Ashton Eaton: Anything Is Possible

When American decathlete and Olympic champion Ashton Eaton was two years old, his parents separated. Solo Mom Roslyn (Roz) moved with her son to La Pine, Oregon, where Eaton quickly began to compete in sports ranging from football to soccer and wrestling. He was an active, curious kid: in grade school, he wanted to see how far he could jump, so he put sticks on the ground and tried to jump from one to the other. “If I cleared them, then I would move them apart more and try again,” Eaton told the Bulletin in 2012. “Yes, long jump training without knowing it.”

Roz was a constant during those formative years. “Whatever I wanted to try, [my mom] made sure I followed through with it and tried it 100 percent so I would really know if I liked it or not,” Eaton has said. Over the years, mother and son weathered ups and downs together: Eaton is biracial, and Roz has said that they struggled at times, financially and emotionally. When Ashton’s dad didn’t keep up with the child support, the Solo Mom worked several jobs to keep their little family afloat: as a receptionist at a law office during the day, and a waitress at a local restaurant at night.

Sometimes she felt spread thin. “I just feel like there were so many times that I couldn’t be everywhere and do everything,” Roz told the Bulletin. “And things that I missed, signature moments I missed when I really didn’t want to.” But according to Ashton, his mom was there when it counted. “[Mom] can pick up on any little thing that may be bothering me and always helps me feel better. When I was growing up, she always told me I had a purpose and I’m not here or doing what I am doing by accident.”

Eaton’s wife, heptathlete Brianne Theisen-Eaton, shares his feelings. In 2012 Theisen-Eaton was Ashton’s fiancée, and she had this to say about her future mother-in-law: “Ashton and Roz definitely didn’t have the easiest life while Ashton was growing up, and they had to work for everything they got.” She added, “Roz is a fighter, though. She wanted Ashton to have all the things that the other kids his age had, and more. She worked her butt off so that he could do all the sports he wanted, and she helped him in any way she could—financially, mentally.

“But the most important thing is that she taught him how to be a good person. She’d discipline him if he ever treated anyone with disrespect, but she also taught him how to be a tough person and to stand up for himself and others. . . . People aren’t just blessed with this type of personality; it needs to be taught. And he’s only lived with his mom growing up, so you know where he learned it from.”

As of this writing, Ashton and Brianne have been dedicating themselves to the goal of winning gold at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. They share a go-for-broke mentality that should serve them well as Brianne aims for her first gold medal and Ashton strives for the title of greatest decathlete of all time. (In 2012, Ashton broke the world record in the decathlon and then went on to win the Olympic gold medal.) Training and competing at such a high level entails sacrifice, of course, a reality about which the couple is only too keenly aware. “We choose to not do certain things in life to have these experiences,” Eaton also shared with the Bulletin in 2015. “And our family understands that. We don’t see them a lot. We don’t see our friends a lot. It’s tough on a person. We understand it’s temporary. . . . But it’s still hard.”

Roz, like many parents before her, has learned to navigate the vagaries of the empty nest. She’s said that it was an adjustment when, in 2006, Ashton graduated from Mountain View High School in Bend, Oregon, and headed to the University of Oregon. There was another adjustment after the 2012 Olympics. “We were just really focused on Ashton’s goal,” Roz told the Bulletin in 2014. “Then, after the Olympics, it was just, ‘What am I going to do with myself?’”

Painting has proved to be a meaningful outlet. “I went to Michaels art supply and I got a $5 thing of watercolors, brushes and some paper,” Roz said. She doesn’t have formal training, but she loves the process, and the whimsical ladies” that have resulted. In 2014, she enjoyed the first-ever public showing of her art in an exhibit titled Ladies in Waiting. A series of acrylic, mixed-media, and charcoal female figures, the exhibit opened at Bend’s Naked Winery, with a portion of the proceeds slated to go to a nonprofit aiding children.

And through it all, this Solo Mom and her son have remained close. To learn more about the Eatons, check out this TEDx presentation, in which Roz and Ashton discuss their journey, having dreams, and the belief that anything is possible.

Thumbnail credit: Filip Bossuyt

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