By DAVID NIELSEN
Scripps Howard News Service
24-JAN-06

When Vonetta Flowers captured the gold medal in the women’s bobsled event at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, she had a pretty good inkling that her life would never be the same.She didn’t know the half of it.

Barely six months after the Games ended, Flowers gave birth to twin boys, Jaden and Jorden.

Flowers is one of a handful of U.S. Olympians competing in Turin who is balancing their Olympic dreams with the hefty responsibilities of parenthood.

Just five months after giving birth, Flowers resumed training. In addition to juggling demands from sponsors, coaches, media and friends, Flowers had to squeeze in diaper changes and midnight feedings while training and competing all over the world.

“I talked to the coaches. In order for me to come back into the sport, my family’s coming with me,” said Flowers, now 32. “I’m not leaving them at home. It wasn’t an option.

“It’s working out, but it was tough at first, because they were five months old. They got their little passports at five months, and it was tough for the (other bobsledders), of course, just adjusting to the sleeping with the crying the whole night.

“So they would move our room on one side of the hotel, and the team would be on the other side, because of the babies. But they’re three now, and so they’re better. And the girls help out as much as they can.”

Flowers’ bobsled partner, Jean Prahm, had a front row seat for the challenges Flowers faced.

“I know especially the first year it’s very difficult,” said Prahm, who got married last year. “Just the things you wouldn’t even think about, like nursing (and) all the things that your baby requires. I don’t know what the future holds for me, whether I would attempt that or not. It requires a lot of patience and a lot of love. I think her husband has been just awesome to support her through this.”

Ross Powers, who won a gold medal in the snowboarding halfpipe in Salt Lake, became a father for the first time in 2003. His daughter, Victoria, joins Powers on the snowboarding circuit about half the time.

“I went for a five-week stretch away (in 2005),” said Powers, who didn’t qualify for the team in Turin. “Being a Dad, I have to think a little more (about things). More events require helmets. I wear a helmet now. I have more people to worry about.”

Figure skater Michael Weiss, who narrowly missed qualifying for Turin, juggled fatherhood with competition longer than most. His two kids are 6 and 7.

“Fatherhood is forever,” said Weiss, who competed in 1998 at the Nagano Games and finished 7th in men’s singles in Salt Lake. “You have a huge impact and a responsibility to do the best you can at raising your kids in a positive, loving, caring environment. And anybody who’s a parent knows your job is important to you, but it will take a back seat at any given moment if something in your family needs to be taken care of. And that’s the case with me.

“Everybody said as soon as I was married, ‘Oh, he’s got a family; figure skating’s over for him.’ And that was back in 1999, and that was the year I won nationals and was third at worlds. And then, ‘Oh, he’s got a daughter now, he’s got other focuses, other things going on’ in 2000, and then I won nationals and I was third at world. So those types of things happen to everybody.'”

Well, not everybody. For some Olympians, the concept of raising a child while training for the Olympics is incomprehensible.

“No, I think if I were to have a kid, that would be it for me,” said speedskater Jennifer Rodriguez, who is married to speedskater K.C. Boutiette. “I think my time would go toward the kid. I’ve had a very successful career and I’ve had enough to be like, ‘OK, it’s time for me to retire.'”

Pairs figure skaters Denis Petukhov and Melissa Gregory were married in 2001. But becoming parents is a little farfetched for now.

“We train together,” said Gregory. “We spend sometimes all day skating or training doing what we need to do. That leaves not much time left for anything else.

“We have a hard time with our dog having to sit all day long by himself,” said Petukhov.

Added Gregory: “That’s our son right now.”

(E-mail David Nielsen at nielsend(at)shns.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com)