SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime event for most of the athletes and their families who make it there. Now we'll introduce you to a woman who's headed to her seventh Olympics next month in South Korea. She is not a competitor but the U.S. team's mom - at least that's how she was introduced to Colorado Public Radio's Rachel Estabrook.
RACHEL ESTABROOK, BYLINE: At the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, hundreds of athletes come for specialized coaching. Some live here year-round. It's a sprawling campus with gyms for specific sports and an Olympic-sized pool. Near the dorms, above the dining hall - that's where you find Sherry Von Riesen.
VERONICA DAY: Hi.
SHERRY VON RIESEN: Hello, dear. How are you?
DAY: I brought friends.
ESTABROOK: Von Riesen is short and grandmotherly, her office blanketed in photos and thank-you notes. Skeleton athlete Veronica Day walks in, and Von Riesen hands her some papers to sign.
VON RIESEN: (Laughter) Just so I can pay you.
ESTABROOK: Aspiring Olympians jet all over the world to compete. And when they come back here to this training home, Von Reisen looks out for them. She makes sure their rooms are clean, finds their misplaced passports or, like with Veronica Day, gives them inspiration.
DAY: A rock? What's this for?
ESTABROOK: Since the Sydney Games in 2000, Von Riesen, the team mom, has handed out these little stones in plastic baggies wrapped up with a slip of paper.
VON RIESEN: The only requirement is I'm required to read it.
VON RIESEN: Creation of power - clarity in thinking and amplifies your energy and thoughts.
DAY: I dig it. I'll take it with me down the track.
ESTABROOK: The messages aren't just about the next competition. She says they're a lifelong lesson.
VON RIESEN: Whatever the rock they pick, that's what they need. And I will see the athletes 10 years from now. And they'll all say, I still got my rocks.
ESTABROOK: Being the sage of the training center is not in her actual job description as athlete services coordinator. Neither is saving them from their worst fears. But she does that, too.
JIMMY MOODY: This is how you know Sherry cares about you.
ESTABROOK: Fencer Jimmy Moody recalls this one day he was walking to the cafeteria after a tough workout, totally worn out.
MOODY: And Sherry ran down to stop me.
ESTABROOK: See, Moody has a thing about clowns.
MOODY: I'm not going to say I am afraid of clowns. I have a very human aversion to clowns.
ESTABROOK: That day, McDonald's had brought its mascot to the training center. Von Riesen knew Moody would freak out and intercepted him.
MOODY: And she's like oh, my God - Jimmy don't go in. And I was like, what's happening right now? And so she saved my life. It was amazing.
ESTABROOK: Moody guesses that the team mom could write a few books full of stories that she won't share on the radio, but she does give some hints.
VON RIESEN: I've had a lot of them cry on my shoulder. Right before the Games, it gets very stressful. And I'll tell the athletes to come in, shut the door. And they can lay it at my feet - yell and scream at me, stomp, do whatever they need to do - 'cause I'm not taking it home.
ESTABROOK: The advice she gives most often is to believe in themselves. She can tell the ones that have the ultimate drive to win, but she knows they won't all be champions.
VON RIESEN: Medals are great, too, but they all will come away with something amazing.
ESTABROOK: And Von Riesen will be in South Korea for whatever happens. After all, she's their rock.
For NPR News, I'm Rachel Estabrook in Denver.
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