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Costa Rica
Saturday, January 15, 2022

The Olympic Games are a family project for Costa Rica’s top athletes

On a stool, Luciana rehearses some turns, the ones with which she will represent Costa Rica at the Tokyo Olympics. Attentive, Sherlly watches her movements, as she has done since Luciana was born: Sherlly is her coach and also her mother.

Costa Rica will go to the Olympic Games as a family. Five of its 12 athletes who will compete in Tokyo 2020 are trained by their own parents.

That is the case of the gymnast Luciana Alvarado, the athlete sisters Andrea and Noelia Vargas, the judoka Ian Sancho and the surfer Leilani McGonagle.

“This reflects that the main basis in the comprehensive training of young people, is not only sports, it is the family,” said the president of the Costa Rican National Olympic Committee, Henry Núñez.

“Seeing these families crowning success with their children is a very positive message for the country.”

Making history with mom

Luciana Alvarado was two years old when her mother, Sherlly Reid, opened the Gymstars gym in San José. There she saw her older sisters train and, when she turned four years old, she also began.

At 18 years old, she sealed a ticket to represent Costa Rica in the Pan American Artistic Gymnastics Championship, held in Rio de Janeiro at the beginning of June.

Her mother, Sherlly, was also a gymnast, and she lives that dichotomy of being a mother and her coach.

“The emotion in a competition, we do not experience the same if they are our children. Sometimes I wish I did not have technical knowledge, to be able to have total enjoyment of watching my daughter spin around and not be analyzing,” Sherlly said.

“She has always been my coach, so we handle it very well,” Luciana said. “Our communication is excellent. The funny thing is that our differences have never been at home, but in the gym, that maybe I’m afraid to do something and she pushes me.”

It is these impulses that have made Luciana the first Costa Rican gymnast to participate in an Olympics.

“Luciana, at the Olympics, needs a coach. The mothers will be watching in the stands or on television. When we leave the competition floor it will be when I become a mother. This is the greatest challenge we have faced and we are going to take it on as such,” Sherlly said.

First, a contract

To train her daughters, Andrea and Noelia, and take them to Tokyo, Deysiana Mena had to learn independently from hundreds of courses, talks and videos to learn about the rigors of athletics, from its most basic concepts.

“It was Andrea who asked me (to be her coach), after a competition in which she didn’t have a good experience. I didn’t see it as feasible, because I’m overprotective and I thought I wasn’t going to be able to,” Deysiana explained.

But it has been a success: Andrea reached gold in the Pan American Games in Lima 2019 in 100 meters hurdles, while Noelia has broken the national record in the 20 km of race walk multiple times.

“The adaptation took a long time, it was not easy to be the one who designed the training plans, to know that I was the one who led my daughter to win or not to medal,” said the coach.

Of course, “before starting I made (Andrea) sign a contract with 12 points and if one failed, we would get there. We agreed, and now we are here,” said Deysiana, who repeated that formula with Noelia years later.

“It is the commitment of a family, of wanting to see the little one emerge, advance and reach higher levels. Parents are usually involved in the processes,” says Andrea, 26.

“Since we were little we watched the Olympics with great emotion, and now being part of them, all three together, is a dream. It is very nice to see how, with the help of our mother, we have been able to improve so much,” says Noelia, 21 years old.

Hand-in-hand with dad

Similar agreements have helped Ian Sancho, trained by his father, the ex-judoka Andrés Sancho; and Leilani McGonagle, trained by ex-surfer Sean McGonagle.

“In a country like ours, where there are no residences for an athlete to stay, train and study, the family takes that role. Having my parents demanding, motivating and supporting economically has been key. My classification is the result of that,” Ian said.

Leilani is also inspired by her father.

“I always remember being with my dad in the water; he taught me and my brother to surf for like a year and a half. Having him as a coach influences a lot, I have worked with others, but nobody knows me like him,” she says.

The Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Olympics will be held on Friday, July 23. Andrea Vargas will carry the Costa Rican flag at the event.

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