Roslyn Eaton holds a red rose in her hand -- "they gave them to all the moms!" she exclaims -- and she can't go more than 10 seconds without flashing a big smile. There's plenty to smile about. Her son, Ashton Eaton, is just one Olympic Trials away from heading to London to compete in the decathlon (and he's considered a favorite to bring home a medal). But with Ashton back and forth between training and practice and winning gold at the World Championships in Istanbul, the time he gets to spend with his mother is virtually nonexistent. So all of Roslyn's smiling is not just a result of her being able to see her son compete in London in a couple of months. It's because she gets to simply see her son today.
"We just have to accentuate the time we have," she says, as Ashton steals the rose from her hands.
The two traveled from home in Oregon to New York to do some media functions together in the week leading up to Mother's Day -- the Today Show, this P&G "Thank you, Mom" campaign event -- media stuff that Ashton's used to attending, but his mom isn't. Roslyn is a working, single mother, and the time she has with her son, both now and when he was growing up, is scarce. But maybe that's what makes it even more special.
The two say that between his track schedule and her work schedule, they don't have much time to sit down and talk about life together. And yet, the way the two interact, just the way talk to each other, the way she can tell when he's not feeling well just by the way he walks -- you'd think that the two are always together.
"I think I was really in tune to him and his personality, and he was really in tune to me," Roslyn says. "You take the moments you do have and you magnify them. And so, you're super, super hypersensitive and aware, because you have maybe 15 minutes before they go to bed to figure out, you know, look at them, hear their voice, watch them, and see if you need to do something. See if you're needed."
As Ashton was growing up, Roslyn said her main role was to spend the time she did have with him to watch what his desires were and make them happen in any way she could. She said the No. 1 thing to do is lean on the people you have around you.
"I would say, 'Listen. I can't be everywhere.' So sometimes you just have to humble yourself and reach out and people will be there for you," she says. "Friends and other parents on the team, they'd make sure he was OK. I didn't want my situation of needing to work and do these other things to affect his opportunity."
Unlike some Olympic athletes who dream about a certain goal from the moment they were born, Ashton didn't know he wanted to really pursue track at an elite level until his senior year of high school. He had played on three baseball teams, he had done a lot of different athletics, but he never thought about specific paths.
"In high school I always knew that I wanted to go to college and it was a big deal to do it," he says. "But I didn't know what I'd be doing there. Before track, I didn't say, 'I want to be an Olympian,' or 'I want to be a psychologist.' I just kind of always thought whatever it is I wind up doing, it'll be good, because I'll try to be really good at it. I didn't really worry about it."
Which left Roslyn to do all the worrying for him. She found herself airsick in the back of an airplane while Ashton went through his "I want to be a pilot" phase. She was with him during the baseball phase, and supporting him to "try to let him experience the things he had a desire to experience." But she always told him that once he found whatever it was, once he found that dream, and once he got started with it, he needed to finish it.
"There's nothing less honorable in my opinion than a mentor sharing their wisdom with you and you not giving back 100 percent of the effort," Roslyn says. "Because then you've wasted their gift to you. And if you want to be something then you go to the people who know how to do it and you listen. And you do it. You can't not do it."
Roslyn looks over at her son. "Sorry, Ash, I probably was a pretty tough mom, huh?"
"No," he answers instantly.
"Oh, OK. I'm sounding like Attila the Hun here."
You can't not do it -- with one important asterisk from Roslyn: "But only do it if you love it."
It was in Ashton's junior year of high school when his track coach came to Roslyn and told her he thought her son could be an Olympian. "I was like ... what???" Roslyn says. "I knew he had natural talent, but they said he could go all the way to the Olympics. Of course, there was always the dream of that, but they were saying it. And I just had to believe them. I had to believe them with my son's future. It was that or then I didn't know how he would go to college. So you just have to have faith in people."
The faith paid off. His coaches were clearly right. He went on to run track at the University of Oregon, where he won three consecutive NCAA titles. The school was only two hours away from where their house in Oregon was, so Roslyn was able to make it to some meets -- but not all.
She could never make it when they went to indoor nationals. So one year, the team got together and collected the money so that Roslyn could make the trip and see her son. "It was the sweetest thing ever," she says.
And now, a few years later, Procter and Gamble is giving the gift of $1,000 to all Olympic moms, so that the decathlete to watch in London will be watched in person by his biggest fan. But for her, it won't be much different than it was at the first meet she ever watched him at.
"I watched him cross the finish line of his first hundred meters in fifth grade, in sideways sleet and there were 20 parents in the stands," she says. "And now I watch him cross the finish line with 20,000 people in the stands. It's amazing. It's humbling. But it's the same feeling."
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