They can’t legally vote, but they just became Olympic champions in Pyeongchang. Chloe Kim and Red Gerard, two 17-year-old wunderkinds, won gold medals in the women’s halfpipe and men’s slopestyle events, respectively. For those of you who haven’t been glued to NBC, these two kiddos are now the “The future of snowboarding.”
And the sport is experiencing a full-on youth movement on a national scale. According to NBC’s 2018 U. S. Olympic Snowboarding roster, eight of the 16 members can’t buy alcohol yet. So how is it that these incredibly-young Americans are redefining the sport? What kind of milk are they drinking to make them such incredible athletes? The reality is it has less to do with what they’re eating and everything to do with who’s feeding them.
As a competitive athlete myself, I’ve watched countless young rookies challenge the notion that seasoned, professional athletes reign supreme. “Kids” rise to the occasion by outperforming elder competitors, whom, often, appear to be physically superior. But a common pattern exists that yields success in these young athletes: a strong mental game nourished by an incredible support system.
Chloe Kim and Red Gerard embody the “nothing to lose, everything to gain” attitude, wholly developed by an awesome home life. Their parents eliminated negative energy from pretty much every facet of their lives from training to competition to free play. Which, in turn, created a fearlessness that allows them to easily win the mental game athletes face in that crucial, pre-run moment.
So this turn toward younger athletes in snowboarding isn’t just a product of rad kids who dare to dream, but even more so, parents who cooked drove, cheered, coached, patched up bruises, and told their kids, “you can do it.”
You can see the confidence instilled in both Kim and Gerard with the way they handle the press in such casual fashion, and sometimes even turn the tables. Gerard, who has played the part of interview host for Snowboarder magazine on its video productions, happily recalled his family “slamming beers,” in celebration of his Olympic moment during a post-event news conference, while Kim Tweeted about wanting ice cream in between her qualifying runs. Neither lacks confidence. And both carry themselves like they were raised by good families. Chloe’s father actually quit his job in order to drive his daughter 6-hours from Torrence to Mammoth, just so she could practice in good snow conditions. And 18 members of the Gerard clan journeyed from Colorado to South Korea to watch Red compete (…and to shotgun beers).
The fearless attitude of Chloe Kim and Red Gerard is something that both groms and gromettes should emulate and parents should encourage. Success stories of young athletes inspire millions of other adolescent Americans to get up, get out, and get shredding—and that parents should help them do it (and shred with them).
Personally, I credit most of my athletic accomplishments to my mother, who would wake up in the middle of the night to drive her daughter 40 miles to swim practice at 5:30 AM. She taught me to be strong, be determined, and live fearlessly. There is no way I’d be a Division 1 athlete without her.
Somewhere in an American living room, a 12-year old girl watched Kim through a television screen. As Kim beamed from the top of the podium, clutching an American flag, the little girl in front of the screen started to believe that maybe, one day, that could be her. And hopefully, her parents are there to help make it happen.