Simone Manuel just scored her first Olympic medal, and she's only getting started.
The 20-year-old swimmer from Sugar Land, Texas, earned a silver medal on Saturday in the women's 400-meter freestyle relay, and she still has two more races to complete while in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympic Games.
We spoke to Simone's mother, Sharron Manuel, over email, and she told Mom.me how it feels to be the mom of an Olympian, how she encourages her daughter through the wins and losses, and how she wants Simone to remember this amazing moment in her life.
Congratulations! How does it feel to be the mom of an Olympian?
Thank you. I am still trying to put into words my feelings on being the mom of an Olympian. Of course, I am proud of Simone, but I have seen her accomplish other goals along the way and was equally proud of those accomplishments. I am also happy for Simone. There is an unexplainable joy that comes over you when you witness somebody you love so dearly achieve their ultimate dream. As will all athletes at this level, she worked very hard and overcame some obstacles and weathered some storms this year to earn a spot on the team. It was a relief that she was able to accomplish her goal. So to put it into words, I guess you could say I felt pride, joy, excitement and relief.
How did you all celebrate when Simone landed her spot on the team?
When Simone first landed her spot on the team, we all applauded and cheered. It was a relief for sure, but we knew she had the 50 free (competition) the very next morning, so we couldn't celebrate too much. We met with her the night after the 100 free, gave her kisses, hugs and encouragement for the next day. After she earned a spot in the 50 free, we took her out dinner to eat pizza to celebrate. It was great!
At what moment did you realize you had a star swimmer on your hands?
That is a difficult question to answer. I think Simone has always shown signs of being a very good athlete. She was always comfortable in the water and always loved being in water. Throughout her time as a recreational and age-group swimmer, she was always placed in the group with older swimmers. Even then, I don't think we ever allowed ourselves to think of Simone as a star. We did the best we could to encourage her to follow her dreams and work hard. I would tell Simone all the time that ordinary people do extraordinary things every day, and there is no reason why she couldn't do something extraordinary.
You have three kids. How have you kept everything organized with all of the different schedules in your family?
We were definitely busy running around with three kids and all of their activities. I can't say that everything was organized all the time. We had to set priorities and take care of the most important things first. When it came to their activities, school was important. Sports came after that. We had help from friends, family and teammates when there were schedule conflicts. When I reflect on how much running around we did, especially on the weekends, I'm not sure how we got it all done. We just did what we had to do, and although it was hectic at times, I considered it a joy to be able to be there for them. I wouldn't change any of it.
Everyone's talking about Zika. Are you or your family worried at all about being in Rio?
We are aware of the concerns about Zika, but we are not worried. I think we are taking the proper precautions. Our preparation is based on research we have done, and the information and advice we have gotten from USA Swimming and the USOC (United States Olympic Committee). We have prepared our clothes and have the recommended insect repellent to travel with us to Rio. We are looking forward to having a fun and memorable time cheering for Team USA!
How have you and your family supported Simone in this huge endeavor? Do you have any special family traditions to show your support?
We have supported her in many ways. We all sacrificed to drive her to those early morning practices. We have supported her by going to her swim meets. When she took the last quarter off from school this year to train for the Olympics, I moved to California to be Simone's roommate with the support of my husband because we thought that is what was best for Simone. Family members came to visit her in California to give her a piece of home, since she was unable to come home. I will always cherish that time I had in California with Simone. It was a small sacrifice to pay to help support her and her dream.
Who are the athletes that Simone look up to?
I don't remember Simone having any one specific athlete she looked up to. She was a faithful fan of her brothers (Christopher and Ryan) and enjoyed going to their games and cheering for them. Many times, she would jump in the car after practice, get homework done on the road and grab a quick bite to eat in the car because she was anxious to get to their games, even if she didn't catch the whole game. She hated missing them. So I would say that her brothers were the athletes she looked up to the most. Trying to keep up with her brothers is where she gets her competitiveness.
Sports comes with a lot of wins and losses. How have you encouraged your daughter to keep her drive?
Being honest and encouraging them is the cornerstone to their success. We definitely encouraged them. But we also were honest with them that not every performance is going to be golden. It was important that they loved what they were doing and were having fun doing it. I still ask Simone today if she is having fun. Because if they are having fun, they will continue to strive to be better. We have always communicated to our children that their sport does not define all of who they are as a person. They are valued and loved as a person whether or not they excel in sports. Our family motto is: "DYB — Do Your Best."That is all we can ask of them. If they know in their heart that they did their best at that time, that is all that matters. I think Simone has always been internally motivated and was driven from a very young age. When she has those disappointing performances, we just encourage her to keep working on it, keep believing and keep trying. More importantly, know that she is so much more than what she does.
We have always communicated to our children that their sport does not define all of who they are as a person.
How do you hope your daughter will remember this time in her life?
I hope she will remember this time in her life as a great testament of her hard work and faith. Simone worked very hard to get to this moment, but she also believed that this was a part of God's plan for her life. I hope that she will be able to look back on this moment and know that dreams do come true. I hope that she soaks it all in and takes a moment to enjoy this milestone in her life. Life will surely bring sunshine and rain. Those times when the rain comes, I hope that she will reflect on the memories of this moment in her life, of accomplishing her dream of being an Olympian and know that sooner or later, the sun will shine again.