Fathers are proof that not all superheroes wear tights and capes. For many of us, our favorite role models don’t need magical powers to show us what courage, integrity and focus look like. Whether he was your first coach, practice partner, willing chauffeur, toughest critic, biggest fan, or all the above, odds are good that dad helped you build the confidence to keep setting the bar high in sports — and life.
To celebrate Father’s Day, we asked athletes how they bonded with dad and what lessons they learned from him. From weekend sweats to zany bets, you might be surprised at these sweet responses.
Passion: Cross-Country Skiing
Why She’d Make Any Dad Proud: A four-time Olympian and 17-time U.S. National Champion, this pink-haired, Kashi-sponsored skier holds a slew of international awards. In 2013, she won five World Cup events and is a three-time World Cup Overall Sprint champion.
How Dad Helped: Early on, Randall’s father taught her how to overcome frustration when learning something new. “My dad would help me break the problem into smaller pieces until I could see my way through,” she says. “The little successes would build my confidence.” Even if Randall didn’t reach her goals, her resiliency and willingness to keep trying, both instilled by her father, gave her a sense of pride and allowed her to get more out of every experience, she says. And that grit and determination came in handy this year when she was victorious at the World Cup after a tough Olympics.
“He taught me to get out there and get after it because no one is going to come knock on your door and hand you anything in life, so you need to earn it.”
Passion: Skydiving and B.A.S.E. jumping
Why He’d Make Any Dad Proud: Get high for a living? Not necessarily the way to make parents proud — unless you’re Jeff Provenzano. Adrenaline junkie and accomplished B.A.S.E. jumper Provenzano has jumped out of planes over 16,000 times and has won 14 national and international competitions. A pioneer of original high-flying acrobatic moves in a new sport known as swooping, he is the four-time champion of the U.S. Pond Swoop Nationals.
How Dad Helped: “He taught me to get out there and get after it because no one is going to come knock on your door and hand you anything in life, so you need to earn it,” says Provenzano of his father, explaining that sports were his dad’s way of passing down this life philosophy. His favorite memories with Dad revolve around sports and the outdoors. From baseball, basketball, golf, soccer, skiing, ice-skating, tennis, Frisbee, running, biking and swimming, the two didn’t spend much time on the couch!
According to Provenzano, the best advice his dad imparted was during a simple game of catch: Keep your eye on the ball. “I find myself repeating these words in my head throughout life… Focus on what’s important to succeed in achieving your goal, your target, your mission, your landing,” he says.
Why She’d Make Any Dad Proud: This decorated distance runner’s got serious hustle on and off the track. She won the 5K event at the US Championships in 2006 and 2010, and has competed at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) championships three times. An energy bar entrepreneur who’s created the Picky Bars brand, Fleshman also makes time to connect with runners of all levels and answer questions on her blog.
How Dad Helped: The 33 year-old track star fondly recalls bonding with her father during camping trips where she learned to “dismantle fear” in the great outdoors. From building a fire by pouring lighter fluid at an “arguably unsafe distance” to cliff jumping and making new friends, Dad instilled a healthy sense of adventure in his daughter.
“As soon as we packed up the car for a trip, I knew we’d be pushing boundaries,” she says. And apart from fun-filled camping trips, Fleshman says her dad encouraged her to fight for her beliefs and “not take [crap] from anyone.”
Why He’d Make Any Dad Proud: Not many parents can claim their son has been the “Fittest Man on Earth,” but Holmberg’s can. In 2010, this CrossFit competitor won the title by placing first at the CrossFit Games. A dedicated athlete since his days playing college football, Holmberg has placed in the top 20 athletes at four Games. In between WODs, coaching, and spending time with family, Holmberg recently opened his own box, Eleventh Element: Crossfit Hilliard, in Ohio.
How Dad Helped: Holmberg cherishes memories of his father bringing him to the sports fields before everyone else showed up for a game. “My father expected the most out of me in whatever challenge, sport or job that I took on,” he says. But Dad was always the one to lead him in the right direction. Holmberg still goes to his father for words of wisdom. “[He] taught me to love God, love my wife and family and to treat others the way I wanted to be treated,” says Holmberg, who is now a father himself.
“No problem is too big to overcome and sometimes all you have to do is take a different approach.”
Why She’d Make Any Dad Proud: This 24-year old Aussie became the youngest surfer to win a Pro Junior event (eligible for those under 21 years old) at the tender age of 14. Since then she’s gone on to ride the waves to international victories: At 16, she won her first of three world titles. Fitzgibbons, now sponsored by Roxy, is the first surfer to hold the U.S. and Australian Open titles at the same time. And this past year, she won the Fiji Women’s Pro Championships for the second year in a row.
How Dad Helped: According to Fitzgibbons, her father’s positivity and willingness to accept all challenges has inspired her throughout the years. “He taught me no problem is too big to overcome and sometimes all you have to do is take a different approach,” she says.
The craziest way Dad motivated his daughter? The two had a longstanding bet that Mr. Fitzgibbons would shave off a 35-year old mustache if Sally won a pro event. And in 2011, Dad had to make good on his word when she took first place at Bells Beach!
Why She’d Make Any Dad Proud: A two-time Olympic gold medalist, hoops star Seimone Augustus has won the WNBA championship twice with the Minnesota Lynx. But her basketball career started taking off well before she turned pro. Prior to entering high school, she was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated for Women, and would soon lead the Louisiana State University women’s team to three consecutive NCAA Final Four appearances. She now plays for the Minnesota Lynx.
How Dad Helped: “He kind of tricked me into training and having fun with him at the same time,” Augustus says of her father, who used to take her on bike rides to local rec centers, where the two would run basketball drills and play in rec league games. But her father taught her more than how to shoot layups and three pointers. “Working two to three jobs, he would leave one job, go straight to the next, then come home and be a father,” she says. Dad led by example, showing Augustas the importance of developing a strong work ethic.
Passion: Drag Racing
Why He’d Make Any Dad Proud: Hagan has a need for speed. This race track junkie drives a 10,000 horsepower Dodge Charger and has clocked a personal speed record of 322.27 miles per hour in it. Hagan and his team won the 2011 NHRA Funny Car Championships, and in 2013, earned a second place finish at the championships. His most recent win? Placing sixth at the NHRA Toyota Summernationals event on June 1, 2013.
How Dad Helped: During fishing trips with his father, Hagan learned the value of patience — something you might not expect from a competitor used to speeding for a living. Plus, he came to appreciate the time spent out on the water with his father. “It’s not always about catching fish,” he says. “I wish I had realized that at a younger age.” Now, Hagan hopes to pass on his love of the great outdoors to his own children.
Did your dad teach you any life lessons you’ll never forget? Share them in the comments below.
Originally posted June 2014. Updated June 2015.