At the junior female 5 km snowshoe race in Fairbanks, Alaska, Nicole Martens of Grande Prairie, Alberta is finding it difficult not to get frantic about her daughter Mirelle.
“How come we haven't seen her? I hope she hasn't collapsed or something.”
“No, she's got tons of stamina,” says another parent. “She'd have to have a catastrophic failure,” offers another.
“Well that’s what I’m thinking though,” Nicole says.
Nicole is one of many parents who’ve made the journey all the way to Alaska to watch her kids compete: 17-year-old Mirelle in snowshoeing, and 15-year-old Janai in indoor soccer.
When the gun went off for the snowshoe race, Nicole was right by Mirelle’s side, cheering her on.
But as a parent on the sidelines, she says she can’t help but worry about her girl.
“I'm a mess, actually,” she says. “When I was in high school I did track and I was a mess then, and it's worse now. You love them so much and you want them to be happy and not suffer and it just looks painful.”
Tracey Bilsky is a sports psychologist based in Whitehorse, and Team Yukon’s chef de mission at these games.
She says it’s natural for parents to fret about their child athletes, but she says they should hide their anxiety from their kids, because it might cause added stress.
'Almost share that among parents, but then be able to display this outward sort of ‘do your best, we love you anyway, no matter what happens. That’s the best that we can do.’”
In fact, she says parent support is a huge part of these games.
On Tuesday morning, the games committee hosted 125 parents for an appreciation breakfast.
Limited access to kids
Bilsky says being a parent at these games is different than at single sports competitions.
Athletes share a residence with their team, eat with the team, take buses with the team. “The parents actually only have access to these kids to watch them play, then the kids zoom off to the these accredited areas.”
In this environment, the coaches takes on the role of parent, manager and chaperone for their teams, and coaches who are selected have to be willing to do it all.
Team Yukon began preparing the parents six months ago, when the athletes were first selected, but some still find it hard. Bilsky understands completely. Her daughter is playing basketball at the games.
“It's extremely hard to not get emotionally involved because you want them to do well.”
‘She knows I’m a mess’
Back at the race, Nicole catches a glimpse of Mirelle and cheers her on.
“Over half done, you're doing awesome!”
Cheers erupt as Mirelle is the first to cross the finish line.
And Mirelle says she’s happy to have her parents here.
“It means a lot. It really shows how much they love me and my sister who's also here. They just help calm nerves and are always there to support and reminding me to make it fun and not all serious."
In that regard, Nicole is the opposite of many overzealous parents.
“She’s really supportive of whatever I get and whatever I do,” Mirelle says.
Nicole is more ambivalent about her role here.
“She knows me too well,” she says of Mirelle. “She knows I’m a mess, although I try not to show it on the outside.”