In Mom’s own words: How to raise an Olympic athlete

By Rachel Walker | Jan 23, 2014

Few of the athletes converging at the XXII Olympic games in Sochi next month got there without nurturing and support from their family. That got us at Epic Moms thinking: what does it take to raise an athlete of that caliber? Sure, there’s natural talent, the winning of the genetic lottery. But is there something more? We asked, moms answered. The takeaway? If you want to raise a world class athlete, do the following: Kill your television. Don’t let them quit. Get out of the way. Offer support when the going gets rough. Keep it fun. But don’t just take our word for it. In the next few days, we are going to run interviews with moms of upcoming competitors. Today we hear from Diana Herman:

Diana Herman, mom of Keri Herman, member of the first U.S. Olympic Slopestyle team and Breckenridge-sponsored skier.

Keri and Diana Herman enjoy spring break in Vail circa 1980-something. Photo courtesy: Diana Herman

Keri and Diana Herman enjoy spring break in Vail circa 1980-something. Photo courtesy: Diana Herman

At age 31, Keri Herman is one of the oldest athletes in her field, a reality that’s cost her sponsors in recent years, despite her impressive number of wins. A Minnesota native, Herman played competitive hockey throughout her childhood and only got serious about skiing when she matriculated at the University of Denver. There she spent her free time in the mountains and discovered her talent for boosting off of jumps, throwing tricks in the air, and hitting rails. She entered her first competition on a lark and won it. What followed were more wins, a semester off so she could live and ski in Breckenridge, and the decision to turn pro following graduation. She officially qualified for the first ever U.S. Olympic Freeskiing team earlier this month. Keri is on the Epic Pro Team and is sponsored by Breckenridge Resort. Her mom is her biggest fan.

As a toddler, Keri was always energetic. When she was really little, we had giant evergreens next to our house, and often I would go outside to look for her, and there she’d be, right up at the top.

When our kids were little, we didn’t let them watch TV. Our neighbors used to ask us to let them watch more TV because they were out throwing rocks in the road, but that didn’t change our mind.

Don’t sit in front of the TV. That is a waste of time

I can’t say I ever thought Keri was a better athlete than others. We just encouraged her to do the best she could at whatever she did and not quit or give up. And to be humble.

She was a good skier right off the bat. We’d throw the kids in ski school on our spring break trips to Vail, and they came back having learned all sorts of bad words—and some skills. We got the kids season passes to Highland Hill—our local area where you can get from top to bottom. They practically owned that place.

Mother and daughter share the Olympic dream before Keri qualified for the U.S. Freeskiing team.

Mother and daughter share the Olympic dream before Keri qualified for the U.S. Freeskiing team.

Sports were important to keep the kids busy and out of trouble. We had them try a lot of things to find out what they liked. Soccer was a no-go. We enrolled them in all kinds of things. Golf school. We always made them follow through.

Keri learned to finish what she started. If she didn’t like it we wouldn’t make her repeat it. But there was no quitting mid-stream.

Yes I get scared! Up until a few years ago, Keri would call and say, ‘I landed a switch-540!’ and I thought it sounded terrible. Or I would see her jumping over a semi truck and think, ‘I never said that was OK.’

But when I saw her doing those tricks in person, I just saw the beauty.

Keri Herman competes during the women's slopestyle event at the U.S. Freeskiing Grand Prix in Park City, Utah. Herman finished second and secured a spot on the Sochi-bound U.S. Olympic team. Photo: Gene Sweeney Jr., Getty Images

Keri Herman competes during the women’s slopestyle event at the U.S. Freeskiing Grand Prix in Park City, Utah. Herman finished second and secured a spot on the Sochi-bound U.S. Olympic team. Photo: Gene Sweeney Jr., Getty Images

I never mention how afraid I am for her. I don’t ask very many questions. She runs her own show. And I am her biggest fan.

I pray a lot.

This is her passion. It is what drives her.

From an early age, she held jobs. When she went away to college, we paid tuition but she paid her expenses for whatever extras there were. She has always been really frugal. She’s good with numbers. You want an example? She saved up and paid her way to New Zealand to train.

There were a lot of times when things didn’t go great and Keri was disappointed. We told her in the long run she would learn from the adversity and it would make her better. We told her to see setbacks as an opportunity.

Keri’s got so much energy that she acts like she’s not serious, even though she is very, very serious. She can come off as a goofball.

When she said she was going to be a pro skier, I rolled my eyes and said, ‘really?’ Her dad said go for it: this is your passion. Every step of the way it’s been, ‘Oh my gosh are you kidding? You won money for that?’

Family bonds run tight in the Herman family, with both Mom and Dad encouraging Keri to follow her passion.

Family bonds run tight in the Herman family, with both Mom and Dad encouraging Keri to follow her passion.

I am in awe of her.

She’s not doing this for the fame or the money. Heck, she was cut by a major sponsor last December and was afraid she’d have to go back to waitressing to pay the bills. She’s doing this because she loves it

I wouldn’t say she has sacrificed anything.

As a parent, it’s hard because you raise them to be independent, and then you are frustrated with how independent they are! But Keri’s a great person with good values. She really is the happiest person I know and that is what you want for your kids.
Raising an Olympic athlete was never the point. It was always to raise a good kid.

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