I always had a parent yelling at me from the bleachers… and it wasn’t my dad.
My mom didn’t have a full-time job. Instead, her full-time job was driving me to and from water polo practice, cooking me nutritious meals and making sure I was able to succeed as an athlete.
It’s unfortunate, really, that I didn’t notice just how involved she was, or how much work she put into my athletic career, until college. Sometimes I’d even get annoyed: I’d tell her to stop — just take me to practice, and let me sleep when I get home.
It all started when I was nine, and my mom took me to a few Los Angeles Water Polo Club practices. I was really anxious — I didn’t want to go unless my friends were going, too. They weren’t, but she pushed me and encouraged me to go to the practices week after week.
During this time, I was also on a swim team that held practice six times a week. Those practices were at 6 a.m., so my mom and I would leave the house at 5:30 a.m. almost every day. Next, she would take me to school. Then after school on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays, she would drive me straight to water polo practice.
Fast-forward to high school — the most intense time of my water polo career. During the season, we had to be on the pool deck at 5:45 a.m. Monday through Friday (we also had to be there by 6:45 a.m. for practice every Saturday), so my mom and I would usually leave the house at 5 in the morning. Then, we had another practice every day after school until about 7 p.m. My mom, however, was always waiting in the car with an entire box of cooked pasta with chicken and marinara sauce by the time I was out of the pool. Generally speaking, I was a picky eater during this time, so whenever we had a team meal, my mom would either make something special for me or ensure whoever brought the food was aware that I needed something different from everyone else.
She was basically the whole team’s mom, too: She attended any and all out-of-state tournaments, fed my teammates and even allowed them to sleep on our couch (or floor) to cut their commutes in the mornings.
On top of all this, my mom is definitely the reason I got into Princeton. She would help me with my schoolwork every day, and in my sophomore year of high school, she encouraged me talk to the head water polo coach at Princeton when they played USC. I didn’t want to talk to him, but she mentioned that my grades were pretty good and that I might have a chance.
I ended up playing water polo for Princeton all four years. Water polo wasn’t my priority while I was there — we would only practice twice a day, three times a week — but my mom still flew out from L.A. to watch me play in every tournament; she even came when I wasn’t playing.
My dad’s a lot busier, so he wasn’t able to come out to everything. But they both moved from L.A. to New York during my sophomore year, which made it easier for them to attend my tournaments, especially toward the end of my career. When they made that move, my mom agreed to host the whole team during preseasons. She would cook for them, and they would sleep on our floors.
I think part of what compelled her to become so involved with my athletic career — beyond the fact that I’m her son and she loves me — was that she really loved being a part of the water polo community. She’s told me being a part of that particular community was one of the most fun times of her life. That’s why she’s still involved with water polo: She helped run the Ironman Water Polo League for years even after I stopped playing in it.
All the time my mom and I spent together when I was playing water polo definitely strengthened our relationship. I still see her once or twice a week, which I think is a lot for an adult. But I guess all those quiet, early-morning drives together would bond just about anyone.
— As told to Ian Lecklitner
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