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 Carol Arakelian, mother of Caroline (NCAA record-holder and senior at Queens University of Charlotte), Nick, (NCAA record-holder and sophomore at Queens), Rebecca (freshman at Northern Michigan University), and Maria (freshman at Stevenson High in Livonia, Michigan, and member of Kingfish Aquatics of Waterford).
1. What is your background? Were you (are you) a competitive athlete?
I’ve always been a runner, but “competitive” would be extremely generous. They may get some of their endurance from me, but any competitiveness comes from their dad.
2. When did you first realize you had an exceptional athlete on your hands?
I think I first realized that Caroline was an exceptional athlete when at age 10 she asked to stay home in the summer to train vs spending the summer at the lake with her siblings, her grandparents and me. I knew that her exceptional dedication would lead to exceptional performances. She made every practice that summer and went on to win the 200 free from a 22nd place seed at her first Zone Championship.
Nick‘s always been a competitor. When he was still in lessons, we noticed that he would swim the warm up laps looking over his shoulder to be sure no one was going to beat him! He joined Caroline in club swimming when he was almost 9 and just took off. He loved the challenge of swimming in Open events from a very young age.
Rebecca’s gifts became evident while she was still playing soccer. She has a scrappy, can-do attitude that allowed her to shine when going head to head against much bigger, stronger girls. She carried that same grit into her swimming career.
Maria begged her dad to let her join the team at age 4, but she had to hold off until she turned 5. We first glimpsed exceptional in her when she swam the 800 freestyle for the first time at age 8 and lost her goggles at about the 150 M mark. It was a defining moment to see her determination as she went on to finish strong, and out-swim several older girls along the way.
3. How have you managed to balance your athlete’s school / sports / social life / family life?
Balance between school/sports/social life/family life has been different for each of our children, with a few constants: school comes first; without good school performance, there would be no swimming. We’ve always stressed that their swimming careers are finite, and it’s of utmost importance that they prepare for life after the pool. Balance among other sports was easy…they like to win, and swimming was what they did best! Soccer and baseball gradually fell by the wayside. August is our family time. After championship season we all gather at the lake to relax and enjoy each other. As they grow older and have varying schedules we may overlap, but we are uncompromising that for at least a week we are all there together. Each child has found their own balance with regard to social life. Their teams have generally been at the center of their social circles.
4. How differently do you mother your other children?
We have been fortunate that all four of our children are successful swimmers, and that they stuck with the sport. Before the kids started driving, 5hrs/day were dedicated to getting them to and from practice; 9hrs/day in the summer months. If any one of them hadn’t been involved in the sport, this would not have been an option. They were their own little team, and they remain extremely close as young adults. I don’t think I really mother my children differently; I just try to give them what they need, when they need it. Back in the day, this generally meant a sympathetic ear after a bad day, and hauling around a cooler of food that could feed a small country.
5. What is the best part about being a swim mom?
The best part of being a swim mom has to be watching them grow. The sport is undoubtedly brutal. I’m proud of my kids when they win, of course, but it’s the way they handle adversity that continues to impress me. From an unexpected DQ, to raging sickness at a championship meet, to those races (or entire meets) when it should have all gone right, and it just went terribly wrong. Somehow they manage to find the courage to get back up and do it all again…and again, and again, and again! I often tell them to “Swim with Joy”; for the feel of the water, for the feel of a healthy, well-trained body, and for the blessing of being able to do it well. The best part of being a swim mom is knowing that all of this is helping them to prepare for whatever life throws at them in the future.
6. What has been your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge came when Nick and Caroline reached the national level of competition and we started traveling to higher level meets all over the country. Meanwhile, my husband (the unsung hero financing this whole deal) was left at home working two jobs, and taking over home and swim mom duties for Rebecca and Maria. It was frustrating for us to be separated; however, it was good for the girls to rely on their dad, and he stepped up and kept things running smoothly at home. That being said, I had the privilege of seeing some phenomenal swims on these trips, and if the meet didn’t go so well, we vowed to make the most of where we were. We had some excellent adventures exploring the coast of California and touring the Georgia Aquarium in the shadow of an epic winter storm.
7. What is your favorite memory of your child’s swimming career?
With four swimmers of varying ages, I have a million favorite memories ranging from Olympic Trials to age group meets, travel meets, and everything in between. One of my favorite memories involving all four of them came at a dual meet hosted by their club team. Their coach entered the four of them as an open mixed relay, and they were seeded in an outside lane. The older three swam the fastest 50M I’d ever seen them swim in an effort to give their little sister, then 6 years old and the anchor leg, the chance to win. Maria swam like she had a shark on her heels and they ended up winning by about 1/2 of a pool length. She was so excited! It was just really fun to watch, and it made me proud as a mom to see them give her that moment. Swimming has helped to cement their relationship and is a common bond they will always share.
8. Do you get nervous watching them swim?
Twelve years as a swim mom, and yes, I still get extremely nervous every time any of my kids swim, although for different reasons. Caroline wears her heart on her sleeve. Swimming has been her passion for so very long, and I know that every single race is the most important race to her. Nick just loves a good race, and he swims distance. I’m not even sure it’s healthy the level of emotion that we feel watching him battle stroke for stroke with a competitor over the course of a 1650! Rebecca is scrappy and not in the least intimidated….she fights hard, and if things don’t go her way, she brushes herself off and returns to fight another day. Knowing she is so resilient helps settle my nerves when she swims. I get nervous when Maria swims because I know she puts a lot of pressure on herself to succeed as her siblings have. She shouldn’t worry; she is an outstanding package of hard work, dedication, and more than a little sass!
9. How have you handled disappointing races/meets?
I handle disappointing races/meets by keeping things in perspective. I have four happy, healthy kids who are a joy to hang out with, and 12 years as a swim mom tells me they will bounce back from even the most awful setback in the sport. My heart breaks for swimmers everywhere when the results are not a reflection of the hard work they have put in; however, those are also the moments that offer the greatest opportunity for growth. It is surviving the lows that make the highs so much sweeter. In the very wise words of Coach Brad Brockway, “The thing about a bad race is this: 10 minutes after it’s over, you’re the only one who remembers it”.
10. What advice do you have for other swim moms?
There are a few things I wish I’d known when this ride began so long ago. For example, the best things about the sport appear to be the worst. My kids and I had some of our best conversations during car rides to practice, and I will forever cherish the memories of all of us crammed in a hotel room getting silly and slap happy during a 4 day meet. Don’t let the disappointments ruin a meet/day/trip. Find something good in every situation and run with it. Never say, “Good swim” when you both know it wasn’t; instead, find something good to compliment that was part of that swim. Don’t offer advice unless it is solicited, and when things don’t go well, it is counter-productive to blame the kid, the coach, the taper, the suit, the teammates, the pool, the weather, the commute, or the hotel breakfast. Just be there. Support them, feed them, love them, and cherish the time spent watching them grow. Tonight my daughter Caroline will swim her last collegiate race at the DII National Championships with Queens University of Charlotte. As with every other meet since she was 9 years old, my heart will swell when the whistle sounds and she takes her mark. That is my proudest moment; my kids putting themselves out there, ready to do the very best they can on that particular day. All that follows is just icing on the cake.
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; Madeleine, a freshman at Hamilton) and one in high school (Isabelle is a junior at 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.