As an Olympic athlete, David Wise often has to spend days and weeks away from home.
This Father’s Day, in fact, Wise will be in France, far from his 2-year-old daughter, Nayeli, and his wife, Alexandra, in Reno, Nevada.
|David Wise competes in the men's halfpipe skiing competition at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 18, 2014.|
That’s the bad part for Wise, 23, a freestyle skier who won the gold medal in men’s halfpipe at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, this year.
But there’s a flip side, too.
“When I’m home, I don’t have a 9 to 5, I don’t have to go to work nine hours a day, so even though I am training all the time, I am able to balance my time and spend a lot of time at home and go on trips with them,” he said. “I try to balance it out by spending extra time when I’m home.”
And spending time with Nayeli has become Wise’s biggest joy. As she’s gotten older, he’s had a blast taking her hiking, camping — even if it’s just in a tent set up in the backyard — helping her ride her little bike or just hanging out. He’s also taken her on the slopes a couple of times.
“I’m never going to force anything on her, but as long as she keeps liking it, then, yeah, I’ll definitely take her,” he said.
It’s hard to explain fatherhood to someone who’s never been a dad, but Wise said as soon as Nayeli was born, he felt a change. He felt an instant responsibility toward his little girl and a sense of perspective.
“It’s made me a lot better person,” he said. “I think that as a professional athlete, people tend toward selfishness. You wake up in the morning and everything’s centered around you. You’re constantly trying to make yourself a better athlete.”
With a family, that feeling went out the window.
“You’ve got to take care of the people around you and make sure your little girl is happy first, and then you can worry about yourself,” he said.
That sense of responsibility and joy will be doubled in September when Alexandra is due to give birth to their second child, a boy.
As a father, Wise says he’s tried to learn from other men in his life, both family and friends. His father is his greatest role model.
“He was super dedicated to just providing good opportunities for me,” Wise said. “I think however people communicate their love, as long as they make it apparent, that’s a good thing. And that’s what I try to do for my little girl.”
He and Alexandra want to be their children’s foundation. That’s the way Wise feels when he looks at Nayeli.
“I think you’ve just got to be her rock. That’s kind of the way I look at it as a dad,” he said. “I’m never going to force her to do anything or pressure her into doing anything, but I’m going to support everything she wants to do. I don’t care if she wants to be an astronaut or a ballroom dancer. I just want her to be happy and know that she can do anything with her life. That’s kind of my approach.”
Wise acknowledges that his life has changed in many ways since he became a dad, all of them for the good. In fact, his performance as a freestyle skier has reached new heights since his daughter’s birth. He’s won two X Games halfpipe titles and his Olympic gold since she came into his life, and he doesn’t believe it’s a coincidence.
He says the extra perspective he’s gained has taken away some of the pressure to perform. He knows skiing isn’t the biggest thing in his life anymore.
“For me the dad part is a lot more important than the skier part, so when I can take care of my family well and know that they’re doing good, then it takes pressure off my skiing,” he said. “Fatherhood is the most important thing I do in my life. Skiing is something I enjoy.”
Still, it’s hard to walk away from his little girl and wife and get on a plane and leave them behind. He says Nayeli has an idea what he does, and why he has to go, and often asks if she can go, too.
“Every time she sees an airplane, she asks me, ‘Did you go on that airplane, Dad?’” he says. “It’s pretty cute.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.