For most Olympians, sport is a family affair. In my case, my dream began as a young girl when I first saw images of Olympic athletes bouncing off the pages of a magazine. That dream stayed in my heart but it took endless support from my family and a lot of hours in the family sedan as a young girl from the Prairies to become a world class skier.
Never before have I shed so many tears during an Olympic Games as I did while in Sochi as a CBC moguls analyst. Even though I’m retired from the sport, my heart beat faster every time I saw the athletes struggle for excellence and put their everything into one Olympic moment.
But this was the first time I understood what goes into raising a child who gets to the Games. As a new mom, I spend all day captivated by my nine-month-old son. So the family sacrifice required for a child to live their dream of becoming an Olympian is more tangible to me than ever.
Over the past few months, I have pored over articles, videos and biographies, and conducted interviews with athletes and parents as I prepared for my role with CBC. The mogul athletes performed in spectacular fashion, winning four medals in the discipline, but it is the story of the athletes’ families that has stayed with me.
Speaking with the parents of Mikael Kingsbury, Julie and Robert, just hours before the action began, it seemed that the Olympic experience can be far less enjoyable for the parents than the athletes. The stress level is tremendous and there is nothing for a parent to do at that point but to sit back and watch.
In Sochi, Mikael finished second to Alex Bilodeau in men’s moguls. Mikael’s determination and steadfastly cool manner under pressure is other-worldly.
I will always remember what Julie told me at the bottom of the hill as her son’s Olympic dream was about to unfold: She wished for only one thing and that was for her son’s satisfaction in his efforts when he crossed the finish line on his final run.
I thought that was a beautiful approach to parenting no matter what challenge a child chooses to take on.
As I walked over to the Bilodeau family at the bottom of the mountain that day, they looked equally as nervous as the Kingsbury family as they stood near the finish line waiting for the competition to begin. The Bilodeau family needs no introduction to Canadians after Alex won gold in front of Canada and his biggest fan, his brother Frédéric, in Vancouver 2010. It was heartwarming to see the entire family, including his brother, had made the long trip to Sochi to cheer Alex on. As I saw Frédéric’s big smile as he looked up the hill in anticipation, I was overcome by the love that this family shares for one another.
Finally, the Dufour-Lapointe parents looked the calmest of all. Perhaps it was because Johane Dufour and Yves Lapointe had already experienced a remarkable victory of having all three daughters become Olympian skiers.
Weeks prior, I asked Johane how they managed as a family with the three girls competing against one another. She shared the memory of driving home from competitions with the three girls in the car along with a range of emotions based on the outcome of the day. But in the same breath she insisted that it was never difficult because the girls always knew that they were sisters first and competitors second.
Beating one’s own limits is the only thing celebrated in the Dufour-Lapointe household. The family has struck the difficult and delicate balance of being your best in a competition against your sisters while uplifting one another.
The Olympic gold and silver medals won by Justine and Chloé are a remarkable family achievement. But in my mind, the greatest victory in their story is the values that have been instilled in the girls that they will continue to live by long after the thrill of the Olympics is over.
Jennifer Heil is a humanitarian and an Olympic gold and silver medalist in the sport of freestyle mogul skiing. She is the co-founder of B2ten and has raised over a million dollars for the Because I am a Girl initiative. One of her passions is inspiring fellow Canadians to get active and live healthy and confident lives. You can follow her on Twitter @jennheil.