During the Olympic Games, all eyes are on the athletes competing.
But often little thought is considered for the families of the athletes, unless they do something noteworthy that ends up going viral.
Being the family members isn’t always everything it’s cracked up to be. It can be stressful watching loved ones attempt to reach their dreams and heartbreaking to see them fail.
For every parent or sibling, the experience is different, and the emotions are swirling. But above all, they’re proud and want nothing more than for their athlete to succeed.
Watching her daughter swim at big meets is the “worst feeling in the world,” said Allison Willmott, mother of Great Britain swimmer Aimee Willmott.
“There’s nothing enjoyable about it,” Willmott said. “You know what they put into it, so you know what [the race] means to them.”
And if Aimee doesn’t swim how she wants to, she can be tough on herself, Willmott said — she has to be in order to improve.
“All you want is for them to get out of the pool with a smile on their face,” she said.
The feeling is similar for U.S. diver Michael Hixon’s mom, Mandy Hixon. She coached Michael up until he was 18, so his success is even sweeter for her.
But watching him dive makes her anxious. She’s not a big cheerer, but she will always watch him dive as she sits and wishes for the best.
“I’m always hoping he’s healthy and happy with his performance,” Hixon said.
NUMBER ONE FAN
Daniel Beisel, brother of United States swimmer Elizabeth Beisel, said he’s just there to offer anything he can to his sister as she competes.
He attends every session she swims at, armed with a shirt marked with “Beisel” on the back, and a paper cutout of teammate Nathan Adrian’s head.
“It’s very humbling; it’s great,” he said about the attitude people have toward him. “We’re here for her, and everything comes after rooting for her.”
Families also must make a lot of sacrifices to support their athlete, said Carole Hodgett, mom of Great Britain field hockey player David Ames.
“Our life has to suit his: with his nutrition, getting to and from games and traveling the world to watch him,” Hodgett said. “It’s all good fun … to sit on the sidelines and watch him play.”
Because the Olympics is so busy for the athletes, families don’t get too much time to spend with them, but they cherish every moment they do.
“It’s lovely to meet up and get a hug,” Hodgett said.
For Erin Smith, the 17-year-old sister of U.S. Paralympic swimmer Lizzi Smith, watching her sister compete is inspiring.
“Growing up, I’ve always looked up to her,” Erin said. “With all of her hard work … she deserves it … she really throws all of herself into the sport.”
Erin and her parents go to as many of Lizzi’s events as they can: Their dad goes to every one, while her mom goes to the close ones, and Erin just tries to make whatever she can.
“It’s inspiring to see all these different athletes with different limbs and not being able to see,” she said. “Being the younger sister, I’m always looking up to her … and I’m incredibly excited for her.”
Kara Berg is a Ball State University student and writer for BSU at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and BSU at the Games on Facebook.
Kara Berg is a senior journalism major at Ball State University, and has been obsessed with the Olympics ever since she can remember. She was a competitive swimmer for 12 years and loves the sport more than anything.