There's a reason Olympic athletes mouth the words, "Thanks, Mom" into the cameras as they hold their medals aloft. Mothers spend countless hours waiting, watching, driving and cheering them on and they spend a small fortune on tournament fees, coaching, travel and sports equipment. Being the mom of an Olympic athlete is truly an Olympic-worthy effort.
While U.S. Olympic sponsor, Procter & Gamble, may not be the first to recognize the unsung heroes behind the athletes, they are the first to award Team USA moms with their own Olympic sponsorships.
Miriam Chu, proud mother of the U.S. Women's Ice Hockey co-captain and two-time medal-winning Olympian Julie Chu (pictured above), was one of 200 mothers (or other significant persons) to receive a P&G sponsorship. "P&G found out there were some moms who weren't going to be able to travel (to the games). They gave us preloaded debit cards to use on whatever we needed," says Chu. Some mothers, she says, have been working two or three jobs to be able to afford to attend the games and see their child compete.
"We were shocked when we found out there were some moms who couldn't get there," says P&G marketing director, Janet Fletcher. The inspiration for the sponsorships and the company's "Thanks, Mom" campaign was a result of seeing the "real link between our products and the athletes." P&G's more than 300 brands, including Tide, Pampers, Bounty, Charmin, Pringles, Duracell, Downey, "help mom's lives every day," says Fletcher. Another selling point: the Olympic games are the number one sports event watched by women. "Mothers use the games as inspiration, and teaching moments for their children. You can say 'see what happens with perseverance?'," says Fletcher, who is also a mother.
P&G worked closely with the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) to identify the moms most in need, and then presented the "Thanks, Mom" gifts using USOC guidelines for use on travel expenses, accommodations, or related costs. "We were thrilled they thought so much of us," says Chu who admits the road to the Olympic Village is an expensive one.
The High Cost of Raising an Athlete
Although it's difficult to estimate the costs of raising an elite athlete over the years, Chu says the total is easily in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. "As she got better, there was more travel," she says. Usually, Chu would accompany her daughter and stay as long as a week for a tournament. Sometimes, the entire family would fly out to attend. Among the destinations were Sweden, Finland (twice), and China. "You could spend $4,000 to 5,000 dollars a week," says Chu.
"It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years, but I knew I was going to do whatever I had to make sure he followed his dream," told MSN Money.
Olympic gold winning gymnast Shawn Johnson's parents mortgaged their house twice to allow her to train and compete.
Julie Chu's Road to the Olympics
Chu worked hard because she knew her daughter had "a big dream." Years ago, when eight-year old Julie Chu picked ice hockey over figure skating, girls didn't have their own teams -- let alone a chance at the Olympics. Yet, it did not deter young Julie. Chu recently received an email from her daughter's former soccer coach, "He said he remembers when Julie was 11, she stood on the soccer field and told him she was going to go to the Olympics...for ice hockey. Her dream has come true three times."
As the only girl on boy's triple-A hockey teams, Chu's daughter would tell the coach she didn't want any special treatment. "She said, I want to earn my spot."
In her third Olympic experience, Julie Chu is still earning her spot. The skater is one of five Crest & Oral B-sponsored athletes who will be highlighted for their winning smiles during the games (for an ice hockey player that too is an accomplishment.) In addition to sponsoring Chu, the Crest & Oral B "Smile with U.S." campaign will donate $10,000 to Chu's hometown of Fairfield, CT for the school district's health and physical education program. "The whole town is behind her," her mother says.
After playing hockey for almost twenty years, Chu said she is still motivated, by her love of the game. "I get to play a game I love and represent my country," says Chu. The dream and the glory are not without sacrifices, however, both personal and financial.
Chu admits to putting aside her social life at times, and stepping down from a coaching job she loved at University of Minnesota to pursue her goals. Financial sacrifices are also significant, but Chu doesn't believe that should be a reason to give up. "There are a lot of resources out there -grants, sponsorships... I've been very fortunate to have P&G as a sponsor...but there are other resources out there and other ways to make do."
Advice for Parents of Aspiring Olympic Athletes
Her mother's advice to fellow parents of an Olympic hopeful: "First, start saving money," she says laughing. "Second, let the child follow their dream. I tried to get her into figure skating, but that didn't work. I've found they always do better when it's something they're interested in; and of course, just be there -to support them."
It's an idea P&G took to heart when they developed commercials for their "Thanks, Mom" advertising campaign. One commercial in particular, carries the tagline: "To their moms, they'll always be kids." The ad, which depicts young kids in the roles of their adult counterparts participating at the Olympic games, used Junior Olympic athletes. "They are naturals," says Fletcher, "because they have already been doing it for years."
Pass the tissue, I dare you to watch it without crying.
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