'Mom' Remembers Her Olympic Past

Commentator Betsy Shaw Mackenzie competed in snowboarding in the 1998 Nagano Olympics, and is watching the Turin Games at home in Vermont with two young daughters who know her only as 'Mom.'

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Commentator Betsy Shaw Mackenzie competed as a snowboarder in the 1998 Olympics. She says watching the Games in Turin stir up a lot of feelings. She misses competing in her old sport but in many ways she's relieved it's all over.

Ms. BETSY SHAW MACKENZIE (Commentator, Journalist and Former Olympian):

On the opening day of the Turin Games, my family had cabin fever. My three-month-old wouldn't let me put her down. My four-year-old decided she wanted to polish something till it shined. She grabbed my old hiking boots from the mudroom. They weren't just any boots; they were presented to me eight years ago in Nagano, Japan where I competed in snowboarding at the 1998 Winter Olympics. I wore them while I marched in the opening ceremonies.

Hearing the roar of thousands of spectators in that stadium is one of the most intense experiences I've had. The actual competition is harder to remember. It feels a bit like a dream. The boots are comfy, warm and waterproof--perfect for any season. And discreetly stitched into each heel are the Olympic rings; those five perfect little spheres. That little insignia, invisible to anyone but me, is a constant reminder of an achievement I'm proud of. Eight years later, that pride feels elusive, even meaningless sometimes.

It seems most irrelevant when I'm with my children who can't imagine me as anything but mommy. Before her sister was born, my four-year-old saw me as a cumbersome pregnant lady who couldn't run to save her life. The other day while I chased her around the meadow, she stopped in her tracks, eyes wide and said, Mommy, I can't believe it. You can run! You better believe I can run, I thought. And that's not all I can do.

I retired a year after Nagano. Getting over snowboarding was like getting over a bad-news boyfriend. With distance it seems glamorous and perfect. I long for the good parts: traveling in Europe, being in excellent shape, winning. I need to remember the more challenging parts: the traveling, getting in excellent shape, losing. Sometimes I call my old coach just to hear his calming voice. And I still think of myself as a snowboarder though heading out the door on cross-country skis fits my schedule better than a day at the mountain.

Watching the current coverage in Italy, I can understand why being an Olympian is hard to get past. Our media treats Olympic athletes as super human. They have one or two chances to live up to it or they're deemed disappointments and failures. I would never trade in my Olympic experience, but this week I feel fortunate to be sitting here in the living room with my family. My children let me get away with mistakes on a daily basis, as I do them, because I know they're doing their best. And my Olympic boots have never looked better.

(Soundbite of background music)


Commentator Betsy Shaw Mackenzie won the snowboarding Alpine world title in 1995. These days she writes and plays ice hockey in southern Vermont.

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