I've been keeping a secret from the Olympic Moms I've met since arriving in London this week. The big announcement was finally made last night at the big P&G Global Mom Moment Event. Fifty of the moms from all around the world who were brought to the Olympics by P&G were (finally) told that each of them would be going to the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics. OMG!! This is a huge gift for these moms who were already thrilled to have been flown in, given accommodations and tickets to their kids' events.
But to witness the opening ceremony? *wipes tears here* I had my camera ready to catch their expressions!
Sheila Findlay's daughter, superstar Canadian triathlete Paula is competing at the Olympics for the first time. When Sheila heard she and her husband Max would actually be there in person to watch their daughter for the Opening Ceremony, she just started bawling.
"I never imagined I would get tickets for this," she told me wiping away her tears. "I wouldn't even know where to start to even buy them. This is amazing!"
There is a little personal twist on this story. Sheila and I used to be roommates almost 30 years ago! Back then she was an elite rower living downstairs with her boyfriend and I was a rock chick on MuchMusic with a room on the main floor of the flat. We lead totally different lives. I thought she was nuts for getting up at 6am to work out and spending all her time exercising.
After a year or so, we went our separate ways....
...Until I saw her walk by me in the hotel lobby here in London thirty years later!
"Sheila?" I called out to her. She turned around! And that's when it hit me. The young superstar triathlete Paula Findlay everyone was talking about was Sheila's daughter!!! There were hugs, tears, and a quick catch up. Last night we sat down after she heard the good news about her tickets, so I could hear her story.
Sheila married neurosurgeon Max and moved to Edmonton. She had three kids, Paula was the eldest. Sheila stayed home with the kids while her husband practiced medicine. Sheila schlepped all three kids to swimming lessons regularly, but none of them enjoyed it. In fact, Paula was only interested in dance. So, for eleven years Sheila was a dancer's mom, stuck with the unfamiliar task of fancy hairdos, frilly costumes, and stage makeup. Then one day, as Sheila puts it, "it just clicked." Paula started asking to be taken to the pool. A lot.
At 17 she had her first big race at the World Championships. But disaster struck when she her bike tire went flat. Sheila found her in a tent sobbing uncontrollably. She couldn't find the right words to console her daughter. Instead, she just lay down beside her and let her grieve.
But in retrospect Sheila thinks losing this race was a blessing in disguise. It allowed Paula time to get back to university, study, train and be ready for her next big competitions down the road—which she aced. Paula was ready for the big time.
I had to ask Sheila if she pushed her daughter into becoming an elite athlete, knowing how important sport was in her own life. Sheila laughed and explained it is impossible to push a child to train. It has to be the other way around; the child has to pull the parents and let them know how far she is ready to push herself. And, very quickly, Sheila had to relinquish all training to her daughter's coach, even though it ate her up inside. Having been an elite athlete herself, Sheila understands there is a sacred bond between an athlete and a coach which a parent can't interrupt.
Her job was to be there, always. First as chauffeur, chef, confidante, and number one supporter. She was also responsible for fundraising, a necessary evil for all competitive athletes. Her club in Edmonton required Sheila to work bingos—every year she was responsible for working 22 Bingo games to support her daughter's training.
And she continues to be there for her daughter, albeit long distance, as Paula now trains in Victoria.
"That's the most important job for a mom of an Olympian," explained Sheila. "It's easy when they're successful. But when they stop doing well, that's the hard part of a mom's job. It wasn't just me that contributed to her success, but I've been the constant all along. Her friends, coach, sponsors will come and go, but your Mom will always be there."
Here's a video produced by P&G featuring Sheila's tale of Raising an Olympian. *Warning: You WILL cry.
P&G Proud Sponsor of Moms.