A revealing chat with Summer Sanders
If you think you'd have nothing in common with a gold-medal winning Olympic athlete, television reporter/commentator,marathon running, happily married book author who has two adorable kids, think again. Summer Sanders is just the Olympic athlete next door. She opens up about why the start of every day is so important, embarrassing kid moments and what she sucks at...
Kat: You’ve been busy lately! Tell us about your role on Kellogg’s Team USA.
Summer: The U.S. is one of the only Olympic teams that isn’t funded by their government. All these wonderful Olympic sponsors need to be celebrated. Kellogg’s Olympic campaign resonates with me both as an athlete and as a mom because it really centers on the start of your day, the potential you have every single day to make a difference and start the day off right. As an athlete, my mom would remind me to always eat breakfast and that I needed something to “stick to my ribs.”
Kat: What is Kellogg's Team USA about?
Summer: We have some great “start” stories of the eight Team Kellogg’s athletes. The stories are inspirational and moving, but the main thing is that they are real. It’s how all of us live our life and they’ve captured it on film. Check it out at www.kelloggs.com/teamusa. Fans of the athletes can also share their words of encouragement at www.facebook.com/kelloggs. It really does make a difference! People may think it’s never going to get to them, or it won’t mean anything, but it really does! We’re representing Americans and we never forget that.
Kat: You are going to be a commentator for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Do you miss the action in the pool or are you completely at one with your poolside position?
Summer: I’m completely at one with it. This is my sixth game as a reporter. I love it. And I’m grateful. I’m so happy when I’m poolside. I take my kids -- it’s a wonderful sport.
Kat: You’ve said that you’ve always been inspired by Michael Jordan. You must realize they’ll be a few swimmers in that Olympic pool who have been inspired by you. Is that a strange transition for you?
Summer: Well this will be the 20th year since I won my gold medals…
Kat: Does that seem crazy to you? Has it gone by fast or slow?
Summer: At times it’s gone by fast, but when I go for a long run and it’s hard to get out of bed the next day it feels like it’s gone by slow. I don’t feel like I thought I would feel at this age. Like I remember when my parents were 40…
Kat: They seemed ancient, right? When you’re 18 or 19 people who are 40 seem like they have one foot on a banana peel.
Summer: I know! And I don’t know if I’m not looking in the mirror correctly, but I don’t feel 40. Mom always told me age is a state of mind. And my dad is always like, “You’re as young as you act.” But back to your question, any time I hear that I’ve encouraged or inspired someone, I am humbled and honored.
Kat: You’ve been an Olympic champion, you have an impressive television career, you’ve run marathons, written a book...
Summer: I like to do a lot of things really badly. I’m a completely imperfect person and my kids will be the first to tell you that!
Kat: I’ll get to that in a minute, but for right now I want to know if there is anything that you’d like to do that you haven’t yet?
Summer: Oh, yeah. I’d love to climb Kilimanjaro, I’d like to visit Prague, I want to take my family on a humanitarian trip to Africa, I want to be even more philanthropic, I want to teach my kids to be that way. I want to be able to prepare a full-blown dinner party, like a fun, themed, table-scaped dinner party at my house.
Kat: Are you telling us that’s not your forte, or you just haven’t had the time?
Summer: No, I’m just more of a throw-things-together person, buffet style, grab a plate, grab some silverware. I have this dream of serving people and having a great party at my house.
Kat: Any particular themes in mind?
Summer: The two foods that I really love are sushi and Japanese food and the other is Mexican food. Maybe I need to have two parties.
Kat: Your husband is an Olympian also (Erik Schlopy), and you wrote a book about how to raise champions. Do you think you accidentally put a lot of pressure on yourself?
Summer: You are not far off with that. My husband has the greatest line. He says that if our kids get my speed and his endurance, they'd better be really good at math. So things could actually backfire. My husband and I just want happy, healthy, accountable, upstanding kids.
Kat: People think your kids will be super-humans — like leap tall buildings in a single bound, stuff like that.
Summer: We actually had a friend come up to us and say, “Remember Secretariat? Secretariat got endurance from the mom and got the speed from the dad,” like equating it to my husband and I was like, “Hold the phone. That’s stretchin’ it, okay? Secretariat is like a once-in-a-lifetime thing.” I think people are really intrigued by what two Olympians can create.
Kat: Were you offended at being compared to horses?
Summer: No, I think there’s no better athlete than the horse. I was actually honored. The point is, we do hear this a lot but the kids haven’t really noticed. But I do think there will come a time when they do feel that, so I just try to make sure that they understand that their worth isn’t tied to their athletic ability. Their worth is about how great of teammate they are, how accountable they are about going to practice and cheering, if they are a humble winner and a gracious loser. Don’t get me wrong, I would love for the kids to find passion in sports. I loved being raised that way. I was the shiest kid in town. My mom enrolled me in drama classes because I was painfully shy.
Kat: So your mom must just sit and scratch her head at all the high profile stuff you do now.
Summer: She totally does! She always says, “Who is this kid who used to hug my leg all the time?”
Kat: What’s tougher? Training for the Olympics or raising kids?
Summer: Raising kids.
Kat: You didn’t even pause to think about it!
Summer: I like to be in control. My coach when I was growing up -- he laid it out very simply to us. “No deposit, no return.” So I knew what I had to do. With parenting, every kid is different. All you can do is help lead, and encourage and guide with an occasional time-out. You hope you raise kids that make great choices. I can see it happening already with my daughter at the age of six, especially when it comes to what she wears. So I’ll suggest, “What about this. This is cute.” And immediately she wants nothing to do with it and never wants to see it again.
Kat: Every parent experiences their kids swearing in public or pointing to someone and saying, “Look at the fat lady, mom.” What’s the most embarrassing thing your kids have done in public?
Summer: My daughter has done that with someone who was overweight.
Kat: What did you do?
Summer: Well, first of all I said, that’s impolite. Then I started the “Everyone is different” conversation. My son did that once to a gentleman who had lost a leg. My son is so curious, so he walked up to this gentleman when he was three and asked him, “How did you do that?” And I apologized to the gentleman, but he said, “No problem” and continued to explain to my son how he lost his leg. That’s what’s so beautiful about kids — how honest and true they are.
Kat: And innocent. There was no malice of intent there whatsoever.
Summer: No, nor was there with my daughter Skye. She was just very curious about why that woman was bigger than everyone else.
Kat: You turn 40 this year. Any big plans?
Summer: My husband and I both turn 40 this year, so I think there is potential for a joint party. I need to celebrate with all my friends and family and pretend I’m 20 again. I want there to be dancing, I want there to be celebration. I’m not afraid of 40, I’m actually really proud to be turning 40.
Kat: What do you do to pull yourself out of a low-vibe day? You know those days where you’re just not feelin’ it and you kind of have a case of the screw-its?
Summer: I feel like when you’re tired like that, as long as you’re not sick, but if I’m just feeling low energy, I get out and exercise for at least a half hour. Those endorphins kick in and it always makes my day better, and sometimes it makes my day great.
Kat: That’s one of life’s biggest ironies. Forcing yourself to do the last thing you want to do because you know it will make you feel better.
Summer: You know what? First of all, it’s going to make you happy, physically and chemically. Secondly, you always have that to fall back on. Even if your day is awful, you can say, “I’m going to have that chocolate chip cookie because I ran today.”
Kat: If you hadn’t become an Olympic athlete what do you think you would have become?
Summer: I may have been a decent tennis player. I took tennis, but I just wasn’t into it. In fact, I’d forget my tennis shoes and show up in flip flops. My instructor would be like, “Where is your head right now? How do you not come with tennis shoes to tennis lessons?” So I clearly wasn’t emotionally invested in that one. I’m pretty much doing what I wanted to do, because as long as I was in swimming, I wanted to be in television.
Kat: You are obviously a high achiever, which is a real inspiration. Still, can you make us feel better by revealing one thing you’re a slacker about?
Summer: Ironing. I don’t iron a thing. I’m not kidding you. If it requires ironing I don’t buy it. I take clothes out of the dryer before they're completely dry and I smooth them out.
Kat: That’s called mockroning. When you take something right out of the dryer, and snap it and put it on a hanger before it has time to wrinkle.
Summer: I love it. That’s what I do. Let’s see, I’m also an awful ice skater. My son tells me all the time. For the life of me, I cannot hula-hoop. And I try and I try because my kids are ridiculously good at it. They barely move their hips!
Kat: That’s kind of annoying isn’t it?
Summer: It is so incredibly annoying. I think one of my skills is dancing, but I’m sure everyone at the wedding would think otherwise. I can cook, but I’m not a chef.
Kat: I feel better already, because after reading your bio, I wanted to go take a nap. I thought, “I love this woman, but I gotta ask her what she sucks at.”
Summer: Oh! And I don’t know how to put on makeup. I really don’t. My friends tease me all the time. I can do mascara, but beyond that, I’m just winging it. Sometimes winging it with makeup just doesn’t work out.
Kat: Let’s say that your husband and kids left town, and all the background noise associated with your commitments disappeared, leaving you a whole day of “me time.” How would you spend it?
Summer: If it happened tomorrow, I would sleep in. Then, I would immediately grab a girlfriend and we'd go for a long run.
Summer: If I don’t have my family around, I’d go for a long run -- like 10 miles because I never get a chance to do a long run. Then I’d go to the pool because there is nothing better than a swim after a run for my joints. I would then meet up with my friends for a fabulous breakfast and probably not talk about kids. I would squeeze in a massage, a movie…
Kat: A favorite movie?
Summer: No, like go to the movies. If it were tomorrow, I’d go to Hunger Games. And then I’d follow it up with girlfriends, dinner and wine. Can you tell I’ve put some thought into that? And notice how none of it included cleaning.