For some, the chance to see the Winter Olympic Games is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but for Steamboat Springs resident Penny Fletcher, being there in 2010 is a necessity.
This week, Penny, who is the mom of first-time Olympian Taylor Fletcher, has been able to enjoy watching her son compete with the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team at Whistler Olympic Park in British Columbia. Just a few months ago, she wasn’t sure she would be able to make the trip without stressing her finances.
“This opportunity has meant the ability to enjoy the Olympics and to spend some quality time with my family,” Penny Fletcher said, after getting a grant from Procter & Gamble to help assist her with the trip.
Taylor Fletcher opened the season with several strong showings and was named to the team in January. His older brother, Bryan, just missed the Olympic cut but is a veteran of the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team and is forejumping this week in Whistler. Forejumpers jump before competition to make sure everything is set to go.
Taylor Fletcher still hopes to get a shot in the team event or the final individual event, both of which are next week. However, Utah’s Brett Camerota has been strong in training and seems to have a lock on the final U.S. spot.
Still, the opportunity to watch her children jump on the Olympic hills, and to be a part of the Olympics, has been a lifelong dream for Penny Fletcher. It’s a dream she says presented a huge financial challenge for the family until the week before the Olympics.
Originally, Fletcher had planned to come during the second week of competition, but she got a surprise a few days before the games that changed everything.
Procter & Gamble, along with the U.S. Olympic Committee, called her and told her the company would assist her with the expenses of making the trip as part of the “Thanks, Mom” program.
“One of the things I really realized in this whole process is that being part of an Olympic family means being part of a pretty small group of people,” Fletcher said. “I always thought that it was a big group, but this is a really small, unique group of parents.”
Fletcher said it didn’t matter whether the athletes are speed skaters, Alpine racers or members of the Nordic combined team — the parents have all faced similar challenges.
“Every one of us, every family involved in these Olympic Games, has sacrificed a huge amount to help our children achieve their Olympic dreams,” Fletcher said. “That is something that I really, really thank Procter & Gamble for — allowing us to all connect.”
Most of Penny Fletcher’s living expenses and her housing are being covered through the program.
“P&G is in the business of helping moms,” Chief Marketing Officer Marc Pritchard said. “We appreciate that moms make everyday sacrifices for their children, and sometimes they don’t get the opportunity to participate in once-in-a-lifetime events like the games. At P&G, we believe in ‘touching lives and improving life,’ and this gift is our way to express our thanks for the hard work and dedication of the U.S. Olympic Team moms.”
Fletcher also has access to the P&G Family Home, which provides Team USA with a place to come together in an inviting and comfortable environment for the duration of the games. The house includes television-viewing lounges, food and drinks and even a spa.
“At the Olympic Winter Games, our athletes are deeply focused on being performance-ready and podium-prepared,” said Lisa Baird, USOC’s chief marketing officer. “The P&G Family Home will allow them to have peace of mind and spend stress-free, invaluable time with their families.”
Penny said the house was a great place to watch the Opening Ceremonies on television and that Wayne Gretzky could be seen sprinting past the P&G House on his way to light the torch during the Feb. 12 ceremonies.
This is a special time for Fletcher, who raised the boys in Steamboat Springs and faced the challenges of a divorce. Early on, she encouraged them to get involved with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club as a way to stay out of trouble, and she said coaches Gary Crawford and Todd Wilson have had huge impacts on her boys. As a child, Bryan was diagnosed with acute lymphoid leukemia. The family spent many hours traveling to Denver’s Children’s Hospital for treatments, many hours talking with doctors and many hours hoping to defeat the disease. Through it all, and at times despite the advice of doctors, Bryan continued to jump, train and ski with the Winter Sports Club’s Nordic combined programs.
Penny Fletcher said her son’s ability to face leukemia, and even the way he has handled watching his brother earn the Olympic spot he wanted so badly, makes these games special for her. In fact, these Olympics have been filled with many special moments for the Steamboat Springs mom. She said she’d never forget watching Johnny Spillane ski to the silver medal and sharing that moment with the Spillane, Lodwick and Demong families.
“It was great to see the families of Johnny, Todd and Bill,” Penny Fletcher said. “Seeing the pure pride they felt for their children was huge for me. Both of my children are still trying to get their voices back from screaming so loud. It was absolutely electrical.”
But as electrical as that was, Fletcher said the most impressive thing about the 2010 Olympics is being here with both of her boys.
Fletcher is scheduled to appear on the “Today Show” this morning to talk about her boys, but she was unsure of the exact time.