Fueled by Family

Moms Doing It All

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s any mom can attest, parenthood is the trickiest balancing act of all time—and making it to the gym can seem like an impossible feat. But when you are an elite athlete competing for your country, ditching workouts isn't an option. These three women aren't just gold star moms: they are all also gold medalists! Here they share with PEOPLE what it's like to juggle sports with sippy cups.

Kristine Lilly

Soccer star and three-time medalist Kristine Lilly did not compete in the 2008 Games in Beijing because she had more important things to attend to: being a new mom to her daughter Sidney, who was born on July 22, Lilly’s birthday. She and her husband David Heavey welcomed their second daughter Jordan in September 2011.

When you’re an elite athlete, you learn to prioritize. When you're playing, your sport is your child. Now, of course, my children are the most important thing to me. I prioritize them over everything else.

In 2008 when I got pregnant, I kept training into my eighth month. I wasn’t doing high intensity stuff, but I was still on the treadmill walking fast on an incline. What happens to your body when you have a baby is crazy! I think I ate better when I was pregnant because you’re taking care of another person. You make sure you’re doing things right: constantly moving and finding time to eat, rest and stay hydrated. That was so important.

When Sidney was a baby, she’d be sleeping in the stroller and I’d be out there running my sprints. My husband was awesome when I was playing, and so were his parents and mine. We’d have someone watch her while I was at practice. When I'd travel without them, the separation was hard. Every moment is so important to you when they’re babies (even though kids don’t remember anything from when they’re that little!).

I'd tell the moms competing in Rio to go for it. Keep going after things. If you have the dream, you can do it. And don’t worry. The kids are going to be fine. All you need to do is go out and do your best. I think my kids are pretty proud. I hope they are!

Lisa Fernandez

During her interview, her eldest son, Antonio, 10, (her youngest, Cruz, is 3) entered the room and proudly proclaimed, “My mom is better than your mom.” He has ample reason to think that: Fernandez is a three-time gold medalist and played both basketball and softball in college while working towards a psychology degree.

I decided to have kids later on so I could stay in the game, be a role model, and represent my country. There were definitely times when I was traveling and I was going to be gone for two days and I was like, "Ugh, gosh." Those times of indecision and guilt were hard, but I do take being a role model very personally and I felt it was important to share my experiences with others.

But I was fortunate. Ever since Antonio has been able to travel, he traveled with me and the national team and my mom and a close family friend would alternate coming on the road with us. I would not be able to do what I did as a mom without their support. Antonio is so proud now. He's not shy about who his mom is. He's my number one publicist. He’ll brag until forever if he could.

For moms competing in Rio, I’d say, "There’s a time and place for everything. You can do it all and you do not have to choose. And you’re a great role model." When kids see mothers accomplishing goals and dreams, that teaches them. I think it’s important that kids see their moms striving to achieve. It’s important that they know their moms have passions. Sports definitely has had an influence on my approach to motherhood. There are non-physical things that the game has taught me that I look to instill in my boys—a mentality that I believe people who are successful in life have.

Jenny Potter

Four-time medalist Jenny Schmidgall-Potter is used to blazing trails. In 2010, she was the only mother on the US team that won a silver medal in Vancouver. Here she talks about the challenge and privilege of raising her biggest fans: her daughter Madison, 15, and son Cullen, 9.

I had my daughter when I was a sophomore in college. I had her in January and training camp started in March or April. I probably only put on 25 pounds after her, so I only had to lose 10 or 15 to get back in shape and ready for the Olympics. But with Cullen, I put on way too much—maybe 60 pounds. That time it was hard getting back in shape, but I got there. I trained super hard. I remember my doctor said something like, "It took you 10 months to get that way, so it’s probably going to take you 10 months to get back.” I didn't want to hear that! But both times I got there.

It was extremely challenging balancing motherhood with training, but I had a lot of help. I took my kids everywhere. They’d skate or play around when I’d be skating. I never sent them to daycare once. My parents and my husband’s grandparents were great helping watch the children. The kids got to know their grandparents really well and had a great relationship. And watching me, I think, taught them about working hard. They got to see what it takes.

With children, you ask yourself: “How do you help your kids handle failure? How do you teach them to be a good person?” Well, when you’re humble and kind to your opponent, you learn about that. Coming through a loss and learning to deal with that teaches you. Sports teach discipline. We try to lead by example. My husband and I eat healthy and live clean lives so that the kids learn this is how you live well. My children got to see first-hand how hard I had to work to pursue my athletic goals. They learned that pursuing a worthwhile dream is not an easy journey. Me and my husband have always tried to be the best role models that we can be for our kids and I think that even though they are young, they appreciate that if you want to be your best, an indomitable spirit and work ethic goes a long way to making that happen.

I always tell my kids, "Don’t leave anything to chance. Always do your best in everything. If you do, you’ll be successful at something. But if you don’t, you’ll never know.” I think my daughter could’ve been an unbelievable hockey player, but I never pushed her and her path went towards swimming. She just missed the Trials. She’s like, “Mom, you know how much you love hockey? That's how I feel about swimming.” She wants to win her own medals. I try to remind her that the people who make it are usually the ones who are willing to do all the things—all the hard work—that no one else will.

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