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Gold medal moms: Raising an Olympian was no sacrifice

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
updated 4:24 PM EST, Mon February 17, 2014
Basketball player Becky Hammon receives a kiss from her mother, Bev, at the 2008 Olympic Games. Hammon played for Russia. Basketball player Becky Hammon receives a kiss from her mother, Bev, at the 2008 Olympic Games. Hammon played for Russia.
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Olympians and their parents
Olympians and their parents
Olympians and their parents
Olympians and their parents
Olympians and their parents
Olympians and their parents
Olympians and their parents
Olympians and their parents
Olympians and their parents
Olympians and their parents
Olympians and their parents
Olympians and their parents
Olympians and their parents
Olympians and their parents
Olympians and their parents
Olympians and their parents
Olympians and their parents
Olympians and their parents
Olympians and their parents
Olympians and their parents
Olympians and their parents
Olympians and their parents
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White still make their moms tear up
  • Many moms of Olympians downplay talk sacrifices they've made
  • Moms admit to competition rituals such as wearing a pair of "lucky Uggs"
  • The financial challenges of raising an Olympian can be staggering, moms say

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She is a mom of two. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

Do you have a future Olympian at home? Share your photos and stories at CNN iReport!

(CNN) -- In the ice skating community, Cheryl Davis and Jacqui White are known as "the moms" because they have been nearly inseparable for 16 years. That's when their children, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, started skating together as ice dancers.

The skating duo, Olympic silver medalists in Vancouver in 2010 and world champions in 2013, were favorites to bring home the gold medal in the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia -- and they delivered. After placing first with a world-record 78.89 score in the short dance, Davis and White earned a world-record 116.63 in the free program on Monday, bringing home the first-ever gold medal for the United States in the ice dancing competition.

Their moms, who fly to and from every competition together, planned to be seated side by side at the Olympics: Davis always on the right, White on her left.

"Even in an interview now, Jacqui will say, 'Wait a minute, she's on the wrong side,' " said Davis, a mother of two from West Bloomfield, Michigan.

It's just one of the many rituals these Olympic moms follow as they gear up for what they hoped would be a history-making competition for their children.

'Lucky Uggs'

Ice dancer Charlie White sits with his parents, Charlie and Jacqui White.
Ice dancer Charlie White sits with his parents, Charlie and Jacqui White.

White always wears a pair of "lucky Uggs," and she doesn't change her jewelry, a habit that dates to her years as a hockey mom. (Charlie played 13 years of travel hockey and was part of a state championship winning team.)

"The hockey moms used to see me come in. If I was wearing a different pair of earrings, they'd look at me (and say), 'Hey, you weren't wearing those earrings the last time we won, and it's the first time they scored on us. You are taking them off,' " said White, a mother of five, also from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

"So I am now superstitious ... and I can't get over it," she said, chuckling.

Davis has her own rituals, including writing down every skater's scores.

Olympic ice dancer Meryl Davis smiles beside her mom, Cheryl.
Olympic ice dancer Meryl Davis smiles beside her mom, Cheryl.

"I always take my pad with me, and I always write down every score, and then if I miss one, I'm like, 'Oh, darn ...' but it doesn't matter," Davis said with a laugh.

The task is pointless, she admitted, since she never looks at the scores again.

"It just keeps us thinking about something else," she said. "It gives us a little distraction."

'Not sure what we gave up'

Davis and White are just two of the thousands of Olympic moms around the country and the world who devoted hours, energy and money -- and a good chunk of their own lives -- to make their children's Olympic dreams come true.

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But don't mention the "S word" to them: sacrifice. They don't believe they've sacrificed to get here.

"I know that people want to call it a sacrifice, and it is in some ways, because you do put a lot of your time and a lot of your money into it. But on the other hand, a sacrifice almost means you are almost giving up a lot," Davis said. "I am not sure what we gave up."

The early years were harder, Davis and White admit, especially as both kids trained for singles' competitions in addition to working together on ice dancing. Meryl, who just turned 27, started skating at age 5. Charlie, 26, began when he was 3.

"We were there every single day. We would drive them, pick them up from school, drive them to the rink, stay with them ... rush over while they were on the ice and get them a bagel with cream cheese or chocolate milk or whatever they wanted," White said.

"It's long enough ago so that it gets kind of blurred into the rest of the years, but early on, it was a lot of time. It was a lot more dedication and work for us, but it was work we really enjoyed and really loved, so it doesn't fall in the 'sacrifice' label."

'Each one is special'

An additional challenge for any Olympic family is making sure the other siblings don't feel shadowed by a 24/7 commitment to a sport. Championship figure skating includes four or five hours on the ice every day, dance lessons, physical fitness training, travel to competitions, research for costumes, appearances and interviews.

Amy Hughes of Great Neck, New York, is a mom of six whose daughter Sarah won the Olympic gold in figure skating in 2002 and whose daughter Emily competed in the 2006 Games.

"I think because there were six of them, it was much healthier," Amy Hughes said. "People would come in, (and) they said, 'You don't have all of Sarah and Emily's stuff up; you have everybody's.'

"I said, 'Well, each one is special.'"

Hughes recently asked Emily what she did as a mom to raise an Olympian, "She says, 'Oh, Ma, you got us everywhere we had to go, and then you'd forget to pick us up.' And I laughed, and I said, 'You know, you're right.' "

'Charlie's my boat'

Raising an Olympian, especially in figure skating with the cost of ice time, lessons, choreography, costumes and travel, can take a financial toll on a family. Hughes, White and Davis say they're thankful that wasn't their experience.

"I have to ask (my husband), how did we do it? I can't answer that, because I don't know. I just know we kept going and going," said Hughes, whose husband is a real estate tax attorney.

"It wasn't like some skating families (who) have to remortgage their house. We didn't have to do that," said Davis, a former teacher.

CNN\'s Kelly Wallace covered the 2012 Olympic Games in London and met many Olympians\' moms.
CNN's Kelly Wallace covered the 2012 Olympic Games in London and met many Olympians' moms.

"When you look at what other people sacrifice -- and people we know, personally, are some of those people -- it breaks my heart that they've put so much into it and not all kids are lucky enough to get where our kids are."

White jokes that she doesn't know how much she's spent on more than 20 years of ice skating because she tries "not to look."

"We try not to add it up, because I'm sure if we added it up, then we would start to feel like, 'Oh, my God, we've made such a sacrifice,' " White said.

"I always tell Meryl she's my cottage," said Davis, joking that money spent on skating could have bought the family a second home.

"And Charlie's my boat," White added.

'Thank you, Mom'

Both Davis and White are part of Procter & Gamble's "Thank You, Mom," program, which highlights the awe-inspiring contributions of Olympic moms. The program includes providing a "family home" in Sochi, where U.S. athletes and their families can get free meals and beauty services, as well as help for U.S. families to pay the travel costs to Russia.

Each Olympic Games, the company creates an ad that seems to make just about every mom -- this one included -- need to grab the tissues.

In the current ad, moms are seen picking up their toddlers after falls on the ice and in the snow and bucking them up when things were not going their way.

"When I watch that commercial, it really grabs my heart," White said.

"I think you sit there and you wonder, how many times can you fall and get back up again? Your first instinct is to go out there and say 'Stop hurting yourself; let me take you home to something fun,' but you don't, because the more loving thing is to let them go, let them pick themselves up sometimes and let them continue on and get stronger because of it."

'You can't help but cry'

How much joy did "the moms" expect to feel when they watched Meryl and Charlie compete for Olympic gold in Sochi?

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"Every time we talk about the joy of it and how much we love it, that's when we start to cry," Davis said. "You are so bursting with pride (about) who they are and what they've accomplished that you always start to cry. You can't help but cry."

White says she's sometimes wondered, does skating create the person that is so awesome, or does the awesomeness of the person create the skater?

"Because I look at Meryl and Charlie, they're such an awesome couple as people, and I just wonder, has the discipline and everything that is involved in their skating career helped to shape that personality?

"We feel proud of the people they are. I feel that that's what we are most proud of," White said.

Hughes planned to watch Meryl and Charlie, and all the other skaters, from her living room in New York. She knows exactly what it feels like to watch not one, but two children compete for Olympic gold.

"Indescribable," she said with a laugh. "We didn't expect any of this. I just feel like it's all this tremendous gift ... and the whole family was thrilled. We were all there for everybody."

What do you think it takes to raise an Olympian? Chime in below in comments or tell Kelly Wallace on Twitter and CNN Living on Facebook, or share your photos and stories on CNN iReport!

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