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Q&A: Jennie Finch, Olympian and Mom

Steph Anderson/Flickr

Jennie Finch, the retired softball pitcher who helped lead Team USA to the gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics and a silver at the following games, is perhaps the most famous softball player in history. But two little guys –  Ace Shane, 6, and Diesel Dean, 14 months –  just know her as mom.

You’ve competed in two Olympic games and are now raising two boys. Which would you say is harder: being an Olympian, or being a mom?

Both are such a blessing, and both require work of a different kind. It’s impossible to compare the two except to say that if you put in the work the rewards and joy you reap are amazing in both cases.

TIME magazine called you the most famous softball player in history. Does that mean anything to your kids?
My kids don’t really understand it except that I played — and I’m not even sure Diesel understands that yet! Ace travelled the world with me and the USA Softball team, and thought of all my teammates as his aunties. It was so sweet. He really did have all these women who loved him around. It’s kind of crazy to me that Diesel won’t really have any of the same memories, but maybe his brother will share a few.

Does Ace play softball?
Ace just finished his first season of t-ball. It was really cute. Before his first practice he was asking about whether the locker room would be like the one mommy had or the one daddy had. He wanted to know if there would be gum and seeds in the dugout like there were at Casey’s and my games. We had to bring him down to earth a little! But it made us smile to realize that was his association with the game.

If you could play any other sport which one would it be?
I loved playing basketball and volleyball in high school. And since running the New York Marathon last winter, running has become a sport for me. It’s a great challenge, and I love that I can just lace up my shoes and go.

How important is it to get kids involved in sports?
I heard one of the great managers of baseball, Pete Rose, say something to the effect that the big challenge as a manager is to figure out if a player needs a pat on the back, a kick in the behind, or to be left alone to get him motivated. Basically every person is motivated by different things, so figure that out and then provide that for them to get their best performance. I think it’s the same with kids in a way. If you can figure out what their special gift is and what their passion is and then encourage them in that, it’s so important. Sports have given me and my husband so much; of course we would love for our boys to play, but if they’re passionate about something else, we’ll get behind that and encourage it. Right now we’re just trying to provide opportunities for them to find what they’re interested in.

What is the most important part of choosing a sport, how do you know which ones to expose your kids to?
That’s a hard question! There are a lot of variables, but I would find out what the good programs in your area are, ask what your child wants to do, find out what his or her friends are doing and just go for it. When they’re young, it’s good to try a variety of things and find out what they love.

Have your kids ever watched you play professionally?
Ace has seen both Casey and me play in person and on television. It’s just normal for him. I don’t think he thinks anything of it.

Have you taught your children to be good losers?
Well, I don’t know about the idea of a good loser. I’m not sure I’m one! I certainly don’t like to lose, but it’s important to learn to take that frustration from losing and turn it into determination. We do teach our kids that, and how to be a good teammate and be positive and encouraging towards people.

What has been your greatest challenge as a mom?
I think it’s the same as every working mom – trying to balance life and family and make sure I’m doing the best for both. I’m so blessed with great role models. My own mother, who set such a loving example and always tells me to get through it one day at a time, and my mother-in-law who helps, too, and is tireless. Even my grandmother who still lives on her own on her farm in Iowa is such an example for me! Her determination and kind heart show me how I want to be as I go through life.

Do you have Olympic hopes for your kids?
Casey and I just want our kids to be happy. Whatever their own goals are as they grow up, we’ll support those. I do hope, though, that they experience some of the same kinds of wonderful moments we have whether through athletic accomplishments or success in whatever they choose.