Achieving your dreams wouldn’t be possible without the support of your loved ones, and for many of us our number one fan’s name is spelled M-O-M. She celebrates your wins and has your back when the going gets tough. She motivates and commiserates. She’s the one who taught you to pick yourself up and try, try again. She challenged you to dream bigger. She kept you humble in the face of success. She’s got the best hug around, no contest.
In honor of Mother’s Day, we asked 10 pro athletes and Olympians how their moms helped them on their road to greatness. From personality and character to physical traits and words of wisdom, these heart-warming responses might just inspire you to call up your own mom to say thanks! Did your mom give you advice you’ll never forget? Share it in the comments below.
Why He’d Make Any Mom Proud: An internationally-acclaimed endurance athlete, 51-year-old Karnazes has put in serious mileage all around the world. He’s run 350 miles in under 81 hours, conquered a marathon a day in each of the 50 states for 50 consecutive days, and other mind-boggling feats.
How Mom Helped: Karnazes says his mother instilled “insatiable wanderlust” in him. “She always used to tell us kids, ‘Adventure happens the moment you step out the front door. Get outside!’” And she truly practices what she preaches, according to Karnazes. While he completed the Big Sur marathon, his mother powered through the nine-mile walk event.
“From the moment I was born, she used to put me in a stroller and walk around town from sunup ‘till sundown,” says Karnazes. Now, the two compare mileage on their Fitbits, and Karnazes reveals his mother regularly outsteps him!
“Take a day to mope, move forward without any lingering frustrations, and then set your sights on something new.”
Why She’d Make Any Mom Proud: Goucher’s resilience after battling multiple injuries propelled her to snag a bronze medal in the women’s 10,000-meter event at the 2007 IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federation) World Championships. The 35-year-old speed demon has also placed third at both the New York City Marathon and the Boston Marathon in recent years.
How Mom Helped: “When I’m 24 miles into a marathon and my body is screaming at me to quit, I thank my mom for passing on the toughness I need to get through the next two miles,” says Goucher, who credits her mother for passing down the gutsiness and grit that’s essential for endurance sports.
In addition to inspiring her to push through a tough race course, Goucher’s mom has helped her daughter overcome tough moments in her career. “Whenever I had a bad race or performance, she would encourage me to take a day and be sad about it,” says Goucher. “Take a day to mope, move forward without any lingering frustrations, and then set your sights on something new.”
Passion: Figure Skating
Why She’d Make Any Mom Proud: A talented ice skater who first laced up when she was just three years old, Hughes was not considered a medal contender at the 2002 Winter Olympics but nevertheless pulled off a flawless routine that earned her the gold. The triumph was one of many international victories Hughes secured with her artistry and bold triple jumps.
How Mom Helped: The best advice Hughes received from her mother had nothing to do with athletics or achieving goals. “She was always reminding me that ‘It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice,’” says Hughes, who takes that to heart whenever she meets younger skaters and fans.
“Life is constantly throwing you curveballs: You’re tired, your flight was delayed, you didn’t do the exact warm-up you wanted.” Hughes says she credits her mom for her positive spirit and the ability to move forward despite the chaos and unpredictability of life as an athlete.
Why She’d Make Any Mom Proud: The youngest child in her family, Bird has been making headlines since she was the New York State Player of the Year back in high school. Since then, she’s won national and international contests with UConn and USA Basketball squads, most notably earning the gold medal at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Bird now plays with UMMC Ekaterinburg overseas in Russia, and runs the point for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, who are glad to have her back in action after taking the 2013 season off to recover from hip surgery.
How Mom Helped: According to Bird, her mom’s support no matter the situation has given her confidence throughout her career. “Whether I had a good game or a bad game, she was always there to hug me and always treated me the same.” And when the clock ran out too quickly, Bird is glad she inherited her mother’s resiliency. “I hope I have half of what she has!” she says.
Passion: Figure Skating
Why He’d Make Any Mom Proud: Not all 26-year-old men have the courage (or the skills) to bust a move on the dance floor or on the ice, but White makes both look like a piece of cake. An accomplished ice dancer, White recently won Olympic gold in Sochi with partner Meryl Davis and is now competing in the popular TV dance series Dancing With the Stars. White and Davis have been skating together longer than any other American dance team, and they are two-time World champions and six-time national champions.
How Mom Helped: White says the best advice his mom gave him was to “always live in the moment,” which helps him enjoy what he’s doing without stressing over what’s to come. White believes he gained his mother’s positivity, a trait he says has been beneficial for sport and for life.
Why She’d Make Any Mom Proud: The U.S. Olympic Fencing team was lucky to have Smart and her brother Keeth on board for the 2008 Games, since the siblings were instrumental in earning silver medals in the team events. In her fencing career, Erinn has amassed an extensive hardware collection; She ranked 11th at the 2003 World Championships, won the national championships four times, and competed at the Olympics twice. Now she’s making Mom proud by working on DailyBurn’s business development team!
How Mom Helped: “My mother was a strong believer in the power of positive thinking,” says Smart. “If your mind conceived a goal or dream, she believed you could achieve it with hard work, positive thinking and self-discipline.” It was this wisdom that encouraged Smart to tackle her goals with confidence.
Smart says she also has her mother to thank for passing down her long limbs and short torso, which happens to be the ideal body type for a fencer, providing a longer reach and a smaller target for challengers to hit. “I loved seeing the frustration on an opponent’s face when they thought they were close to hitting, but I could shift my waist ever so slightly to prevent a point,” she reveals. “Over the years, my long reach helped me to make quite a few unexpected points, including the point that solidified my team in the 2008 Olympic medal round in Beijing.”
Why She’d Make Any Mom Proud: Before even graduating high school, Raisman showed the world her poise, passion and precision at the London 2012 Summer Olympics, where she won three medals: a bronze in the balance beam, a gold in the team event, and a gold in the gymnastics floor event (the first for an American woman). Now, she’s pursuing a professional career as a gymnast.
How Mom Helped: “It’s easy to get discouraged and scared,” says Raisman, “but my mom has always been there for me when I’m frustrated and overwhelmed.” Raisman’s mom encouraged her daughter to be tenacious and always believe in herself, and judging from Aly’s gutsy performances, it looks like that confidence has certainly paid off!
“I have a great relationship with my mom,” says Raisman, who considers her mother to be one of her best friends. She admires how much her mother loves and cares for friends and family, and she says she tries to emulate that loving kindness towards her own friends.
“No matter how good I thought I became, she taught me that I could always listen and learn things from others to become a better player and person.”
Why He’d Make Any Mom Proud: This 10-year National Football League veteran is retired now, but he stormed the gridiron as a defensive tackle with the Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills. He graced the cover of Sports Illustrated while still in high school, appeared three times in the Pro Bowl and was named to the All-Pro team three times.
How Mom Helped: Stroud says his mother taught him to always be willing to listen. “No matter how good I thought I became, she taught me that I could always listen and learn things from others to become a better player and person,” he says.
And what trait is he most grateful his mom passed down? His towering height! At six-foot six-inches, Stroud most certainly takes after his six-foot-tall mother.
Why She’d Make Any Mom Proud: Every mother wants her daughter to grow up to be a strong woman, and Thorisdottir is just that and then some. The two-time World’s Fittest Woman made waves in the international fitness community with back-to-back wins at the Crossfit Games in 2011 and 2012. Now she’s the head of training at CrossFit Union Square in New York and is a proud member of the New York Rhinos, a National Professional Fitness League team.
How Mom Helped: The best advice she’s received from Mom? “Remember to smile!” says Thorisdottir. “It doesn’t have to be fun all the time, but if you don’t enjoy it, it’s not worth doing.” (And what’s not to love about dominating a killer WOD!) The Iceland-born athlete says she’s most thankful for the perseverance and strength passed down from her mom. “It’s helped me with everything in life, from my athletic career and beyond,” she says.
Why She’d Make Any Mom Proud: This 24-year-old basketball pro has been sinking shots since she was three years old and her mother mounted a hoop outside of her home in Missouri. Moore is a two-time WNBA champion, two-time NCAA champion, and was the first overall pick in the 2011 WNBA draft. And if that’s not impressive enough, she also brought home Olympic gold with Team USA at the 2012 London Games.
How Mom Helped: “She was never one to coach me on the court, but she regularly pushed me to think about my future and where basketball could take me,” says Moore, whose mother taught her how to be proactive and “dream ahead.” As she gears up for her fourth season with the WNBA, she’s grateful Mom helped her make a habit out of tracking her progress — both on and off the court.
Originally posted May 2014. Updated May 2015.