Sunday, August 27, 2000

Erin Phenix


Pals help get mom to Olympics

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        No way would Laurie Phenix miss seeing her daughter, Erin, swim in Sydney. The single mom has been there for teething and runny noses and soccer games and scraped knees and, you know, all the basic I-love-my-kid stuff. There for Erin's first swimming lessons at age 8, her mother would hardly miss out on a chance to see her compete at the Olympics.

        It will be a stretch financially. Even with the special parents' package — $3,500 for airfare and hotel during the week's activities — it wasn't exactly the kind of money Laurie had tucked in the cookie jar at her Greenhills home. A lot of things are a la carte. Food is extra. Plus it costs $350 to see an event.
[photo] Olympic swimmer Erin Phenix (left) and her mother, Laurie.
       

Working two jobs
        Laurie was proud to send Erin to Ursuline Academy in Blue Ash, for a “really good” education. Good but not cheap. Now a sophomore at the University of Texas in Austin, Erin is on scholarship. But it doesn't pay for everything. Phone calls home, for instance.

        Essential.

        Friends are determined to help. In a material way. They're taking up a collection. It's not that Laurie is destitute. She has a good job. Two of them, in fact.

        “I figured I can just max out my credit card, then pay it off. For the rest of my life,” she says, laughing.

        But not kidding.

        A speech and language pathologist for Cincinnati Public Schools, Laurie also works part time at a hospital birthing center. Erin's father “disappeared during the pregnancy,” she says.

        “Her friends watched her raise that baby by herself,” says long-time friend Tess Neggerman of College Hill. “What a wonderful job she has done. Helping her go to Sydney is a way for us to gather around and say "atta girl.'”
       

Vicarious thrills
        The tough thing about raising children on your own, Tess says, is not having somebody else around for the big and small moments, somebody to turn to and say, “Isn't she smart, isn't she great? Raising this money is a way for all of us to be with Laurie and Erin in Sydney,” Tess says. “Send along our good thoughts and prayers.”

        More prayers. Well, that seems to work so far.

        Erin says she closed her eyes and asked her late grandmother for one of her famous novenas before competing at the Olympic trials. Tim Beerman, Erin's coach, was on a religious retreat. “I had all the monks praying for her,” he told Diane Redmond, Ursuline's athletic director.

        Diane is in charge of the purse, and she reports contributions of about $400 so far. Checks made out to Ursuline Athletic Department/Laurie Phenix can be mailed to Diane at Ursuline Academy, 5535 Pfeiffer Road, Cincinnati 45242.

        “Most of us around here appreciate all Laurie has done,” Diane says. “Not just for Erin. She helped organize things for the team, dinners when we went to state. An outstanding person. It would be so much fun to be able to take some of the pressure off her.”

        But whether she gets outside help or she doesn't, Laurie will be there to cheer for her daughter. Just as she always has.

        Atta girl.

       E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.



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