Culture & Entertainment

How do you raise an Olympic athlete?

Canadian Living
Culture & Entertainment

How do you raise an Olympic athlete?

Some mothers 'ave 'em: Olympic athletes Last week Paralympian Josh Cassidy and his mom, Anne, stopped by the Canadian Living offices  where we noshed on some goodies from the Canadian Living Test Kitchen and chatted about the wheelchair athlete's recent world-record breaking victory in Boston and his upcoming competition at the Paralympics in London. We also got some insight into one incredible family and what it takes to get to the Olympics.   [caption id="attachment_12143" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Josh Cassidy and his mom, Anne (Photo: Ryan Brook, TC Media)"] Josh Cassidy and his mom, Anne[/caption]

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[caption id="attachment_12155" align="aligncenter" width="306" caption="Josh Cassidy explains to me the science behind the design and construction of his racing wheelchair"] second wheelchair[/caption]

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[caption id="attachment_12162" align="aligncenter" width="326" caption="Executive Editor Doug O'Neill tests the weight of Josh's racing wheel-chair (Photo: Ryan Brook, TC Media)"] Doug tests weight of wheel chair[/caption]

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The basics about Josh: • His sport: Wheelchair racing • Ranking: He's currently No. 1 and holds the record in Canada for 1500m, 5000m, 10000m, and marathon distance races • Record-breaker at Boston Marathon: with a timing of 1:18:25 in his recent Boston run, Josh now holds the world record. • Family guy: Josh is the eldest of 10 children. • Lifetime of overcoming challenges: As an infant, Josh had neuroblastoma (a cancer that affects children), which resulted in paralysis of both legs. We'll be hearing more about Josh when the Paralympics take over London from August 29 until September 9. But in the meantime, I want to share some nuggets from my lunch-time chat with Josh and his mom. Here are my 10 best "Josh and Anne" moments: 1. "I can be stubborn. Perhaps he gets it from me."  I had asked Anne about her son's drive and discipline. Was it connected to the way he was raised? The self-deprecating mom describes herself as stubborn, but I wonder if it really isn't more nose-to-the-grind persistence and a very pragmatic approach to life that fuels both mother and son. 2. Down on the Farm: Josh was raised on the family farm in Port Elgin, Ontario, which is where Anne is rearing the remaining five kids at home. I didn't know prior to the interview that they were farm folk, but it makes total sense. Josh says they were always involved in physical activity, be it at play or just at home around the farm. They worked hard, they played hard. Meal time in the farmhouse kitchen sounds like a production in itself. Anne describes the assembly line of sandwich-making for lunches. "I was so happy when end-of-school year came," Anne says with a laugh. 3. "Nobody ask for seconds until Mom has eaten." Meal-time in the Cassidy household functioned on some very basic big-family rules: The youngest got served first; you eat what's on your plate ("That was never a challenge," quipped Josh); and nobody gets to ask for a second helping until Mom, Anne, had eaten. As for leftovers? "What that? asks Josh. "Never heard of it." 4. Always the oldest child: Josh wasn't given special treatment in the Cassidy household. "He's always been my oldest child and that's how he functioned from Day One," explains Anne. She remembers he even had to teach the other toddlers how to slide down the stairwell! "His brothers and sisters never thought of him as disabled until he went to school and other kids said, 'Hey, your brother is in a wheelchair.' It was never an issue at home." 5. "I take risks. I have to." Discipline, determination, a desire to compete, a drive to win...they all seem integral to Josh's success. But, as Josh says, "I have to gamble occasionally. I've had to make touch choices and sometimes there have been huge risks involved." During college, he had the tough choice one summer to either work (so he could afford to pay the next year's tuition) or devote the entire summer to training (in the hopes that winning the next competition would get him a scholarship). Luckily he got the scholarship. But it wasn't a guarantee. "Sometimes, I just have to go with my decision and hope for the best. It makes me work even harder." 6. "Mom is coming to London!" Josh, who is one of the Procter and Gamble-sponsored athletes heading to London, is thrilled that most of his family is going. Anne is over-the-moon. She's one of the lucky moms of Canadian athletes who's benefiting from Procter and Gamble's Thank You Mom campaign which is providing travel assistance to ensure almost 500 moms of Canadian Olympians and Paralympians get to see their loved ones compete at the historic games in London. 7. "She's not so much a 'Mom to an Olympian'  but an 'Olympic Mom. She's the best!'"  How many sons get to embarrass their mom in public - and in front of a couple media types - and get away with it? Anne got downright sheepish. There's an obvious affection and humour play between the two. And there's no doubt about her obvious support for her son: she was up at 4 am to drive all the way from Port Elgin to Toronto to accompany Josh to a slew of interviews. (Luckily, no one leaves the Canadian Living Test Kitchen hungry. Food Director Annabelle Waugh and team saw to that.) 8. "The Combat Crawl."  "He was always a leader," says Anne. Because Josh couldn't walk on his own legs, he'd do a unique crawl across the livingroom floor. It became known in the household as "The Combat Crawl."  Says Anne, "Visitors would bring their kids over and before you knew it, they were all mimicking Josh doing this funny crawl across the floor. He was the oldest so of course they wanted to do what he was doing." 9. "I hide away in the washroom before each race."  I asked Josh if he had any pre-race rituals. We even joked about the Australian hurdler whose pre-race 'sexy dance' video went viral a couple weeks ago. Did he listen to music? Did he meditate? "Nope, none of that," says Josh. "I need to go into myself. I need to quiet myself, so I sneak off to the washroom, hide out in a stall if I have to, and just think, quietly prepare myself." 10. Designer guy!  I actually knew prior to the interview that Josh is an accomplished illustrator-designer. He completed a program at Sheraton College, Oakville, Ontario. Check out his illustrations. We hope to talk to Josh and his mom again. What's the first thing you'd want to ask either of them?
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How do you raise an Olympic athlete?

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