What It’s Like Being The Parent Of An Olympic Gymnast Headed To Rio

Training for a spot on the Olympic team is expensive. Beyond the years of expensive training and coaching, travel to national and international competitions, custom-made costumes that are worn just once, shoes that wear out in weeks and private tutors to help make up missed schoolwork while competing, there is also a personal toll: the cost of disruption to the athlete’s family and the sacrifices the rest of the family makes.

In the case of Natalie McGiffert, a rhythmic gymnast who fulfilled her dream and will compete in the Rio games as part of the U.S. Olympic team, the disruption included moving with her dad to another part of the country and living apart from her mom and brother for most of her high school years. Once Natalie’s older brother Evan graduated high school, the family rented out their home in southern California, and with Mom Shannon, moved to a small rental home in Illinois to be near Natalie’s gym.

She not only forewent the typical high school experience as she trained double-digit hours a day, but her dad left his career as an assistant director on some of Hollywood’s best-known films. And her avid surfer mom? Well, you can imagine the withdrawal from the California sunshine she experienced in suburban Chicago winters.

Now, the family is headed to Rio, where Natalie will compete in what has been the dream she has chased for more than half her life.

If they had to do it all over again, would they? They don’t even quite fathom the question: Of course, said dad David. “Sometimes, our dreams really do come true,” he told The Huffington Post. 

“Now our family is having the amazing experience of watching our daughter and her five teammates begin the final plans to compete in Rio. As I write this, the girls are in Baku, Azerbaijan competing in their last-ever World Cup event. They return to the U.S. on July 25th. A week later they leave for Houston, Texas to begin Olympic processing and final training. On Aug. 13 the team leaves Houston for Rio and on Aug. 20th, at 6 a.m. California time they compete.” he said. “We couldn’t get more excited.”

Here’s what we wrote about the McGifferts four years ago

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