Noelle Pikus-Pace’s silver medal win and choosing to share the moment with her family has drawn international attention. It is the sort of moment for which the Olympics are made. She is amazing. The moment was awesome. Who could help but be swept up in the moment of it all? In a moving interview with Summer Sanders, Pikus-Pace’s new career as a role model was launched. Let’s jump on the bandwagon and celebrate an amazing moment and person but let’s also be clear about who our role models really are.
Pikus-Pace is a world-class competitor. She is absolutely a role model for aspiring athletes. You can look to her to see what it takes to be an Olympian: talent, exceptional strength, determination, commitment and sacrifice – arguably sacrifice being at the top of the list. What she sacrificed for her moment of glory, her once-in-a-lifetime achievement, is immeasurable. As a parent, I’m certain time with her family is near, if not at, the top of the list. Those sacrifices are real and heart-wrenching for her and her family. Her silver medal is a memorable, extraordinary moment for her, her husband and their children.
However, her achievement should not be confused for her being a role model to all kids, all women, all mothers, or all parents. While the qualities she embodies are important, and something worth teaching our kids about, she applied them for a specific purpose – to win a race, to reach her personal goal. I don’t doubt the image that is being painted of her but she is being launched into famedom for being an athlete, not for driving the carpool or getting dinner on the table by 6:00 every night. We should be careful to draw the lines of comparison too closely between her and us mere-mortals.
It would be easy for me to look at Pikus-Pace and say, “Look at what she has done! I could and should do more! I haven’t done enough! I could set such an example for my kids!” I implore, let’s not use Pikus-Pace as another reason for women, parents, and moms to beat themselves up and feel a need to do more. Pikus-Pace is undoubtedly a remarkable role model for kids about hard work paying off and that it is possible to achieve outlandish goals. Yet, let’s not fool ourselves – my kids, most kids, don’t know about her or won’t remember her six months from now. I know some children idolize athletes or (eegads) entertainers. I’m all in favor of using positive influence, wherever it may come from, to help kids find motivation and fulfillment and be productive contributors to our world.
In reality, it is the people my kids interact with and watch everyday – parents, teachers, coaches and neighbors – who have a bigger impact on their view of the world and their place in it. Everyone is a role model, for good or bad, and parents are their children’s most important role models.
I am a role model because I show my kids everyday how to treat other people. They see how I talk to their friends, other parents, teachers, neighbors and strangers. I am a role model because my kids learn from me how to let other people treat them when I teach my kids to say to other children they don’t like being called names. I am a role model because I show my boys how to treat their future spouses when I take the time to hug and kiss my husband and listen to him talk about his day. My kids learn from me how to be a good friend when they help me cook a meal for a sick friend. I am a role model because my children watch everything I do and everything I say and learn how they are going to succeed (or fail) in this world. That is enough. I am doing enough. Let’s celebrate Pikus-Pace without making it a commentary on our own achievements (or lack thereof).
By all means, heap praise on Pikus-Pace as a role model for athletes, as an example of what can be accomplished with properly applied talent, commitment, sacrifice and determination. Before beating yourself up about not making a difference or being a role model though, consider what you’re modeling and who’s actually watching. The next time you have the chance, take a minute to say something nice to a person who is doing something right, even if it’s just holding a door open for someone else. It’s not a silver medal but it’s the kind of recognition that really matters.