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Before Beijing, these moms are already Olympians

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There have been many. Indeed, even in the opulent, Beaux Arts-style Chicago ballroom where she and other Olympic hopefuls gathered in April for a media summit – in a setting that bespoke white-fingered gloves rather than roundhouse kicks – her intensity percolated like a rumbling coffee pot past boil.

How do birds fly, Mom?

Gotay is making up for missed opportunities. There was a time, nearly 20 years ago, when she was the 18-year-old up-and-comer – a Barcelona Olympian whose promise and confidence suggested that the podium was more a matter of time than doubt.

"Since I was 4 years old, I was training intensively," says Gotay, who was drawn to the sport because her father was a judo master in France. "I loved the training, I loved the intensity, I loved it all."

But she pushed herself too hard to reach that moment on the verge of her first Olympics. She had tried to compete in a lower weight class than was natural for her body type, and before the weigh-in, she collapsed and went into convulsions. The illness was so severe that there was little choice but to quit judo.

Yet the intensity that had once taken form in a precocious young judoka, drinking in the life of an elite athlete as though through a hosepipe, now found another outlet: her daughters. It began as a dissatisfaction with her local schools and became the focus of her second act: being a teacher as well as a mother.

She had no course curriculum, only a deep desire to touch her children's inquisitive minds.

"Any time my daughter had a question – like, how do birds fly – it was like: That's our lesson for today," says Gotay, unable to prevent a grin at the memory. There were days spent surfing the Internet, building models, and cooking – a great way to teach children math, Gotay insists.

"It's teaching a love of learning," Gotay adds. "Once you do that, there comes a point when you just step away."

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