SwimSwam proudly presents the series, SwimMomMonday in which “ordinary” swim parent Anne Lepesant talks to “extraordinary” swim parents about the similarities and differences we experience in raising swimmers. This week Anne talks with Mindy Schmidt, mother of Pan Am champion, Sierra Schmidt. We’ve also got swim dad, Joe Schmidt. In June, 2014, the Schmidt family made the difficult decision to operate two households: Joe moved to Baltimore so that Sierra could train at NBAC while Mindy stayed home in Philadelphia with Trinity.
1. What is your background? Were you (are you) a competitive athlete?
Mindy: My background in athletics is as a distance runner: I was a five-time All-American and four-time Big Ten champion at the University of Michigan. I ran professionally for five years post-grad and was a finalist at 10,000m at the ’92 Olympic Track and Field Trials. I also have coached track and cross-country from the junior high level to NCAA Div 1 as a restricted earnings assistant at Arizona State over the years. Today, I probably don’t work out as much as I should, but I try to get it together for race reunions with my former teammates from Michigan!
2. When did you first realize you had an exceptional athlete on your hands?
Joe: Before answering, I would like to say that I think all kids who are chasing their dreams are exceptional. But there were two instances. The first was when she was an infant and we were taking her to a “Learn to Swim” program. She would simply float in the water and even when she submerged, she would not struggle. Complete relaxation. The second was at her first MA Zone meet when she was 11. She was swimming the prelims of the 200 fly and she ended up 3rd going into finals. It was unexpected and surprised us.
3. How have you managed to balance your athlete’s school / sports / social life / family life?
Mindy: Balance is so important in these kids’ lives because of what they do, day in and day out. I tease her all the time about how good I had it as a runner, there’s no way I could stare at a black line for 5 hours a day, I’d go nuts! In Sierra’s case, and I believe because of the drive she has in the pool and with her schoolwork, we make sure she has down time in which she plays video games, or naps, or we plan her next cosplay outfit for Anime and Comic Book conventions, a huge passion that she shares with her sister, Trinity. Her last outfit was Star Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy and I believe next she is doing a character from the anime AKB0048.
4. How differently do you parent your other children?
Joe: Trinity was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when she was in 3rd grade and therefore the techniques used to motivate are different. We have spent a lot of time trying to teach her how to control the effects of her condition. In her own way, she is as exceptional as her sister but in a completely different way. Sierra is independent and stubborn, and requires little support unless she asks for it. From both my parenting and coaching experience, each child needs to be treated slightly differently but if you determine what is important to that child in their heart, you can help them nurture that activity and they will have success.
5. What is the best part about being a swim parent?
Joe: Watching your children focus on a journey and achieve their potential, in my mind, is the most rewarding experience one can have as a parent. If we as parents have the proper perspective, our kids can achieve much more than we expect. I can remember when Trinity finished her first swimming race, a 25 breaststroke. The look on her face after she finished was priceless. We had no expectations on time or place but still enjoyed the accomplishment.
6. What has been your biggest challenge?
Mindy: The toughest challenge for us is repeatedly finding the strength for our daughters during difficult times, while keeping a calm demeanor. In Sierra’s case, we created a safe haven at home where she knew she was loved, she could vent her frustrations and know that she would be validated through heartbreak and unfairness. It’s enormously hard to watch your child hurt, but we kept telling her that she would be better for it in the end and we would support her no matter what. We also told her to always be true to who she is, be honest with herself and with others, and work hard every day.
7. What is your favorite memory of your child’s swimming career?
Joe: Winning the gold medal at Pan American Games in Toronto. Her strategy was risky and this was her first international level meet. Instead of being overwhelmed by the moment, she focused on the strategy and executed it. Again, when she finished, I will never forget the look on her face, not unlike the look on my youngest daughter [Trinity]’s face completing her first race.
8. Do you get nervous watching her swim?
Joe: I do not. I think my coaching experience and personality allow me to enjoy her races without worrying about how she does. What is the worst that could happen? If she does not swim well, we can talk about changes we can make to perform better. If she swims well, we can enjoy the moment and strive for the next goal. And our kids grow up so fast, we will miss all of those memories if we become nervous and do not enjoy the moment.
Mindy: YES!!! I am always an absolute wreck!! Funny story: usually when I’m at meets, I tend to yell quite loudly in my “coach” voice and wave like a maniac at Sierra. Last year, I went to Junior Pan Pacs with my sister-in-law and during the 1500 free, I was in fine form gesturing to her and yelling like a fool. After the meet, one of the USA coaches came up to me and said, “We had such a great time watching you during the 1500!” I was so embarrassed!
9. How have you handled disappointing races/meets?
Joe: As a family, I think we have a strategy which seems to have been working quite well. We first make sure that our kids understand that we love them and support them no matter how they perform, especially if they gave the best effort that they could. Then, we remind them of their goals they have set for themselves and what changes we can make to perform better.
10. What advice do you have for other swim parents?
Mindy: My advice for other swim moms is to let your child have ownership of their pastime. See the big picture and have perspective. Let them focus on stroke technique and drill when they are young, not leading the lane. Be kind to your fellow swim mom even if their child is swimming faster than yours. Your children follow your example, so demonstrate good sportsmanship and congratulate other parents and kids when they are having success. Lastly, try to enjoy the journey – they grow up so quickly!
Anne Lepesant is an ordinary swim mom. Her four daughters have been with Swim Pasadena since 2004 and now three swim in college (Caroline is a senior at SCAD Savannah; Victoria, a junior at Princeton; and Madeleine, a freshman at Hamilton) and one in high school (Isabelle attends Pasadena High School). In this series, Anne explores the question: “ordinary” swim mom to “extraordinary” swim mom, what it’s like to raise truly exceptional swimmers? What experiences have we all shared? Where do our paths diverge? Stay tuned for some interesting #SwimMomMonday conversations.