The full range of female athletes on the 2008 Olympic teams makes it clear that age and family responsibilities are not the barriers to participation in the Games they used to be. Stories from Beijing highlight the courage and resolve of the mothers of the world – as they demonstrate their athletic prowess and win gold or silver medals.
Significant are the 20 mothers on the USA Olympic team, including past medalists – swimmer Dara Torres, basketball player Lisa Leslie, and softball player, Jennie Finch. Dara Torres stands out as a role model for any mother wondering if it is too late to begin again. Now age 41, she began participating in the Olympics twenty-four years ago, swimming in the 1984, 1988, 1992 and 2000 Games. Retiring, getting married and wanting to start a family, she skipped the 2004 Games and had a child two years ago. Swimming for fitness after the birth of her daughter, Tessa, she thought she was done with competitive swimming. But she found that her times were better than ever.
Eight long years after her last Olympics, Dara marched in the Beijing opening ceremonies with 9 medals to her credit, the most of any USA athlete in these Games. Swimming in individual and relay team competition, she won 3 silver medals, losing gold in the freestyle individual event by only one one-hundredth of a second. She now can now be proud of a record 12 Olympic medals in her career – so far! Asked “what will you tell your daughter about your record at this Olympics,” Dara said, “You don’t have to put an age limit on your dreams.”
Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania, a 38-year-old mother of a 13-year old son, was the triumphant gold medal winner of the women’s marathon in Beijing. Four years ago in Athens she had to relinquish her dreams of an Olympic medal at mile 20 due to heat exhaustion. But even then she did not completely quit. She walked for a mile – then started running again, coming in 20th in the 2004 competition. This time she was determined to win the race. She practiced and practiced in hot weather, firmly focused on avoiding another injury. Learning from her past failure, Constantina refused to give up on her dreams and worked hard to achieve her goal of Olympic gold.
Another mother, 33-year-old Oksana Chusovitina, took the silver medal for Germany in individual women’s vault. Older than most of the other gymnasts by ten years, Oksana had participated in four previous Olympics, representing the former Soviet Union and winning a team gold. What brought her to Germany at this stage of her career? For the past 6 years her 9-year-old son, Alisher, has been treated there for leukemia. When he was first diagnosed, Oksana could not get help for him in her native Uzbekistan. Not one to be stopped by the challenges she faced, she and her husband moved to Germany to train while Alisher was in treatment. Oksana demonstrates her commitment to family by competing for Germany in Beijing.
If you’ve ever questioned whether you’re too old to reach your goals, you can learn a lesson from these athletes and mothers. It’s never too late to challenge yourself. With maturity, drive and focus, you can achieve your dreams. As Dara Torres said, “To me, if it helps anyone else out there who is in their middle-aged years, putting off something they couldn’t do because they thought they were too old or maybe because they had a child, they thought they couldn’t balance things as a parent – if it shows anyone you can do it, I’m absolutely thrilled.”
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