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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