Carmen Rasmusen Herbert: Passing the torch: Parents of Olympians live their dreams

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 25 2014 4:55 p.m. MST

J.R. Celski of the United States competes in a men's 1000m short track speedskating heat during the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Darron Cummings, Associated Press

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Watching the Sochi Olympics was a surprisingly emotional thing for me this year. My husband and I recorded the primetime events and watched them at night after the kids were asleep. It was so fun to watch American favorites. It’s exhilarating to see them win a medal, devastating when they don’t.

One of my favorite things to do is watch the Olympians' families in the audience. I love seeing the faces of the parents as their children succeed and their tears of joy — or heartbreak — when they fall just short. But no matter the outcome, they are bursting with pride and love for their children.

A few weeks ago, NBC aired the special “How to Raise an Olympian.”

Moms of athletes such as slopestyle skiier Nick Goepper, speedskater J.R. Celski and Alpine skier Mikaela Shiffin told their stories and a little about what it’s like to be a parent of an Olympian.

“Often it’s mom who sees that first spark of talent and nurtures it,” said host Meredith Vieira.

I’ve often thought about that responsibility. Do I recognize my boys’ talents, and am I encouraging them to develop those talents? Will I have the ability to invest in their interests?

I want my children to live the fullest life possible. I want them to do even bigger things than I did. I absolutely want them to take on the world.

Most importantly, I want them to know I will always, through successes and failures, believe in them.

“Everyone lets their kids go. You have to. I just let mine go a little bit sooner than normal,” said Linda Goepper, who let her son go off to ski camp at age 14.

She explained the financial hardships that had plagued their family a few years back, and the difficulty of facing the reality that they would probably not be able to help Nick achieve his dreams.

“Should I tell him that it’s not very realistic? Or should I just let him believe that he could actually do that?” she said.

She chose to let him believe.

My mom did the same, back in 2002 when I wanted to try out for a TV show called “American Idol.” What were the chances of me actually making it? Somewhere around 1 in 125,000.

But she believed. So I believed.

I believe a mother’s faith and confidence can make miracles happen in the lives of her children. I believe her absolute, unwavering vote of confidence and constant support make her children work harder, practice longer, stand taller and believe stronger.

“Things don’t just come to you. You have to work hard and go out there and get them,” Sue Celski said.

J.R. Celski's career was almost ended after a terrible injury during a 2010 event. He fell and bounced off a wall. His skate lodged into his thigh and sliced his leg, barely missing an artery by an inch.

“He looked up at me and said, ‘Mommy, it’s over,’ and I said, ‘J.R., no. It’s not over. You’re going to be fine,’ ” Sue Celski said.

And he made a miraculous recovery and is competing once again.

“My mom was the backbone, you know. Because of her, I never doubted myself,” J.R. said.

Our parents are the ones in the stands with the biggest smiles on their faces. They are the ones embarrassing us with the loudest yells, the highest screams, the silliest signs, the cheesiest cheers and more love than we could ever imagine.

There will come a point when there is a sort of “passing of the torch,” when I let go of some of my dreams and let my children achieve theirs — and, in a beautiful way, their dreams will also become mine. And it will be enough to sit in the stands. It will be enough to cheer them on.

It will be enough to watch them live and dream and believe.

Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.

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