Eira’s depth of experience within youth sport and supporting her own family members means that she is ideally and uniqually placed to offer a incredibly insightul and powerful letter to us, enjoy.
Dear Sporting Parent,
I have a story to tell you, about loss, setback, pain and disappointment; be sure to get right to the end and see how it all pans out.
In the 80s, my now husband was living his dream, rowing as part of the GB team. There was no lottery funding, athletes funded themselves. The pinnacle of any rower’s career is the Olympic Games and he was selected as part of the Seoul 1988 rowing team. Beforehand, life took an unexpected turn and he and his first wife welcomed a son into the world. Without funding, he knew that this Olympics would be his first and last, family life was calling.
His crew raced their hearts out and finished fourth. Disappointed, they arrived at the landing stages to come in. My husband was met by the team manager who had the terrible task of telling him that his mother had died of a massive heart attack a few days earlier, on the eve of her 50th birthday. The decision had been taken to keep the news from him until after their final so that he could focus. He was whisked off to the airport and flown home.
He was 23. Fast forward many years – three more children, divorce and re-marriage (to me). Three of my stepchildren tried rowing, along with many other sports, but only one fell in love with it and chose to pursue it. Gone were the days of self-funding for elite athletes and lottery grants were in place. My stepson was working through age-group international rowing, having raced at Junior and Under 23 World Championships. It was 2015, and he was looking like a candidate for Team GB at the Rio Olympics. In fact, unbeknownst to him, we had already booked flights and accommodation in Rio.
That August, he was on training camp with the senior team when his boat had a head on collision with the men’s eight. He was rushed to hospital in Lisbon where he was discovered to have fractured 5 vertebrae and extensively damaged muscle tissue. We had an anxious 24 hours waiting to hear if he would walk again. Meanwhile, my stepson, ever the pragmatist, was googling the classification for racing at the Paralympics. Why am I telling you this?
What was the upshot of the years of setback? The upshot was resilience. As parents we often try to protect our children from disappointment or catastrophe, but they are an important part of the journey. “I’ve never met a strong person with an easy past.” the saying goes, and never a truer word was spoken. So did all the heartache amount to anything? Yes, yes it did. My stepson, the Tokyo Olympic silver medalist. Brave, bold, gutsy racing paid off. And years and years of mistakes, setbacks, loss, pain and disappointment went into one silver moment. So embrace the sporting rollercoaster, sit with the pain….you never know where it might take you and your child!
Eira Parry is the founder of the organisation High Performance Parenting. Having been a coach for British Rowing for many years, Eira could see that there was a vital need for a support service for parents of young athletes. Eira works with parents and athletes across many different sports and at every level. She believes passionately that sport can be a force for good, teaching young people valuable life lessons, but that it should also be fun, for athletes, coaches and parents alike.
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