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Friday August 1st 2014
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One woman’s journey to the Olympics, motherhood and the business world

For most of us finding the right career path can take years but for Gigi Fernandez, her calling came when she was just 3 years old. She was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico on February 22, 1964. The third of four children, Gigi would beg her parents Beatriz and Tuto to take her to tennis lessons. After her unrelenting requests, her parents succumbed to her wishes and Gigi found her life’s passion. The rest as they say is history.

Gigi Fernandez went on to be the first female Puerto Rican to become a professional athlete, win 17 Grand Slam titles and ultimately win 2 gold medals in the sport of tennis.

“As a kid I loved playing tennis,” she says, “I didn’t feel pressured by my parents in any way; I just enjoyed the sport and was never forced into it.” 

Her main goal however was not to win gold. “What is different from tennis athletes and other athletes is people in our generation didn’t revolve our aspirations around winning gold like in track and field, swimming and various other sports,” she adds.

Gigi says that when she was growing up there were no Olympics in tennis. The first year was 1984 as a demonstration sport and in 1988 it became a full participating sport in the Olympic Games. “I didn’t grow up thinking I would go on to win an Olympic gold metal because that was not an option when I was starting out,” she says.

Wining was a great achievement and Gigi says she was incredibly honored to have won, but she still wanted to go on and do more.

 The road to motherhood

“When I was playing, having a child was never an option because it was kind of impossible,” she said.

 After being in a stable relationship for 5 yrs, Gigi and her partner Jane Geddes decided they wanted to be parents, but the process would prove to be a difficult one.

“Because of the volatility of the fertilization process, going through an adoption process that wasn’t successful, and going through the ups and downs of medications and hormone treatments to get pregnant via an egg donor, I was exhausted, but it was well worth the wait,” she said. Now she has two precious children, boy and girl twins who are currently 22 months old.

 “They are the priority and I work around their schedules,” says Gigi.

 A new business venture

 After having her twins, Gigi got the idea to start a company that sold instructional videos teaching the fundamentals of sports to children when one day her nanny brought home the video Baby Einstein. She says her twins started watching it and were quiet for about 20 minutes, “Wow this is great, I thought to myself, I could actually step out for a minute and go to the bathroom,” she said. So she started looking for a sports video to introduce her twins to but to her surprise couldn’t find anything. “I just couldn’t believe it!” she adds.

That’s how Baby Goes Pro got started. Gigi set out to create the instructional video by interviewing psychologists and experts in the field of sports. The videos, she says are for kids to start learning basic sports skills, like how to kick a ball. “It gives them an early introduction into sports and more knowledge than the kid next door who’s never been to a soccer field,” she adds.

The DVDs have had a great reception so far according to Gigi. “Last year we were invited to the Annual White House Easter Egg Roll as part of the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign to fight childhood obesity and we are invited again this year. We love being part the childhood obesity campaign,” she said.

Gigi says her company is also part of the many organizations that help the First Lady promote the message of active lifestyles.

The motivation behind Baby Goes Pro is to keep kids active and moving. As for her twins, she says that she and her partner just want them to be athletic and hopefully they will find a sport that they like, that way their kids could have the benefit of sports like she did.

“Not to say that they are going to be professionals but just to be able to play a sport in the high school level or college level is such an advantage because sports teaches you so many things about life. It’s important for kids to have that tool for learning more about themselves, sportsmanship, respect, honoring the game, courage, character building, determination, and perseverance,” she said.

 A controversial product?

Baby Goes Pro DVDs have been welcomed by parents and reviewers, but some skeptics think starting a child in sports might not be such a good idea for their development. 

“Yes, its controversial the way its been presented,” says Gigi, “Because of my athletic background, I know how difficult it really is to become pro and it’s a bit insulting to our profession to have people think that just because they watch a video, their kids will turn out pro.”

Gigi says that the advantage offered by the DVDs is similar to when a child goes to pre-k to learn the basics of reading and writing and then goes on to first grade having that knowledge versus the child who enters first grade and has a difficult time with these subjects. She says the DVDs are meant to do just that, offer a way for kids to get introduced to sports and know how to swing, kick a ball and the basic rules of sports so that when they are initiated into sports through a class or camp they will already know the basics and be better prepared with the knowledge. “It’s great for kids who watch these videos because it gives them the knowledge before others,” Gigi said.

Photos courtesy of Gigi Fernandez

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