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Tumbl Talk

Parenting a National Champion by Tori O'Keefe

Posted on 4/9/2018
Maile O’Keefe has become a national gymnastics treasure, winning our applause with back to back US Junior National Championship titles in 2016 and 2017.  In her first senior competition, Maile placed third at the American Cup in March, solidly paving her path in the senior ranks.

Coached by Tammy and Sorin Salcianu since she was a tot, Maile’s gymnastics journey has been full of love and support from coaches, teammates, community members and of course, her family.  

In a quiet moment at Brestyan’s Las Vegas Invitational, I caught up with Maile’s mom, Tori O’Keefe to ask about her experience and what it’s like to parent a National Champion.

    Q:        Maile’s gymnastics career has been a family affair.  In what ways does your family support Maile?

Tori:  Our family members have all contributed background support in some way or another - The whole family participates in helping to set up for meets, her brother has been “dragged around” to events, and Maile’s grandmother has been cheering her on along the way.   But our family support extends beyond Maile’s immediate family.  Maile’s coaches, and their immediate family have given so much time, and support in immeasurable ways.

    Q: What does it feel like to watch your athlete, from the stands at a National Championship?

Tori:  For quite some time, Maile travelled a lot with her coaches for meets for years, and I’d watch from home from my laptop.  One meet, I remember watching the livestream and I could hear Maile’s floor music playing in the background, but I wasn’t able to see her.  That was hard!  

One of the first big live meets I was able to attend was the National Championships in 2016 in Saint Louis.  I was watching the scoreboard, and seeing her scores pop up and it was just a surreal feeling.  There were moments when she was so close to where I was sitting and I would go out to the tunnel so I didn’t distract her.  Toward the end of the meet, when I knew no one could catch her, the tears just started flowing - so heavily that people around me were concerned, and asked me if I was ok.  “Do you have a daughter out there?”  All I could manage was to squeak out, “Yes, Maile”.  Boy, were they surprised!

    Q: Did you ever imagine, Maile would win 2 years in a row ?

Tori:   Although I was hopeful,  I wasn’t sure  how possible it was.  I started doing research to see if it had been done before.  I found out that Kyla Ross, and Nastia Luikin both won back to back Championships.  Going into the 2017 US Championship, we kept telling Maile, “You do YOU”.  And she did!

    Q: Maile has been with the Salcianus since the beginning.  Why does that work so well?

Tori:   Tammy and Sorin are unbelievable PEOPLE, not just coaches.  Maile has been raised by two sets of parents-us and her gym parents.  She spends more waking hours with them than us!  We have embraced that since she was little because I feel that it’s very important for her to love and trust, and know that her coaches have her back.   We feel very blessed, because I know not all parents can allow that bond to occur.

    Q: What things do you do at home that helps Maile in her training?

Tori:   Maile spends a lot of hours in the gym and when she gets home, she sometimes needs to process things - so I make sure to give her the space to do that.  Our home schedule includes Maile’s physical therapy which helps to keep her body in tune.  

Maile is a pretty self sufficient kid, but -  I would send Maile to training camp with snack bags of vitamins with notes that had inspirational sayings.  Once she got older and packing her own bags, I found her writing little notes on her vitamin bags.  When I asked her about it she said, “It’s just another way to bring “home” with me.”  It’s those small details that let her know that I’m with her.

I’ve always tried to support Maile without creating stress or pressure.  My daughter puts enough pressure on herself, she doesn’t need me adding to it.

    Q: Maile’s training schedule is pretty rigorous.  Do you ever worry about what she’s missing in her childhood?

Tori:  Absolutely not.  Lots of folks have shared concern about kids in the gym not getting the socialization they need.  The way I see it, what kid gets to travel and have friends all around the country and world?  Maile, is a lot like most teens today - she  texts, chats, calls her friends all the time.    Her teammates at the gym are like her classmates.  They are gym sisters.  They are family.  Those relationships are built on support, and encouragement and love.   Many people do not ever get to experience the level of emotional connection that the gym provides.

And, ICYMI, check out our Q & A from our “30 Questions with Maile O’Keefe”.