Saturday, June 7, 2008

Lasting Images from Beijing - Part 12

What Is a Parent To Do?

During the pressure-packed Olympic 10K Marathon Swim qualification race, live updates were posted from the Beijing venue and viewed by thousands of people in the open water swimming community. Because the qualification race was not televised or streamed online, friends, fans, teammates, coaches and family members read the real-time Twitter updates on their computers or mobile phones over the course of the 2-hour race.

Imagine the worry of a parent when waiting for these live updates. What is a mother thinking? While Chloe Sutton was trying to qualify for the 2008 Olympics in China, her parents were in Southern California waiting anxiously to hear the results of the qualification race.

So what did David and Wendy Sutton do?

They went out for a Mexican dinner (the race started on a Friday at 6 pm PT). Before leaving the house, Wendy sneaked a peek at the first few updates and knew the athletes were heading to the start. “My stomach sank,” recalled Wendy.

David, motioning her to the car, said "C’mon, let’s go, please don't torture yourself.”

At the restaurant, they ordered and then waited in silence, both lost deep in their own thoughts and fears. The bread basket came, then drinks and then the main course. The first half of dinner was quiet as they wondered what was going on in Beijing. They knew Chloe and her competitors must be in the second half of their race by now.

Suddenly, the phone rang and Wendy jumped. Chloe’s 72-year-old father was on the line with an update. “Chloe’s in the lead,” he explained calmly.

But the update did not result in relief – just additional anxiety. As they pecked away at their main course, a close friend called with another update. The lead pack was on their third loop of four and Chloe was just behind the leader. “I was glad she was drafting and resting, but I still worried,” said Wendy smiling as she recalled the moment. “But David knew I needed a margarita – even thought it has been years.”

Another call came before the margarita was served. The update was from Chloe's aunt. “Chloe has a strong lead," she screamed into the phone. Wendy couldn’t wait any longer, so she called Chloe’s coach, Bill Rose of the Mission Viejo Nadadores. “Have you heard where her competition is?” asked Wendy as she repeated the information provided by Chloe’s grandfather and aunt to Bill

“On the last lap, Chloe fed and is looking strong,” relayed Wendy to Bill who was still on the phone. “Don't count your chickens just yet”, counseled Bill, causing Wendy to turn pale. “My husband got me a second margarita and I have never had two. I just had to hear what was going on during the final lap.”

There would be no ordering of dessert that evening. Wendy and David simply worked the phones and set up a daisy chain among family and friends. While Wendy’s friend from Sacramento and Chloe’s grandfather dad kept updating her about the final lap, David was on the phone with his sister who was concurrently on two phones updating their four other brothers and sisters and Chloe’s paternal grandmother. The stress was unrelenting as the race neared its climax.

Around the last turn buoy, Chloe built up an insurmountable lead, but the tension was still apparent in the airways among Chloe’s family and friends sprinkled around the country.

400 meters to go. 200 meters to go. Chloe was entering the final finish chute.

When the live update came through that Chloe hit the touch pads to win the gold, cheers and yells were being relayed across dozens of phone lines.

The moral of the story?

One’s child can be a half a world away, but with modern technology, parents can feel like they are right there in the same venue.

And, Chloe will be swimming the Olympic 10K finals on August 19th at 6 pm PT. Stay tuned!

PHOTO: Kirsten Groome on left and Chloe Sutton on right before qualification race in Beijing.

Copyright © 2008 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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