Juggling for Gold: Athlete-parents Face Extra Challenges on the Way to the Finish Line

No matter what your age or your sport, it’s never easy to find the time and energy to train for the Maccabiah. But when you’re a parent juggling kids’ needs and professional commitments, it becomes even more challenging. Meet three Maccabiah participants who have met the challenge.

Ilene Prusher
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Ilene Prusher

When the Maccabiah coaches give their athletes a pep talk, they often say things like, “You kids don’t know how lucky you are to be participating in these games.” It always makes Terri Braun smirk, because at 39 she’s old enough to be a mother to some of her teenage teammates – and has three kids of her own.

A third-degree blackbelt in Shotokan karate from Johannesburg, Braun was on the South African national team in her youth and competed in world championships in various countries including the United States, where she now makes her home in Weston, Florida. More recently, however, she’s been keeping in shape as part of running her company Kidokinetics, which offers sports and fitness programs for children.

But she felt an itch to get back into tiptop shape and to compete in one more Maccabiah; her last one was in 2001. “In all my competing, the experience that stood out the most was the Maccabiah. The feeling of being in those opening ceremonies and being with other Jewish athletes from around the world, there’s nothing like it.”

Even more motivating than the chance to live that thrill once more, she says, was the thought of having her kids watch her compete. She hasn’t competed since the birth of her children, who are 5, 9 and 11 years old.

Braun is one of many athletes competing in the Maccabiah who are also parents. Amid their already busy schedules with their children – ranging from babies to teenagers – they must wedge in enough time for training, which gets more intensive as the games draw near. Some of the athletes highlighted here have managed to mix parenthood and competitive sports all along, and some, like Braun, are fulfilling their dreams of making a comeback.

At first, Braun she thought she’d coach in the games – she wasn’t sure if she was in good enough shape. “So I called up the chairperson, and she said, ‘Why don’t you start training again and see how you feel close to the trials?’ And there was a spark in me, and I realized there was no way I could go and not compete. I made my decision right after that phone call. I wanted to be in that stadium, singing ‘Hatikva,’ with my husband and three kids watching.”

So about a year ago, Braun hired a personal trainer. “I woke up every morning and trained before I dropped my kids at school, or sometimes just afterward. Then I worked until I picked them up again,” she says. “It was a big commitment. I had so much training to do. I had to work hard to get in shape, and the trainer helped me in getting my weight down and getting my body to where it needed to be.” At the trials in December, she was thrilled when she made the cut.

It helps that her kids, who also love sports, are excited about the thought of seeing their mom in her karate gi on the competition mat. Braun’s husband is also making it possible by agreeing to come to Israel with their three children, despite the fact that they’ll have to stay in another hotel, away from their mother, who’ll be rooming with the team as is required.

“As my children have grown older, it’s been easier to juggle my time,” she says. “Now that my youngest is almost 6, I can balance my business, motherhood and competition training. I couldn’t have done this if my kids were younger.”

For Braun, even having qualified to compete feels like an achievement. “I decided I’m doing this for my kids. I’m not telling them the story of what I did; I’m having them live in the story.”

Jumping through hoops

Jordan Schlachter, a basketball player, has also taken on the challenge of training for his fifth Maccabiah while raising kids. In a way, nothing could be more natural. It was while he was on the men’s masters team at the 2003 Pan American Maccabiah Games in Santiago, Chile, that he met his wife-to-be, Leslie, who was competing on the U.S. open women’s team.

Leslie, who stands 1.93 meters tall, and Jordan, who is 1.98 meters, “fell in love instantly,” as he puts it, and they were married in June 2005. The following month, they both participated in the 18th Maccabiah and were legally married by the U.S. team rabbi on the beach in Tel Aviv, surrounded by their teammates.

It was a sports romance dream come true. Eight years later, they have two children: Eliza, 4, and Devin, 7. Schlachter, who played NCAA Division 1 basketball at Harvard University and is now executive vice president of sports at The Marketing Arm promotion agency – is used to multitasking and pushing himself to the limit. But training for this Maccabiah, he acknowledges, has been especially challenging because it’s so hard to balance time on the court and time with his kids.

“The time management portion of my training has been the most difficult to manage,” says Schlachter, 45. “Basically, I get my kids ready for school in the morning, take my son to the bus, and then head to the gym before work. After work, my family takes priority, so my second workout of the day is done at home, after putting the kids to sleep. My basketball-playing commitments cause me to miss bedtime at least one night a week, which is discouraging, and my late-night home workouts often keep me awake at night much longer than I’d prefer, but the extra time with my family in the earlier evening is definitely worth it.”

Since January, he’s been on a daily workout regimen that includes a 45-60 minute cardio workout, and in April he added a second daily workout, which involves either weights or plyometrics, also known as “jump training.” That’s all in addition, of course, to playing basketball three to four times a week.

“The Maccabiah is a very important part of my life, obviously,” he says. “And the fact that my wife is also an athlete makes my training and preparation easier as she understands and supports my training regimen, even though she’s not participating as an athlete this year.”

Coach with teenagers and a kid in diapers

Jodi Carreira is also part of a sports couple that has become a sports family. A native South African who immigrated to Israel 18 years ago, she plays netball, which derived from an early version of basketball and is popular in Commonwealth countries. In her last Maccabiah, in 2005, Carreira played on Israel’s netball team while her husband Dion played rugby.

She was hoping to compete again this year but after knee surgery, she decided to coach instead. Most women would find that being the mother of four boys – the oldest of them 16 and the youngest of them just 18 months – to be enough of a reason to stay off the court for a while, if not altogether. Not Carreira.

“Having the baby was the easy part. With each of my babies, once they’re six weeks old, I go back to training,” she says. But in the past year, she lost her mother and her grandmother, and found out that the swelling in her knee was the result of two torn menisci and cartilage damage that needed repair. Everything needed time to heal.

“Netball’s a game with a lot of jumping and stop-starting, so these injuries happen, and I haven’t been able to get back on court. It’s much more fun playing, but coaching is also incredibly important,” says Carreira, who also runs a nursery school for 33 kids in her Ra’anana home. That means that the days are incredibly long. The first child arrives at 7:10 A.M., but she sometimes only comes home from practice sessions for the Maccabiah at 11:30 P.M.

“I think it’s possible to do what I do because I have a great husband, and because my two big boys are also athletes, so they understand it and we manage together,” says Carreira, 41. Currently she’s coaching a netball juniors team two to three times a week, training teenage girls coming from up to an hour and-a-half away to play. But she also oversees the senior’s team, which is for women 18 and up. Quite a few of the women on the team are mothers, and one is a mother of nine children who now has a few grandchildren as well.

Most of the practice sessions start at 7:30 or 8 P.M., which makes it more feasible for at least some of the parents.

“Games are usually from 8 in the evening, so most of the moms try to get younger kids to bed and for the older kids, they often bring them along. My husband is my babysitter – I don’t know how a single mom would do it. For all our training sessions this season my big kids came along and joined in the workout,” she says of her teenage sons. After such of long day, though, she still has the challenge of a little one who doesn’t necessarily sleep through the night. “Sometimes I’m just getting to sleep at midnight, and then he’s getting up and wants to play.”

All of the netball players have to juggle their time – for the high school students it’s difficult to work practice sessions and games around their exams – but for the mothers it can be especially challenging. “I was a good rugby wife, I used to go to all the games, and be home when my husband was at training. He had his turn and now it’s mine,” she says playfully.

“I think you learn to raise your kids around the game. You bring along packed lunches and lots of snacks, and a ball for them to play with on the side. In the place where we train in Ra’anana, there’s a gate that you can close, so we can focus on the game without younger kids running off. I think when you grow up with parents who are into sport, the kids used to being good and waiting around, and coming along to games. They’re trained spectators.” 

Terri Braun with her children, from left, Josh, Jordana and Jake.Credit: Steve Braun
Jordan Schlachter, USA basketball team member.Credit: Courtesy
Jodi Carreira and her family.Credit: Courtesy