Bobsled's Vonetta Flowers basks in son's triumph
These days, 2002 Olympic bobsled champion Vonetta Flowers is pursuing other kinds of victories. Like this one. "What's your name," she asks her son. He replies, slowly, drawing out each syllable, "Jor ... dan ... Flow ... ers." "How old are you?" Another pause. "Sev ... en." For Flowers, those are words to savor. The fact that her son is making and responding to sounds at all, that's as sweet as the joyous tears she shed on a frosty night in Park City, Utah, nearly eight years ago, when she teamed with driver Jill Bakken and became the first black athlete to win a gold medal at a Winter Olympics. Jordan and his twin brother Jaden were born three months premature on Aug. 30, 2002. Jaden's hearing is normal. Jordan's is not. The nerve connecting his ears and brain failed to properly develop, and when he was almost 3 1/2, Jordan had an auditory brain stem implant performed in Italy. The operation isn't approved for children in the United States. "We've never given up on anything," she said, watching her two oldest kids play on a nearby swingset. "We've definitely had a lot of tough times in my athletic career. But it actually has made me a stronger person, mom, wife. We've gone through a lot with Jordan, but I think the hardest part is over." His communication skills are getting better, though he still has a long way to go. But for Flowers - whose bobsled days are behind her and is happily raising child No. 3 with husband Johnny - Jordan's progress is enough for now. "In the deaf community, there's this idea that if this is the way God made you, this is the way that you should live out your life," Johnny Flowers said. "We moved here for two reasons. One, to find out whether or not he's going to be able to become oral. The other reason is the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, so we could have the best of both worlds." Jaden and Jordan are and brimming with personality, playing baseball and football when they're not harmlessly beating on each other. On game days, their dad is coaching them while their mom is on the sidelines, trying unsuccessfully to holding a video camera relatively still while shouting encouragement nonstop. "Loudest mom on the field," Johnny Flowers said. Vonetta Flowers competed in the 2006 Turin Olympics but did not win a medal. She then briefly entertained notions of switching from being the sled pusher to driver. That plan didn't last long, and Flowers retired to concentrate on her family. Part of the lure of moving to the Jacksonville area, she said, was that it's not exactly a bobsled hotspot. Barely anyone knew who she was, and that was just fine. "I was known as Jaden's mom and Jordan's mom," Flowers said. "It was very cool." Eventually, word crept out, of course. And as Jordan's hearing continued to improve, Flowers increasingly found herself in the spotlight, speaking at her kids' schools, trying to use her story to inspire kids. It's what she plans on doing in this Olympic season, too. Her sliding days are over, but her story remains. Ask nicely and she'll even autograph a print of her and Bakken on the medal stand in Park City, a happy tear suspended on her cheek. "She's going to be involved in this Olympics with one of the major sponsors," Johnny Flowers said. "She's going to be around." But after the Olympics, she'll be just a mom again. Jaden already has hopes of being the family's second Olympic gold medalist. Jordan is reading now, a happy first-grader. Although his words might not be easily understood by most people, his mother knows exactly what he's saying. It's a daily gold-medal moment. "We can see the surgery was worth it," Vonetta Flowers said. "For him to say 'Mommy, I want this. Mommy, I want that. Mommy, I love you.' ... It was worth it."