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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | Southland Focus

Wheels of Time : Cyclist Linda Brenneman of Dana Point Is Giving Up Competition for Rigors of Motherhood

July 22, 1996|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Legs pumping, wheels spinning, the pack of Olympic cyclists approached at 25 miles an hour, and Rodney Brenneman leaned over the barricade, holding his 2-year-old son close.

"Look for Mommy," Brenneman said into Paul's ear as the boy clutched a blue blanket. "Here we go. . . . Look for Mommy."

Aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents pressed forward, eager for the quickest flicker of a glimpse of Linda Brenneman.

And Paul, her tow-headed tyke, was the only one not looking, his head turned straight up, transfixed by the clamor of helicopters crowding the sky overhead.

Three years ago, Linda Brenneman retired from cycling. Only 24 months ago, she gave birth to Paul, the couple's first child.

Sunday afternoon, she completed her dream of competing in the Olympics. With one eight-mile lap left in the 65-mile road race, Brenneman was in eighth place, but the cramping muscles in her thighs finally let her down and she faded to 36th, more than four minutes behind gold medalist Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli of France.

There would be no medal hung around her neck, but after the final sprint, Brenneman turned her bike back to the finish line. She found her family and held out her arms to take Paul.

"The love for cycling keeps you going in the sport," Brenneman said, "but the love for my son . . . He looks at me, and I can't describe it in words. I shut off the sport and just want to snuggle."

Training and competing have meant separations for the Brennemans. Linda, 30, who lives with her husband and son in Dana Point, has been away for as much as two weeks--a long time in the life of a toddler.

"We learned to use the speakerphone," Linda said. "He says, 'Mommy in the 'Limpics.' . . . But mostly he wanted to talk about the plane ride to Atlanta. And he says, 'I love you, Mommy.' That just makes me melt."

Rodney and Linda met on bicycles when she showed up at his regular club ride in Irvine.

"We knew after the last trials that we basically wanted to start a family," said Rodney, who is able to help care for Paul working from home as a designer of medical and surgical instruments.

Still, without Eva-Lena Dow, a Swedish woman who works as Paul's nanny, the couple couldn't manage.

"She's indispensable," Rodney Brenneman said.

Sunday afternoon, Dow and Rodney Brenneman arrived with fanny packs and a backpack that held water bottles, diapers and strawberry Fig Newtons.

"I was lying in bed last night, thinking, 'What are they going to do with him for 2 1/2 hours?' " Linda said.

While his mom raced, Paul cavorted with his cousins, using his precious blanket to play peek-a-boo. He patted a dog awkwardly with two clumsy hands.

With the race at its halfway mark, Dow changed Paul's diaper under a tree. And when it rained a steady downpour for a full lap of the race, he played with an umbrella, hardly ever showing more than a pout. Later, he stomped in the puddles left by the rain.

In his father's arms, Paul plucked at the NBC microphone Rodney was wired with. "No, no," his father said.

And as Linda zipped by after another lap, Paul blinked a few times, and buried his head in his Dad's shoulder.

"Did you see Mommy? Your Mommy was in fourth place!" his cousins said.

Coming back after her pregnancy and a year-and-a-half layoff wasn't simple for Brenneman, but she says she returned to the sport with more dedication than before. Every training ride and every race meant more, since it cost time away from her son.

"The first separations were tough, especially trusting new baby-sitters," she said. "The first time I left for a training ride, it was only an hour or so, and all I could think was he would not be there when I got back. I got there and said, 'No, I can't go,' but my friends convinced me to go."

Finding Dow made all the difference, even though the sacrifice is that Paul has spent more time with his nanny in recent months than with his mother.

"She'll always be part of our lives. I trust her 100%," Linda

said.

Her Olympics aren't over yet. On Aug. 3, she'll compete in the individual time trial.

"One more race," she said. "I really want to get back to motherhood. That's my life now."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Profile

* Athlete: Linda Brenneman.

* Discipline: Cycling.

* Hometown: Dana Point.

* Competitive history: First Olympics. Was first overall in the Olympic trials road race and individual time trial. Finished sixth in the Olympic selection point standings at the 1992 Olympic road trials and national championships. Member of U.S. national team since 1990, with exception of 1994, when she gave birth to a son.

* Personal: Began cycling in 1984 as cross training for roller skating, in which she is a former national champion. Training partner of '84 Olympic gold medalist Steve Hegg, who also lives in Dana Point. Is licensed to sell real estate.

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