Canadian Olympic Diving sensation Alexandre Despatie owes much of this success to his mom Christiane. I was lucky to spend a week with Christiane and husband Pierre here in London for the Thank You Mom program. Her energy and warmth was infectious as she shared her personal story of raising an Olympian with me.
When he was just three weeks old, Christiane took her newborn son to a class like this to learn to swim. Having a pool in her Laval backyard, she wanted to make sure her son wouldn't drown if he accidently fell in the water. She remembers very clearly how Alex lay floating in the water, his little head cradled in her hand. The instructor told her to let him go. Baby Alex lay there, asleep, floating in the pool like a lily pad. At this, Christiane breaks out into one of her huge infectious grins and tells me that on the tiny little swimsuit he was wearing was the word DIVE. Crazy!
From a very early age, Alex was a water baby. The irony was that he didn't like to swim. "I only wanted to touch water with my head, not my feet," Alex told his mom. For hours Christiane would be in the pool with her water-logged toddler, catching him as he jumped in head first.
"Let's play Olympics," five-year-old Alex would announce. Dive after dive, his mom would "score" his jumps—her son relentlessly trying to improve to get higher marks.
There's no doubt Alex was a child prodigy. He was travelling to competitions by the age 11. When he was 13, he was off to Malaysia with the Canadian Dive Team for five weeks without his parents to compete in the 1998 Commonwealth Games. His mother found out her son had won a surprise gold medal in the 10 Metre Event when news teams started camping out on their lawn. Since then, Alex has won three world championships and two Olympic silver medals and has became a Canadian heartthrob.
There was no pushing her son into this sport. He pulled his parents, asking for lessons and doing the incredibly difficult work required to succeed. "Athletes like Alex are Type A. They don't need stage mothers to succeed," Christiane tells me. "They need a mom who will do the schlepping, make pasta, and do their laundry. And they need someone to keep on checking to make sure they're still having fun doing their sport."
She tells me about a time when Alex wanted to quit. He was under significant amounts of stress and just felt tired. Christiane listened and let him drop out. For the first time in years he stopped his regular routine of early morning and after-school training. Within three days he announced he was bored and went back on the diving board.
"There's no difference between an Olympic mom and a mom," Christiane tells me. "We're just moms with an Olympic schedule." That schedule includes being there for the ups and downs of her son's life; to be there to dry the tears when there's disappointment.
"Alex and I have a bond. We don't have to talk. My husband takes care of his head. I take care of his heart and his stomach," Christiane says with a laugh. She sees herself as a minimizer, to balance the scrutiny and stress her son deals with now. "All these kids want are normal parents to come home to."
Here's a beautiful video produced by P&G featuring Christiane and Alex Despatie on Raising on Olympian.
Here's another amazing Olympic Mom I spent time with in London: Sheila Findlay, mother to Triathlete Paula Findlay.
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Walking through the Olympic Mall with four moms who have kids competing at the London Olympics gave the Opening Ceremony extra meaning for me. Although I was only one of 71,000 spectactors for the Danny Boyle directed spectacular, I feel like I had an insider perspective compared to the close to one billion people who watched around the world.
When we took our seats, every member of the audience was given a program explaining each "scene" of the show, as well as a pair of 3D glasses.
Then we were coached on how to perform during the show. Yes, WE were participants in the party, waving our "pixels" (little paddles with LED lights) in choreographed patterns, and moving a swath of blue silk from the top of the bleachers to the ground. "The world is watching," the British host shouted. "Do not mess it up."
A video message was played from the United Nations, saying something to this effect, "Let this unite the world through peace. We invite all warring people to lay down your weapons during the Olympics. " This powerful theme of peace, brotherhood, and sportsmanship ran through out the ceremony, making me tear up.
For the next two hours, we sat enthralled as Danny Boyle's show took us through a history of British Cultural Revolutions, from an incredibly realistic English pastoral scene, complete with sheep, geese, cows and working horses, a charming stone cottage with smoking chimney and hundreds of extras dressed in period costumes.
Kenneth Braunagh, wearing a black suit and top hot from days gone by, recited poetry from Shakespeare's The Temptest.
We watched as the countryside was transformed into huge black smoking chimneys, witnessing the birth of the Industrial Revolution.
British children's literature was celebrated as about a hundred Mary Poppins with her trademark umbrella fell from the sky. Then the Queen of Hearts, Captain Hook and Voldemort, and JK Rowlings made special appearances.
A highlight of the show for me was the surprise appearance of Rowan Atkinson, aka Mr Bean, who joined the London Symphony Orchestra for a very funny rendition of Chariots of Fire. Also hilarious was a video of the Queen (yes THE Queen) acting with James Bond as they raced to us to announce the opening of the Games. The most evocative segment for me was the medley of amazing British pop music—each song triggering a special memory—The Jam, David Bowie, Sex Pistols, The Who.
But the real magic began when the athletes from each competing country marched out in alphabetical order, each wearing their national costume. I was warned by my veteran Olympic Mom friends that this segment was LONG! They weren't exaggerating. It took more than an hour for all the athletes to make their ceremonial march around the stadium from countries, many I had never heard of. Cotton Island? Hello? Some countries like the USA and Spain had an army of athletes. Others had one or two representing.
Interesting insider info is that many athletes don't actually participate in the Opening Ceremony. Being a part of the show is incredibly tiring; the athletes needing to stand in one spot for close to two hours is not good right before the biggest competition of their lives. In fact, none of the competing kids of the moms I was sitting with were part of the show. They preferred to watch it on TV, and save their energy for their real performance.
Having said that, we were still thrilled to see Team Canada make their proud entrance lead by Flag Bearer triathlete Simon Whitfield.
Watching the Olympic flame being lit for the third time in the history of the UK was beautiful, a metaphor for freedom, respect and fair play. "It's not if you win, but how you compete" the athletes were reminded.
What I found very moving was the longest round of cheering in the entire show was not for the lighting of the flame. Rather, there was a standing ovation for the 15,000 volunteer performers and behind the scenes men and women who made the show happen. It really is remarkable how many Londoners are devoting so much time and energy into being a part of the Olympics and welcoming all of us so warmly.
The show came to a perfect end with Paul McCartney doing a sing-a-long version of Hey Jude. Go England Go!!
And then it was the long walk back through the Olympic Mall for us. But through some weird mix-up, I got to hang out with some of the international athletes as they headed back to the Olympic Village to the athlete's residences on the other side of the Mall.
And now the games are officially on! Thank you P&G for allowing me to tag along with all the sponsored Olympic Moms and experience this historical event. And if I may—GO CANADA GO!!!!
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There are times when you just have to take one for the team.
Such was the case yesterday when I was requested to spend an afternoon at the Wella Salon here in London to experience the pampering all the Olympic Moms will be enjoying over the next couple of weeks.
When P&G committed to the Thank You Mom program, their plan was to ensure that moms and families of Olympic athletes were to be well cared for during their time in London, so the athletes could focus on their game. Part of the "gift" the moms are enjoying is complimentary use of this elegant pop-up Wella Salon. On the mom menu: hair, nails and makeup—which is what I was lucky enough to experience.
While I was there, a couple of moms from Russia were giggling while getting their hair blown out. Mothers from Spain, Great Britain, US had already taken advantage of the services. Rumour has it that one Olympic mom from a remote town in Peru who doesn't speak any English just sat in a chair getting her hair done with tears of joy streaming down her face. She had never experienced this kind of pampering before.
Here's what I looked like when I first showed up at the Wella Salon—no makeup, nude nails, and unstyled hair.
Then the extreme pampering began.
My hair was dried, curled, pouffed and pinned.
Next, my face was brought to life with gorgeous makeup from Max Factor and Covergirl which included to-die-for smokey eyes and pale pink lips.
Finally, my favorite service was an Olympic manicure. I was asked to choose from a menu of 240 world flags to be painted on my nails. Naturally I went with the Canadian Maple Leaf and added in Great Britain's Union Jack in honour of my time spent here in London. The manicurist painstakingly hand painted each flag on my tiny nails from scratch. I was in awe!
Tada! After two hours of pampering, this is what I looked like.
What a lovely treat for all the moms who've toiled tirelessly to raise Olympians. This is a perfect and meaningful way to say Thank You Mom, don't you think?
P&G Proud Sponsor of Moms.