Gold Olympian, Ashton Eaton: Failure Is My Friend

17 Apr
eaton with gold

Olympian! (August 2012)

Which mother’s proudest moment is when her son fails?  Who would proclaim losing a high point in our children’s life?  What type of parent thinks that?

A parent like Roz Eaton:  a beautiful, independent, strong, genuine, Olympic Mom; Ashton Eaton’s mom.  Roz was describing Ashton’s struggle at the 2011 IAAF World Championships in Athletics, where Aston failed to win first place.  She says,

“The proudest I’ve been of Ashton as an athlete was in Daegu, South Korea when he was struggling. I saw that he was disappointed in his early performance but he fought through it and earned a silver medal. To me, that moment signified a benchmark in his life as a person and an athlete. I was proud of the young man he had become.”

For Roz to see that as a positive moment, a defining moment, in her son’s life, speaks volumes to the woman she is, and the mother she has always been to the world’s greatest athlete.

Baby Ash (7 Months Old)

Ashton grew up in the Portland, OR area, spending his early childhood in La Pine, then moving for high school to Bend, OR.  His dad was an athlete and his maternal grandfather also played college football.  But no one forced or encouraged a career in athletics, according to Roz, “Track chose Ashton”, and she simply facilitated his efforts.   As a young boy, Ash, as Roz calls him, was already showing a real penchant for physical activity.  He was climbing, running, setting up long-jump in the back yard, and generally exerting real energy toward all things athletic.  Roz enrolled him in Ty Kwon Do and by 13 Years old he had earned his black belt.  By then, he was also running track.

Roz admits to having a hard time as a single mom – keeping a roof over his head, food in the cupboards, and clothes on his back meant working several jobs at the same time.  She did a little bit of everything, and those years are but a blur as she tries to recall what she did when.  The actual jobs were “unimportant” she says.  Her parents would surely have come to her aid, but she’s not that kind of person.  On the other hand, she couldn’t feasibly hold down three jobs while getting Ashton to his busy afterschool schedule.  It is here that Roz relied on everyone else to help out.  Family, coaches, parents, friends, they all made sure Ash didn’t miss a practice, a meet, a tournament or a heat.

Young Ash (circa 1996)

She remembers rushing from work and showing up late for some meets, and seeing Ash’s relief as he acknowledged her presence.  Sometimes she didn’t even have the funds to go see him compete.  In our conversation, she tears up as she remembers the one time the other parents, the coaches and some friends put up the fare for her to get to a meet.  Roz, a proud and independent person, didn’t hesitate to take help when it was for her son:

“I had to rely a lot on Ashton’s coaches,” Roslyn says. “I was straightforward with them that I was a single mom who had to entrust them with my son. I knew Ashton wanted to accomplish something and it was my job to support his dream.”  http://www.parents.com/parenting/celebrity-parents/moms-dads/olympic-athletes-ashton-eaton-diana-lopez-sarah-robles/

By high school, Ashton had already come to the attention of area Colleges.  It didn’t take long for him to decide on the University of Oregon where he trained under Dan Steele and then Harry Marra.  But it was his high school coach, Tate Metcalf, who is most credited with leading Ashton toward a career in the most demanding competition in the Olympics.  Metcalf recognized Ashton’s multi-lateral talents:  his athletic aptitude was noticeably superior and Metcalf honed his skills to a fine art; and then encouraged him to attend a college with a solid decathlon program.  More than that, Metcalf recognized Ashton’s character: in a world of testosterone-driven competition, Easton, is a nicer, gentler, decenter athlete.

According to espn.go.com, “Coaches had to sit him down and tell him it was OK to max out during workouts, that beating his teammates badly didn’t mean he was humiliating them. But Eaton didn’t start soaring until he started racing against time, distance and himself rather than the person beside him. “

Today, in spite of his winning the Olympic gold medal for his outstanding prowess in ten grueling sports events, Eaton is still gravely under-recognized.  Yet in this world of mega-stardom for lesser athletes, his performance speaks for itself.  His record-breaking feats exceed your time and my space here, but can be easily found at Wikipedia.  Meanwhile, his home-town continues to laud him, naming a highway in his honor and having a huge Olympic parade upon his return from the UK.  And, in the sports world, he has accrued an amazing number of tributes, awards, trophies and salutes.

And he could not have done it without his mom.  In response to a question from Ilyssa Panitz at Divinecaroline.com, this was his response:

Roz and Ashton (2012)

“…My mom and I have been through a lot. But when you think about it, whose life is perfect? It is just really good because we did this together. I had a dream, my dream came true and my mom was there for me every step of the way. We didn’t do this for any other reason. I am so happy she is here to experience this with me. This would not be the same if she were not by my side.”

I first realized how unassuming and gracious Ashton is when I watched the David Letterman show right after the Olympics.  Ashton’s humility is obvious:  he defers the attention, and always recognizes his mom, grandparents, his coaches and the battalion of people who helped him along the way.  I knew I wanted to feature them on my blog. I reached out to Roz via Facebook and was utterly incredulous when she replied with a thoughtful and authentic response.

“… [T]hank you for your kind words regarding Ashton! The truth is, I need to really think about my answer deeply before I respond. Using an analogy that Ashton has used before when describing his competitions; I think while you are in the middle of it–(in this case raising a young man in today’s world) you are so deeply in-trenched IN it, that you don’t see what is happening from the outside view-much like driving a car-it is easier to see what the ‘car’ is doing when you are outside of it looking at it, rather than on the inside of it at the steering-wheel…In any case [one] should go into it with a clear goal–when Ashton has a goal, he writes it in big letters and puts it somewhere he will see it every day.”

I contacted her again a few months later, and she was genial and generous with her time.  We spoke for over an hour and I liked her even more after our phone call.  It was clear she had sacrificed to make Ashton the best he could be.  She said to me, when dinner was meat and potatoes, she ate the potatoes.  Besides working several jobs, she moved when she felt he needed a better environment, and moved again, when her commute precluded her seeing him compete.  She bought him the expensive gear he needed, and surrounded him with strong role models to emulate. He didn’t have “chores”, but he knew he had to help out around the house.  And Roz made sure he didn’t neglect his school work for the sake of his sports.  She wanted him to have better opportunities, and a four-year college was part of that plan.  Ashton’s fiancée, Brianne Theisen perhaps says it best, in the Bend Bulletin:

“Ashton and Roz definitely didn’t have the easiest life while Ashton was growing up, and they had to work for everything they got. Roz is a fighter, though. She wanted Ashton to have all the things that the other kids his age had, and more. She worked her butt off so that he could do all the sports he wanted, and she helped him in any way she could — financially, mentally.

Ashton in Suit

Mr. Eaton (2011)

“But the most important thing is that she taught him how to be a good person. She’d discipline him if he ever treated anyone with disrespect, but she also taught him how to be a tough person and to stand up for himself and others. Anyone that knows Ashton or meets him for the first time is always shocked at how well-spoken and friendly he is. People aren’t just blessed with this type of personality; it needs to be taught. And he’s only lived with his mom growing up, so you know where he learned it from.”

And, even more importantly, while Ashton has triumphed most of the time, she didn’t coddle and protect him from failure.  She made it clear that he has to give his all in everything he undertakes.  During a recent interview  for the Bowerman Awards, Ashton had this to say when asked “what’s next?”

Failure is my friend; when you win you don’t change anything, because you’re winning.  When you don’t win you tend to change stuff.  In this position I still feel I want to change things.  Not necessarily recreate stuff, but kinda just keep the learning curve going…”

Roz Eaton defied the odds to raise a sports phenomenon who remains humble, grateful and  gracious.   I eagerly look forward to seeing this remarkable young man in Moscow for the World Championships this year and at the 2016 Rio’s Olympics.  Below is some basic information about him:

DOB:  January 21, 1988

Place of Birth:  Portland, OR

Complications at birth: none

Birth:  natural, 5 hours labor

Birthweight:  6lbs 12 oz

Breast or bottle:  breast

Talked when: approx 6 mo

Walked when:  approx 8 months

Potty trained when: approx 2-4 yrs

Siblings:  2 brothers and one sister on the paternal side

Birth order:  first born

Raised in: LaPine and Bend, OR

Race: Mixed, Caucasian and African American

Looks:  Takes after his mother

Religion:  Christian

College:  University of Oregon

26 Responses to “Gold Olympian, Ashton Eaton: Failure Is My Friend”

  1. DONNA April 18, 2013 at 9:40 am #

    Once again – a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing. I enjoy your blog so much.

  2. gibbysmom April 18, 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    I loved this Heads!!!! In particular, I love how Roz still gets choked up about the goodness of the the people who paid her way to those early meets. Thank you for doing this, it’s awesome

    • whatstheformulablog April 18, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

      One day, my dear, it will be you remembering those who helped with your own phenom!

  3. Meryl Bovard April 22, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

    This is such an inspiring story…I like how it shows the interdependence of Roz and Ashton’s community. So many people pitched in to support this family. I love the combo of a true grit Mom & a humble, successful son. May their lives be blessed with grace and ease.

    • whatstheformulablog April 22, 2013 at 9:23 pm #

      Yes, Roz is unapologetic about getting help when she needed it for Ashton; and their friends, family and school community came together in a wonderful way to help out. Ashton is a true credit to her and their whole “village”! Thanks for commenting.

  4. hyie April 28, 2013 at 9:56 am #

    It takes a village….but beyond that, cute kid and an adult bod to die for! All muscle and built for speed!

    • whatstheformulablog April 28, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

      Yes, he is so very handsome, but in this case, the beauty is not just skin-deep!

  5. Barbie Hue February 13, 2014 at 8:58 pm #

    Ashton is a very determine person, he is persistent he knows exactly what he want in life and he went there. Everything is laid out about him. Basically this blog tells everything about him all his life when he began talking, walking, potty train etc. this is an awesome story. Keep it up Ashton so that others can follow your foot step.

  6. Jennifer Bozeman February 16, 2014 at 9:00 am #

    Ashton succeeded because his mother Roz always made sure he stayed focused no matter what her struggles consisted of, his coaches pushed him no matter how his team mates felt about Ashton exceeding them. Roz never put her struggles or strains on Ashton, even though she didn’t have the best jobs she made Ashton had the best education, sports gear and lived in the most decent neighborhoods. Situations like this made Ashton appreciate everything and got him to his level of success today.

    • whatstheformulablog February 16, 2014 at 11:03 am #

      Jennifer, you’re right – Roz gave Ashton everything he needed for his success.

  7. Stephanie February 16, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

    Ashton Eaton is a true role model. His mother is inspiring, being a single mother and working several jobs is proof, that many can do the same. She never like the idea of asking for help but when she noticed people were willing to help her out to give the support she needed to give to her son she was all for it. Eaton mother, coaches, and teachers were a huge contribution to his achievements. Throughout his journey he struggled and made sacrifices that is the true beauty of success.

  8. Tyais February 16, 2014 at 6:05 pm #

    This article is very inspiring. Not only did Roz work three jobs to be able to afford the things they needed but she continuously supported him and didn’t let his dream die. I like that she reached out to other people (coaches, friends, etc.) to get him to practices and track meets because the reality is that with three jobs, she couldn’t do it alone. She would rather ask for help then tell her child “no.”
    As a parent, some want to make sure that their children can go to school and participate in different activities without having to worry about the house, food, etc. Roz did exactly that by letting her child be a child while she handled her business as an adult/parent and I believe that’s why Ashton was able to achieve what he did.

    • whatstheformulablog February 16, 2014 at 8:40 pm #

      Tyais, you’re spot on! Roz is who gave Ash the means to pursue his dreams. He had the talent and the determination.

  9. Tyais Cunningham February 16, 2014 at 6:21 pm #

    First off, I love that Roz reached out to coaches, friends, etc. to get Ashton to his practices and track meets. That tells me that she would rather ask for help then tell her child that he can’t participate.
    Also, some parents believe that children should go to school to learn and participate in activities and not have to worry about the household. I think Roz is one of those parents who let her child be a child while she handled the house, food, etc. While it may not have been easy, it’s what allowed Ashton to achieve the success that he did.

  10. G.Guelee February 17, 2014 at 6:11 pm #

    What I think about the infomation in the blog is this is inspiring story, it shows how one struggle turn out to be a success.

    What I think of Eaton himself is he is a hard working person, even though it was a struggle for him he strive to the top as hard as he can.

    The factors that contributed to his achievements is mostly his mother she believed in him and stayed by his side through his whole struggles and not letting him giving up.

  11. Roshell ross February 18, 2014 at 9:54 pm #

    I love the story i explains the love that a mother have for her child the length that she went through to make sure his dreams came true. Even when he got silver instead of gold she was still so extremely proud.

  12. Kesha D March 9, 2014 at 4:21 pm #

    This was very informative and from reading this blog I think that Ashton is a very determined person and he has a natural talent. His mom’s dedication to him is what contributed to his achievements.

  13. Stanley Montinat March 31, 2014 at 9:20 am #

    An amazing story. This story is a prime and great example of seeking help when one truly know that they are incapable of doing something. Ashton’s mother truly contributed and did not give Up on her son. I hope he truly recognize the sacrifices she did in order for him to be where he is.

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