How We Did It
We invested big in our kids' passion for an unusual sport--and it paid off in more ways than we ever imagined
(MONEY Magazine) – BY CATHY ZAGUNIS, 54, PORTLAND, ORE.
"Who knows where a child gets inspiration? I certainly had no idea when my oldest son, Marten, came to me and said, 'Mommy, I want fencing lessons.' I told him he'd have to wait two years until he was old enough. Much to my surprise, on his ninth birthday he announced he still wanted to fence. And so it began. Of course, my daughter Mariel wasn't content to just sit in the bleachers watching; she wanted to do it too. Before long, my youngest son, Merrick, wanted in as well. All of them showed great talent right away--in particular Mariel, who won her first major medal at 10.
In the early years, lessons cost about $20,000 annually. By 2000 my [now ex-] husband and I were spending $40,000-plus a year on coaching and travel. Expenses climbed as they qualified for more international competitions. We gave up meals out, vacations, redecorating our house. We drove Volvos with six digits of miles. At one point we owed $80,000 on credit cards. But we were happy because our kids got to do what they loved.
Fencing was also a means to ensure our children's admittance into good colleges. And in the end, our quarter of a million dollars in expenses paid off. Our kids hit the jackpot. Marten got a full scholarship to Penn State, and Mariel to Notre Dame. Merrick is still in high school and fences competitively. Now my ex and I, having since paid off our debts, can sit back and enjoy our children's achievement. Perhaps one of the biggest thrills was watching Mariel win a gold medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics. But honestly, we look at all our kids as champions."