I love sports. More yet, I love stories about the athletes that define sports. Many fans cheer for their favorite teams as an escape from the real world. I'm the opposite. I often find some of the most encouraging signs of life coming from the very real and human athletes that are the spirit of competition.
Take Michael Phelps as an example. Over the last week, tens of millions of spectators around the world have watched him become the winningest athlete in the 112 year history of the modern olympics. On the surface, this is a story about a pile of gold medals. It is about one athlete surpassing the accomplishments of another. In swimming his way to 8 gold medals, Phelps passed Mark Spitz's 7 golds won in the 1972 Summer Olympics. Those are the first olympics I recall with any clarity, most likely because of the fanfare associated with what Spitz did. In much the same way, I am certain Phelps has created olympic memories that will stick with many of today's children for years to come.
But digging into the Phelps story, you will find more than aquatic greatness. You will find a story about the power of parenting. You will find a story about a kid diagnosed with ADHD that splashed water in the face of many who believed he was destined for far less than greatness.
His mother recently did an interview with the New York Times that is very revealing about Phelps and his struggles growing up. It is an inspirational story about a single mother committed to helping a child succeed against what many believed were long odds. Read the full story by clicking here Phelps - New York Times
In one part of the story his mom describes her son's troubles in kindergarten. As he entered public school, he displayed what his teachers called “immature” behavior. “In kindergarten I was told by his teacher, ‘Michael can’t sit still, Michael can’t be quiet, Michael can’t focus,’ ” recalled Ms. Phelps, who was herself a teacher for 22 years. The family had recently moved, and she felt Michael might be frustrated because the kindergarten curriculum he was getting in the new district was similar to the pre-K curriculum in their old district. “I said, maybe he’s bored,” Ms. Phelps recalled saying to his teacher. “Her comment to me — ‘Oh, he’s not gifted.’ I told her I didn’t say that, and she didn’t like that much. I was a teacher myself so I didn’t challenge her, I just said, ‘What are you going to do to help him?’ ”
After writing the post a couple of days ago about identifying gifted toddlers, I couldn't help but smile when I read the teacher's comment. I guess if it turns out Elliott isn't gifted, there is still a chance he possesses a gift or two of his own that may be more difficult to detect.
I admire the efforts of this single mother and her efforts to make sure her children were successful. I've written frequently about the challenges kids face absent a father. I don't know exactly how absent Phelp's father was, but you get the impression he was pretty invisible. I contend that most kids of single parents suffer because that one parent becomes overwhelmed by the responsibility and to some degree gives up. I don't have a hard time understanding that. But there are those parents that rise up to that challenge - this mom is one of them.
Elliott has a caring mom himself. She will always be looking for the best in him and I feel for the person that ever suggests he is capable of anything less. Mom and son have had a great summer of education. From identifying the birds on the front lawn in their bird book to endless trips to the library, Elliott has had his own personal tutor. You can tell it will be a tough transition when he starts daycare in a couple of weeks. I don't think the newness of daycare will bother him as much as missing the old days of him and mom. Take heart, another summer will soon be here, along with a brother to share it with.