Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My adopted Gold Medal Mama

Sherry points her finger at weightlifter Carissa Gump to remind her that she has the tender love and care - as well as the authority - of a mother.

Gold-medal mom

by Stuart Lieberman / June 30, 2009

A group of new resident women wrestlers received a warmer welcome than expected last Thursday at the United States Olympic Training Center here in Colorado Springs.

Immediately they learned they weren't far from home.

"I'm Sherry," said Sherry Von Riesen. "Most of you know me. I'm Mom. If you need a mom here, I'll be here to help you and take care of you."

Stepping into Sherry's office, one gets a whiff of nostalgia of the 12 years she has lived at the Training Center, tending to each athlete's needs. There's very little white space on her walls. Her office is covered with pictures of her embracing elite athletes, those who fell just short of victory, and of course, her family members.

From all of the tokens of appreciation in her office, and the messages left by athletes on her whiteboard, it's clear she is unconditionally admired by all.

The roots of this admiration began about 20 years ago, when Sherry traveled around the country with her sons to their NCAA gymnastics competitions. She created a "Mom's club" for those who traveled with their sons to meets. The moms added flavor to their gymnastics road trips, baking cookies for all of the competitors.

Of course, it was Sherry who headed the group.

After selling her home in Denver to her children, Sherry moved to the Training Center and brought her love and kindness with her.

Her motherly expertise here includes everything from community programming and medical assistance, to planning cultural events and even the occasional girl talk.

She works with Boys and Girls Clubs and helps athletes market themselves. Since these athletes live, train and work here, it's easy to get cabin fever. So it's Sherry who plans off-complex trips, including meals and shopping.

But most importantly, she takes care of their "boo-boos," bringing the athletes in for surgery when needed. In addition to getting hurt physically, emotional "boo-boos" can take a toll on athletes. This is where Sherry does some of her best work.

Weightlifter Carissa Gump goes to Sherry for just about anything.

"She's a little spitfire,'' Gump said. "I tell her stuff like I tell my mom."

Modern pentathlete Will Brady likes to joke around with the dorm mom. For one of Sherry's birthdays, Brady and his buddies stuffed a bunch of balloons in Sherry's room, so when she opened the door they all flew out at her.

"It's all about you, Sherry," Brady said. "It's all about you."

But Sherry's presence does not end at the Training Center gates.

Gymnast David Durante called Sherry one night asking her to pick him up at the airport. Sherry immediately agreed, not knowing he meant the Denver airport. Once he told her which airport he was at, she still couldn't say no.

"You can't say no to athletes," Sherry said. "I'm a warm fuzzy. They're all my babies."

These days, she makes time to go around the country to visit former resident-athletes.

Although Sherry was unable to attend the Olympic Games last summer in Beijing, she stayed back in Colorado Springs to comfort those who didn't quite make it.

Her presence even extends into the virtual world, as she has numerous athletes requesting her friendship on Facebook daily, and recently began tweeting.

For many athletes, Sherry is the first one they call after winning a medal.

But no matter how many medals athletes have won or how many planes they've taken to get to World Championship competitions, they'll always need a mom.

"I open my door and I have 150 kids," Sherry said. "Am I insane? Yes."

Full article can be found at :http://teamusa.org/blog/post/925


Sarah Haskins said...

Hey Carissa
Thanks for your message! I was just bummed to finish fourth, when the podium was so close. I did not see you email on the blog response, so this was the only way I could contact you. See you around at the center and hope all is well!

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