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|| News Item: Posted 2012-08-27

Olympic Moms
By Jennifer Pottheiser

Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser

Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser

In a matter of three months Jennifer Pottheiser managed to coordinate schedules with close to 20 Olympic hopefuls all over the country for her project about Olympic Moms.
Four and a half years ago, I photographed professional basketball player Lisa Leslie soon after she had given birth to her first child. We talked about how she would likely try to return for the upcoming Summer Olympic Games and I left that shoot amazed that with a newborn at home, this mom would be mentally and physically able to compete at the ultimate level. On the 2008 Women’s USA Basketball Team, Lisa joined 3 other Olympic Moms headed to Beijing including Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson and Taj McWIlliams-Franklin. It didn’t seem possible that you could be training at the ultimate level but also worried about breast-feeding and diaper changes so I started researching the topic. I discovered that while the Olympic Basketball Moms were unique, they were not alone; there were about a dozen other moms hoping to compete in the ’08 Olympics. I tried to get the “Moms” story off the ground prior to Beijing but I couldn’t get all of the pieces in place.

This past April, I mentioned the project in casual conversation and thought to myself, why am I not doing the Olympic Moms project this year? And just like that, the project was reborn. I reached out to 2 colleagues and friends that I had worked with on other projects. Danielle Elliot is a documentary writer and filmmaker and Kerry Caiafa is a producer (and a mom) and both jumped on board. We had 3 months to coordinate our schedules with close to 20 Olympic hopefuls all over the country. Olympic athletes are incredibly busy people. Moms are incredibly busy people. But athletes that are moms? How would we all squeeze this personal project into our schedules?

Aside from that, would anyone training for the Olympics be willing to take part in a “personal project?” When I sent the first emails out to the athletes and their agents, we sat waiting and hoping. Was this a completely bogus request? A pair of independent filmmakers want to come over before you wake up your infant; stick around for your eight hours of practice, dinner with your family and bedtime stories. And squeeze an interview and photo shoot in there too. The first response came within an hour -- Mickey Kelly was very interested. I was literally astounded. And the responses kept coming in; Olympic Moms wanted us to tell their story.

Logistically, things were a bit more complicated. As the project was self-funded, we needed to keep budgets in check at all times. The potential moms also didn’t want to be recognized as “Olympic Moms” until they had made their respective teams; for some of the sports that didn’t happen until early July. Our first shoot was in Colorado Springs in late April with Olympic hopeful Mickey Kelly who was training for modern pentathlon. She had a 9-month old daughter at home and invited us to her house before sun up to capture the full day. Danielle and I met up in Denver with each of us coming from other assignments. We scouted Colorado Springs and our shooting locations and then drove around desperately searching for a vegan friendly restaurant before settling on the old standby, Chipotle. Over dinner, Danielle and I talked through some pre-production notes and brushed up on Mickey’s amazing story; I could hardly sleep that night in anticipation of the official start of the project. We arrived at Mickey’s house at 6:30am and after waiting to begin this project for over four years, we started shooting. I remember standing in Mickey’s living room with her training gear all around while she breast-fed her daughter before leaving for practice; the visuals were like a dream come true. We spent breakfast, lunch and dinner with Mickey, Will and their daughter Lily while Mickey trained in fencing, shooting, swimming, running and equestrian. We left the house that night exhausted after spending 14 hours together. But really what could we be tired from, we hadn’t been training for all of those sports or breast-feeding a baby?? We needed to toughen up to be able to stay in step with these Olympic Moms.

Since that initial shoot we have spent 13 hours with Keli Smith Puzo on the campus of University of Maryland (both her and Danielle’s alma-mater) where she was competing in a tournament - and sharing a cramped dorm with her mom and two boys. We had 47 minutes with Khatuna Lorig amidst a marathon of shooting five moms in six days in the Los Angeles area. Olympic gold-medal favorite Lashinda Demus met us at the track on July 4 to train on what should've been a day off. Tayyiba Haneef-Park invited Danielle and I to her annual July 4th picnic and we’ve been invited back for the party in 2013. We have filmed in Colorado, California, Pennsylvania and Maryland and still have more to do. A flash storm in June cancelled our flights to Atlanta -- and, as it would turn out, our entire shoot with high-jump favorite Chaunte Lowe.

Kerri Walsh and Christie Rampone's agents tried so hard to fit us in -- at one point we were scheduled with both. The moms that we didn't have a chance to feature have each invited us to shoot with them now that they are home from London -- and how can we say no to that?

When Danielle and I began this project, I couldn’t have imagined that we would have been able to share in the lives of these amazing women at such a critical point in their training. And for that, we are forever indebted to these truly remarkable moms. What I have realized is that if you want to work with a subject, just ask.

People, even professional athletes, sometimes just say yes to photo requests. And if a woman with two kids under the age of five at home who is training for the Olympic Games 2 weeks away invites you to spend the day with her, just go for it; it will have been worth the wait.

Jennifer Pottheiser is a freelance photographer based in New Jersey. You can see examples of her work at her Sports Shooter member page:

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