for now, our focus is simply on getting to Russia and safely navigating our way through the winter circus that is the Olympics.

Learning is a two-way street

When I travelled as an athlete, it always seemed very glamorous to my mom, who had done very little flight travel. In fact, her first trip to Europe was to see me compete in the world junior championships. To this day, I remember her being amazed that, generally, people weren’t very happy in airports. She always thought most travellers were going on vacation.

The reality is that most travelers are working when they’d rather be on vacation or with their families. I also remember my mom being shocked when she first experienced jet lag. Yes, this is a first world problem ... but it’s still comical to see someone go through jet lag for the first time (look for the 11 a.m. head bob to spot those with jet lag.)

Even with the difficulties of travel, my mom loved seeing Europe and getting to watch her daughter perform at a world championship level. For me, it was an honour knowing that my success as an athlete was giving my mom new experiences. As a kid, it’s an incredible moment when you realize you’re not only learning from your parents, but expanding their horizons as well.

Sochi challenges

Sadly, due to the challenges of getting to Sochi, many parents won’t get the chance to see their children perform in person.

It’s not only the nine-hour time change from Ontario (12 hours from B.C.) or the 24 hours of travel, or even the extreme difficulties in securing a Russian visa. For many families, it’s a matter of expense that limits their ability to get to Sochi. Luckily they have CBC’s coverage to help them feel closer than ever to their children.

Competing in an Olympic Games and donning the Maple Leaf is truly an honour for athletes, and by extension their families, communities and provinces.

As the storylines unfold over the next two weeks, I hope to remind us all, and connect us all, to the simple truth that every athlete in Sochi is somebody’s child.

Be sure to follow our journey to Sochi through Twitter @KellyVanderBeek – and for a lighter side of Sochi, follow Kelly’s three-month-old @CooperGFord to see the Games from a baby’s perspective.

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