October 29, 2013 Updated: October 29, 2013 at 7:31 am
Bonnie Blair, one of America's greatest Olympic athletes, won five gold medals in speedskating, but you might be surprised how her mother and father helped her climb to the top of the sports world.
Her parents, Charles and Eleanor, were not obsessive about victory. Never forced her on the ice. Encouraged balance in their daughter's life. Allowed her to ignite her own blazing competitive fire.
Charles and Eleanor did not decide Bonnie would be a great skater. She did.
"My parents just kind of stayed out of the way," Blair said. "My parents let us pick and choose and then let us go wherever our heart went. They gave us the opportunity to pursue sports at the rate that we felt comfortable. I never felt pushed or forced. They never said, 'You have to do that.' It always kind of came from me."
Blair talked as she prepared to travel to Colorado Springs. She will be inducted Tuesday night at World Arena into the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame in recognition for superlative skating career. Blair competed in four Olympic Games, winning her five golds along with a bronze from 1984 to 1994.
The ride started in Champaign, Ill. Bonnie was the youngest of six athletic children. The Blairs did not spend days sitting around watching television. All the Blairs played sports with Charles and Eleanor usually there watching.
For years, Bonnie skated in the winter and swam in the summer. Each year, she found more joy and satisfaction in skating and less in swimming. At nearly all of her meets, Charles stood at the edge of pool while Bonnie skimmed along the top of the water.
Bonnie cared about her father's opinion. She didn't want to disappoint him. But she did want to walk away from competitive swimming. For months, she worked on a plan to tell her parents she was quitting.
"It ate me up inside," she said.
When she finally told her father, he shrugged and said that was fine. Charles seldom talked, and Bonnie knew his moods were best revealed by his body language. She knew, by looking at him, he was at peace with her decision.
The moment her swim pursuits ended summarized her parents' approach. They had high expectations, for sure, but they were considerate and wise, too. They allowed Bonnie to make her own decisions.
Once Blair turned her considerable will to skating, she became an overwhelming force on the ice. She made her Olympic debut in Sarajevo in 1984 and finished eighth in the 500 meters. In 1988, she won gold in the 500 and bronze in the 1000. She won both the 500 and 1,000 at the 1992 and 1994 Olympics. She was the first American woman to win five gold medals.
Blair now raises her own children in the suburbs of Milwaukee. Grant is a 15-year-old hoping to follow his cousin, Garrett Allen (a forward at Denver), to college hockey. Bonnie's daughter, Blair, is a 13-year-old gymnast and soccer player.
Bonnie seeks to embrace lessons learned from Charles and Eleanor.
"If anything, we try to hold them back a little bit," Bonnie said of her children and sports. "We try to make sure they take breaks. You need that time away for letting your body rest and letting your mind relax."
Her parents always encouraged, but never pushed too fiercely. Blair knows all about what she owes Charles and Eleanor.
After her first gold in 1988, Blair underwent drug testing and walked into a hallway, where she could see her parents waiting for her. Charles had been undergoing chemotherapy for months. He was frail. He died late the next year.
"The smile on his face was priceless to me," Blair said. "He was man of very few words. He hardly ever said anything. He didn't have to say anything."
The smile on her father's face said everything.