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Olympic fencer Sherraine Schalm and her husband discuss parenting

Sherraine schalm and family - olympic fencer sherraine schalm and her husband discuss parentingOlympic fencer Sherraine Schalm is one of Canada’s top athletes. As she
competes in her fourth Olympics, all eyes will be on her, including
those of her husband, Matteo Ortolina, and their one-year-old daughter,
Gaia. We caught up with the couple at their home in Italy and convinced
them to let down their guard and answer our parenting questions.

Who is responsible for washing all those sweaty clothes and doing other household tasks?

Sherraine Schalm: Matteo does tons of the cooking. He’s really good about laundry, too. For the basics (vacuuming, dishes and getting groceries) it’s an even split, but then there are those things most men don’t notice: dusting, cleaning bathrooms, organizing drawers, etc… so that is my “area of expertise.”

Matteo Ortolina: Since my wife spends more time with the baby, she is the one who takes care of most of the clothes washing. When I am around I wash dirty clothes, prepare food and change the little one. Something that is definitely Sherraine’s task is reorganizing the closet. She has a special way to do it and does not want anyone to interfere with it!

How do you balance careers, travel, and training with caring for your daughter?

SS: Quality vs. quantity. When we are together we are really focused on each other. Gaia has never cried when we leave. I think she knows that when we come back we will be focused on her. Also, Gaia comes with me to all my training sessions…she runs around while I warm up and plays in her playpen for two to three hours while I fence next to her. When she naps I do my physical training at home and/or work on the book I’m writing, So You Wanna Marry an Italian? 50 Things You Need to Know First!

MO: It is not easy, especially being away from my wife and daughter so much, but you become much more efficient with your work. Every minute you save is a minute more with your baby. Once I leave the office, there aren’t urgent emails to answer or phone calls to make; it is only about my family.

What do you feel your partner brings to the table when it comes to being a parent?

SS: Since I am an Olympic athlete and make about a dollar an hour, Matteo is the parent who brings home the bacon! His hard work and good job means I get to stay with Gaia most of the time. He also brings a lot of laughs to the house… If I die of a heart attack you’ll all know why.

MO: The North American approach sometimes conflicts with the Italian vision I have, but my wife brings online knowledge (“I read it on the Dr. Sears website!”) and a natural calmness and efficiency to parenting.

In what ways have your athletic backgrounds influenced your parenting philosophy?

SS: Neither Matteo nor I are afraid to fail. This is a great legacy we pass on to Gaia so she knows she can try to do anything. Athletes win and lose under spotlights and in front of crowds, so a little personal failure is nothing after that! We also exercise together and eat fresh food. It’s hard to eat badly in Italy, but we do have one vice: gelato. Yum!

MO: Physical strength helps a lot so it’s good that I was an athlete. Being a parent is a bit like being at training camp; you need to take every chance you get to rest and eat because when the baby is awake you need all your energy.

What is your favourite part about being a parent?

SS: I love helping this little creature become more happy and independent. It’s so rewarding to see her work hard to learn something new.

MO: Seeing my daughter learn new things is a really nice feeling. Being able to teach her a little part of what she learns makes me really proud.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, August/September 2012.

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