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.
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.
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:
“…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.
“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
College: University of Oregon