Tina Ellertson whispers through the telephone line, but her lowered voice can't contain the joy. It's bursting through the line. Mya, just 4 days...
Tina Ellertson whispers through the telephone line, but her lowered voice can’t contain the joy.
It’s bursting through the line. Mya, just 4 days old, naps nearby. In 15 minutes, she’ll be awake, ready for another feeding. Ellertson sounds so happy, it’s not long before she drops the whisper. She’s got two girls now, including 7-year-old MacKenzie.
She also has a dream.
The former University of Washington soccer player, known as Tina Frimpong when she led the Huskies in career scoring with 43 goals, wants to regain her spot on the women’s national team in time for the Beijing Olympics in August.
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That means not only healing from last Sunday’s childbirth, but getting back in shape fast enough to play with the best soccer talent in the world. It means learning a new system under a new coach after not having played at an elite level since October. A comeback in two months? Ellertson knows this sounds impossible, but she’s going to try anyway.
Motherhood and Olympic aspirations are no longer mutually exclusive. Olympic moms are everywhere these days, balancing workouts one minute, a kid on their hip the next.
Swimmer Dara Torres. Local weightlifter Melanie Roach, who competes in the Olympic trials starting Friday in Atlanta. Soccer players Kate Markgraf and Christie Rampone. Basketball players Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson. Softball’s Jennie Finch. All moms. All world-class athletes near or at the top of their game.
It’s causing a shift in how we think about and train our Olympic athletes. For the first time, the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs is adding living space for families in its athlete residences.
But Ellertson’s is no ordinary comeback attempt for a mom. Her name is not even on the 27-player national team pool this year from which the Olympic team will be chosen.
For her quest, Ellertson finds inspiration on the national team, where Markgraf calls regularly with advice on post-delivery workouts. Other teammates also have kept in touch.
She also finds inspiration in her own household. Her husband, Brad, was scheduled to graduate from WSU Vancouver this weekend. There’s Mya. Especially, there’s MacKenzie, “the coolest kid you’ll ever meet,” who has watched her mom practice and play with the national team.
“What’s cool is she’s always been around a group of girls, of strong women,” said Ellertson, from Vancouver, Wash. “She gets to see women not hearing ‘No’ for an answer, pushing themselves to the highest they can do.”
Like Ellertson, Seattle’s Aretha (Hill) Thurmond feels the pull of the Olympic rings. She chose to give up a promising career to seek her third trip to the Olympics, her first as a mom. Her son, 11-month-old Devon, is a regular at UW’s Dempsey fieldhouse, where his mother throws the discus. She parks his stroller on the sideline. If he gets squirmy, any one of a number of athletes interrupts their training to take him for a spin around the track.
About a year ago, Thurmond landed a career job as the director of the athlete alumni club at UW. But the former star at Renton High School and the UW had to choose between discus and her job when Devon came along. Juggling all three was too much. She quit the job this March.
Thurmond, 31, is in the mix to qualify for Beijing when the trials begin in June in Eugene, Ore.
“It’s something he can be a part of as well,” said Thurmond, whose husband, Reedus, is UW’s throwing coach and will be competing in discus at the trials, too. “Kids can’t really be part of a career job. I wanted to be fair to him. I also wanted to be fair to myself. I thought maybe I might be done, but I’m not. I’m not. The Olympic flame is still burning inside me. Why not give it my all? You only have a small window to be an athlete.”
Ellertson is one of the swiftest defenders in U.S. team history. Her place on the national team roster was solid. So was a berth on the 2008 Olympic team. Then came Mya.
She knows the odds aren’t in her favor to return in time for Beijing. She pushed the limits, continuing to work out until a scare six months into her pregnancy, when vigorous training triggered early contractions. Ellertson cut back her workouts and intensity, slowing to a walk the last three weeks before delivering.
Last week, Ellertson, 25, got the OK from her doctor to start running for the first time, five days after Mya’s birth. Her plan is to work up to scrimmages with men’s teams. She has had a few conversations with new women’s coach Pia Sundhage during her pregnancy. Sundhage has been “awesome” and supportive, Ellertson said.
“I look at my daughter Mya and said, ‘OK, she’s amazing and beautiful.’ Playing in the Olympics is something I will do, whether it’s in August or four years from now. I feel like I’m pretty lucky.”
Today, Thurmond will spend her first Mother’s Day halfway around the world from Devon. She’ll be at a track meet in Osaka, Japan, while her mother cares for her son.
Ellertson will spend Mother’s Day at home with her two kids, celebrating Brad’s graduation as her U.S. teammates recover from Saturday night’s scheduled exhibition against Canada in Washington, D.C.
Both feel the tug from somewhere else. But neither would trade where they are right now.
Crew heats up
The run-up to Beijing gets serious for area rowers at the Olympic trials starting Tuesday in West Windsor, N.J.
Lake Stevens’ Bjorn Larsen teams with Richard Montgomery of Batavia, Ill., in the lightweight men’s double sculls. Michelle Trannel of East Dubuque, Ill., and Liz Patterson of Davis, Calif., will represent Seattle’s Pocock Rowing Center in the lightweight women’s double sculls.
All are vying for a berth on the U.S. Olympic team in the five-day trials. But it’s a little more complicated than just winning there. Because the United States failed to qualify for Olympic berths in the lightweight men’s and women’s double sculls at last year’s world championships, they have to fight through another layer of competition to earn a trip to Beijing.
First, the teams must win at next week’s Olympic trials. That means Larsen and Montgomery have to top a nine-crew field that includes Californians Michael Aller of Santa Barbara and Gavin Frase of Orinda, who won April’s national-selection regatta. Trannel and Patterson have to beat five other teams in the women’s event.
First-place boats then travel to Posnan, Poland, June 15-18, where each must finish in the top two of the international field to qualify for the Olympics.
• Brush Prairie’s Seth Kelsey is bound for Beijing, making his second Olympic team in fencing. Kelsey, a 2003 U.S. Air Force Academy graduate who trains in Colorado Springs, is the lone U.S. entry in epee since the U.S. failed to qualify a team in that event. The 12-member U.S. team will be represented in all individual disciplines and will compete in three of the four team disciplines — women’s sabre, men’s sabre and women’s foil.
• A new book has relevance in the midst of Olympic torch protests and vows by world leaders to skip Beijing’s opening ceremony to decry China’s abysmal human-rights history. “Boycott: Stolen Dreams of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games,” by Jerry and Tom Caraccioli, includes a forward written by Walter Mondale apologizing to athletes for the Jimmy Carter-led boycott by the U.S. Olympic team in 1980. The book focuses on the stories of 18 athletes, most of whom you’ve never heard of, who were denied their dream of competing in the Olympics because of politics. The most recognized names? Basketball players Isiah Thomas and Carol Blazejowski.
Reach Meri-Jo Borzilleri at firstname.lastname@example.org