Gold Medal Dad: Andy Memmel
It's one thing to coach an Olympic athlete, and it's another to be a parent of an Olympic athlete -- now imagine what it's like to be both. Andy Memmel, father and coach to Chellsie Memmel, is about to watch his daughter go for the gold in gymnastics at the Sumer Olympis in Beijing this August. He talked to us about what it's like to coach a champion, and how it feels to be called both "Coach" and "Dad" every time Chellsie steps onto the mat.
When did you realize that Chellsie would become an exceptional gymnast?
When she was young we knew she had potential. The cool thing was that she latched on to gymnastics on her own. It was natural. She grew up in the gym and that really helped. Then she found out she liked it more than everyone else, and she didn't mind spending all of her time there. My wife and I did gymnastics all through college [both he and Jeanelle were All American gymnasts] and this has been a dream for us. Chellsie's turning that dream into a reality.
How important is it for parents to get their children involved in sports?
It's important to get kids involved in any sport. It's good to develop motor skills and time management: it also helps with school, their confidence, and everyday life. Chellsie became very time oriented in the gym, and she was the same way with school. She knows how to use her time well.
How much does she practice during peak training periods?
7 hours a day for three days, and 5 hours a day for three days, every week.
What would you suggest to parents who would like to get their kids involved in sports?
Have them try a variety of sports and see what they latch on to. My parents did this to me, and I decided to stick with gymnastics. Chellsie and her sisters did other sports, too. They kicked around soccer balls, tried t-ball and golf. They know how to do the other sports, but they found the one they like the best.
What do you tell your daughter when she struggles -- whether it's a performance she isn't happy with, or an injury?
We say, "That's okay, it happened for a reason." We find the positive in all negative things. We redirect our attention to something else, focus on something else. Chellsie has a good attitude. She's enjoying this last month of training. She's done all the work, now she's ready to enjoy herself.
What's the hardest part about being her coach and her father?
I really don't want to disappoint her. It's hard to know if I'm doing the right thing for her. Am I asking her to do too much or not enough? I'm coaching her, but she's my child. I really want to help her without disappointing her.
What are you looking forward to the most about seeing her in the Olympics? What are your hopes?
We're ready to see what she can do with her dream now that we've finally gotten this far. Chellsie is continuing to make improvements, but now we're just polishing her work, making everything clean. We're trying to keep her energy level up. She has come so far in the last two months. It's amazing. I try not to get nervous. We train to compete -- it's part of the competition. She does have moments of "Oh my goodness, I wanted this for so long and now it's happening." It's sort of like, be careful what you wish for. We call those her "momentary freak-outs." But she really doesn't get nervous.
How do you raise an Olympian to be a human being too?
The biggest thing we've taught her in life is that life isn't fair. We've taught her the reality of life. You can work as hard as you want but it might not turn out the way you want. We've tried to give her a very simple, basic, respectable look of life. We're candid with her. So she does well because she knows if she doesn't do it, someone else will.
Do Chellsie's younger sisters, Mara and Skyler, feel they need to follow in their sister's footsteps?
Mara is doing her own thing, but Skylar (11) loves gymnastics just as much as Chellsie does. People ask if she'll be as good as Chellsie, and I can't say until I see that medal around her neck. She's trying to be good, though. She's good. Skylar really looks up to Chellsie, and it's fun to watch them both. As a family, we've gone to every one of Chellsie's meets, except one.
Chellsie recently bought her own house. Is it hard to watch her go off on her own?
No, it's just been neat to see the separation. I used to drive her all over the place, but we have an appointment today and she's actually going to pick me up. For her birthday, she said she wanted a garbage disposal! It's neat to see her grow up.
Do you have any father-daughter rituals with Chellsie?
When I put her on the equipment, I always say "see you at the finish line". I used to buy her a donut every Sunday, but now I do that for the little one. And I always fill her tank with gas.
What's harder: being an Olympian coach or a Dad?
They're both hard. It's really fun being a dad and a coach. I get to experience it all and watch my child up close. I get to be Dad at all the meets. Not everyone can do it, though. As a coach, you realize that you're only a coach and so much more goes into raising an athlete, a kid. It takes a town to raise an athlete. It takes all the surrounding elements -- her friends, her siblings, her school -- she wouldn't be here without her support group.