I recently had the chance to chat with Summer Sanders, retired gold medal Olympic swimmer and author of Champions are Raised not Born. Summer was very candid in her thoughts about raising competitive children, finding your support system as a working mom, and her passion for the Duracell Virtual Stadium.

SocialMoms: At what age did you start swimming? 

Summer: I got the first taste of swimming growing up in northern California with a backyard pool. My mom introduced me to swimming at eighteen months, like a lot of kids in the United States. And like a lot of kids, I hated every second of it and cried and cried and cried! And then, I think it was my brother, watching him with his friends. And our community. Growing up where I did, everybody did summer rec swimming. When I was four I joined the team. They wanted me to be six, but said, “Hey, if she can swim a lap in the pool go for it.” I did and that was it!

How many hours did you put into sports as a child? 

Summer: In high school it was about 30 hours a week. That was with a full school schedule and an hour to and from the pool, twice a day. In college it was more, but it was also easier to get to.

Was there ever a point where you wanted to stop, or wished you could have been doing other things? 

Summer: There was a never a moment when I was older. The only moment was when I was about ten or eleven and I felt my friends were doing really great things after school. I quit swimming for that reason and I realized they were only ever going to Thrifty drugstore and getting an ice cream cone. I felt like I snapped my fingers and the afternoon had gone by and my other friends were getting home from swim practice. I’m like, “This is all my friends are doing is that?”

The only thing I ever missed out on was Sadie Hawkins dance. I was such a shy person I was so grateful I didn’t have to ask a guy out!

And did your parents support your decision when you took the break?

Summer: My parents made such great decisions. My mom bit her tongue when she could have said to me, “You have so much talent, you need to stay with this, you could be great.” Instead she just let me find my way when I was eleven and wanted to do these things. I think she really knew that if she was to smother that passion in any way, she’d put out the fire.

The most important thing, and I do this as a parent now, is I try to make sure my kids are accountable. That and being a good teammate, a humble winner, and a gracious loser through sports. So, if you join the team you need to go to practice, you can’t just go to the game. That was the grounds my parents stood on too.

Is there anything else you think it takes to raise an Olympian?

Summer: I think what’s so cool, across the board when it comes to great athletes, is that they have this incredible competitive spirit. It’s such a hard thing … we’re taught everyone’s a winner, everyone gets first place, everyone gets a ribbon.  I remember very early on knowing the difference between a blue ribbon, a red ribbon, and a white ribbon. And I wanted that blue ribbon. I think it’s a balance trying to make sure that you keep that competitive spirit but also teach everything you hope your kids learn about life through sports.

The toughest part about raising someone with talent is trying to guide and lead them down a path – but it’s their path. You have to know your role. As a parent you teach your kids to be well-rounded people.  You’re not necessarily raising an Olympian, you’re raising a well-rounded, balanced, awesome person to do great things in this world. A person with natural competitive spirit is going to find their way to greatness.

Problems occur when the parent tries to be the coach or the coach tries to be the parent. You have to know your role in raising this wonderful person.

As a working mom, do you have any advice for handling your schedule, and getting your children to their activities and sports?

Summer: All I say to all working moms is that we’re all in this together and I applaud your imperfection. I’ve long thrown out the idea that I’m going to be a perfect parent.

My advice is to ask for help and be a part of a community/team of moms that can help out. I really would love to see this more. I feel so blessed for where I live and I have a strong group of women who don’t judge and don’t keep score. They want to help their fellow moms. Don’t assume your husband/significant other knows exactly what you want. Now’s the time to speak up and get help. And don’t overcommit!

With my strong girlfriends I can be imperfect and ask for help. Find your community and know that every other mom is just as imperfect and trying to do the best job ever.

Now tell us about Duracell Virtual Stadium and how the program supports athletes.

Summer: It’s similar to what I was just talking about before with the strength of community.  Although the Olympic athletes are in an English-speaking country, they are not on home court. To feel the strength of the American people cheering for them through Duracell’s Virtual Stadium is incredible. It’s like that priceless moment. You can’t put a price tag or the impact it will have on the athlete – you just can’t know it.  They can feel the cheers.

I encourage everyone to go online. Send a text, a video, a picture, a message at Facebook.com/Duracell or YouTube.com/Duracell. Be a part of that community and they will make a difference in the dreams and outcomes of these athletes.

Where will athletes be able to see the messages?

Summer: Facebook.com/Duracell or YouTube.com/Duracell.The Virtual Stadium features a navigable mosaic that allows the athletes to search for messages left for their name or sport. Additionally, athletes and their families will be able to see the 28-foot build out of the Virtual Stadium in the P&G Family Home.

Thanks so much to Summer for talking with me, and I hope you all log on and support our athletes this Olympic season!

SocialMoms is giving away a $100 Amazon gift card to one random winner. Just leave a comment below sharing how you encourage your kids to be their best and you’ll be entered to win. (See official rules)