Olympic gymnast Jordyn Wieber (USA) (right) listens as her mother Rita Wieber (left) answers a question during the Procter & Gamble “thank you, mom” press conference featuring USA Olympic athletes and their mothers. (Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE)
By Pritha Sarkar
LONDON, July 29 (Reuters) – If Jordyn Wieber’s mother had freaked out and followed her maternal instincts after reading Joan Ryan’s grim expose on gymnastics, she would never have been on her “mom vacation” to see her daughter chase Olympic glory.
Ryan’s book was published in 1995, the same year Jordyn was born, and set off alarm bells for Rita Wieber the moment she realized her girl wanted to add her tiny footprints to the gymnastics walk of fame alongside Nadia Comaneci, Mary Lou Retton and Carly Patterson.
“I read a book when Jordyn was five, and just beginning gymnastics, called ‘Little Girls in Pretty Boxes’,” Rita told Reuters in an interview on the eve of her daughter’s Olympic debut for the United States at the London Games.
“It had a bunch of horror stories of injuries and anorexia and I was like ‘this will never apply to Jordyn because she’ll never be an elite gymnast’.
“As we went down that road I started to freak out about her doing the harder stuff. I remember when she was 10 I thought ‘ok I have veto power here right now to say no, you can’t do elite gymnastics at this age’.
“It was a hard decision because she was very young to try elite. She basically said ‘mom, I want this more than anything’. So I followed her lead,” added Rita who was given $1,000 by Olympic sponsors Procter and Gamble as part of their ‘Thank you Mom’ campaign.
“I got hit by a car while out running. You can’t keep your kids in a bubble and I realized I had to have faith in her coaches and faith in the safety of the equipment. It’s all you can do, to have faith in them and hope for the best.”
Her decision not to wrap her daughter up in cotton wool allowed Jordyn to undertake a journey which earned her the world all-around title in Tokyo last year and possibly make her an Olympic champion, as the 17-year-old is favorite to win the individual crown in London.
Rita got a glimpse of what her daughter’s life might be like as she sat next to Patterson during a glitzy promotional event this weekend, eyeing the Olympic rings the 2004 all-around champion has tattooed just above her left ankle.
But no matter what success or fame awaits, Rita can never turn a blind eye to the daily dangers Jordyn faces.
“I stopped watching practice. I couldn’t stand it … every time she’d fall or wobble, I’d be like ‘oh why did she do that? How come she’s falling from that?'” said Rita who works as a nurse, college lecturer and freelance writer.
“But you can’t beat it. They are going to fall. They’re not going to have every practice perfect. I decided not to watch because otherwise I’d let my mind go off and worry too much.
“Even to this day I don’t really relax till I know she’s done with practice and she made it through healthy. I always worry.
“Right now I have to wait till I see a Twitter or a Facebook sign that she’s made it through practice fine. Then I relax.”
Rita admits she will be “a hot mess” and “really nervous” watching her daughter compete in London but should anyone need any evidence where Jordyn gets her drive and focus to succeed, they need look no further than her mother.
“Three years ago I was out running and a gal, I don’t know if she was texting or what, but she wasn’t paying attention and she hit me going 40 miles an hour,” explained Rita.
“I had a flash of my life before my eyes. I ended up with a broken leg and a blown ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), a head injury, a chronic neck injury … but I was very fortunate I came through it.
“I had four surgeries and then ran a marathon 14 months later. It ended up ok but it made me realize how fast your life can change and how flukey things can happen that you were never expecting,” added Rita.
“The family all realized how fast life can change. Sometimes it takes something like that, to be a little scared, to appreciate each and every day and feel blessed for what you have.
“That’s why I honestly feel that no matter what happens at these Games, life’s going to go on and it’s going to be a great life for Jordyn.”