Memories linger on: Photographer captures Olympians as mothers

Memories linger on: Photographer captures Olympians as mothers

Jenn Pottheiser snaps elite athletes and their maternal juggling acts

If athletic prowess was the subject, it would probably have been impossible for photographer Jenn Pottheiser to persuade Olympic volleyball player Danielle Scott-Arruda to spend hours posing for her just weeks before the London games; her life was just too hectic.

But Pottheiser approached her with a special request — to celebrate her as a mother, as well as an athlete.

The result is an absolutely charming image of family life, with the trim, muscled Scott-Arruda doing bathroom duty while her two-year-old daughter and her grand-niece put in some potty time. Of course, it’s an image they might not forgive her for when they get older.

Working with her friend, documentary journalist Danielle Elliot, Pottheiser, a Westfield resident, produced a series of images of eight top female sports veterans, most with multiple Olympic medals, in fields like basketball, track and field, and archery. All had interrupted their careers to have babies, regained their stellar prowess, and made it onto the 2012 U.S. team as participants or alternates.

Pottheiser was astounded by how receptive they were. A seasoned sports photographer with a long track record of portraying some of the biggest names in the business for corporate and media clients, she knew she was asking a lot; these were people at a fever pitch of training and tryouts.

“None of the women we approached refused,” Pottheiser told NJ Jewish News, chatting over decaf coffee in Millburn on Aug. 15. “The access these women gifted to us was incredible. I was baffled by it. I think their motherhood is something they don’t usually get kudos for, and it’s a remarkable accomplishment. I can only imagine how exhausting and time-consuming it is to handle being a mom and achieving the kind of physical condition they have to be in.”

The mothers project has been featured on NPR’s “Picture Show” blog, by the Huffington Post’s parenting blog, and a few other publications. Pottheiser is hoping it will find other venues, and there is a possibility of an exhibition. She would welcome that, but said that this “labor of love” has already paid off, in the sheer joy she found getting to know these mothers and their children.

‘Labor of love’

At 39 Pottheiser is a fond stepmother to two teens and a 20-year-old, and aunt to two young children. She came up with the idea of photographing these super multi-taskers just before the 2008 Olympics, but needed more time to realize her “dream” project.

“This was a labor of love,” said Pottheiser, who grew up in Livingston and attended Temple Emanu-El of West Essex. “I tend to be very willing to talk myself out of things if there are any problems, but with this, everything just seemed to come together in the most amazing way.”

She and Elliot approached about 20 people. In addition to Scott-Arruda, Pottheiser photographed track and field star Lashinda Demus — who went back to training a month after having twins — indoor volleyball players Tayyiba Haneef-Park, basketball player Candace Parker, field hockey player Keli Smith-Puzo, equestrian show jumper Laura Kraut, pentathlete Mickey Kelly, and Russian-born archer Khatuna Lorig, whose 17-year-old archer son hopes to compete with her at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Demus would go on to win a silver medal in the 400-meter hurdles at the London games, Parker shared the women’s basketball team’s gold medal, and Scott-Arruda and Haneef-Park won silver with the women’s volleyball team.

Most of them took their kids to London, though only a few of those children are old enough to appreciate what they would see their mothers do.

Pottheiser got into photography as an English major at Duke University. While her husband, Nat Butler, also a sports photographer, does action shots, her specialty is posed pictures. She has worked with many of the greats — including people hockey player Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, and basketball stars Dwight Howard of the LA Lakers, and Shaquille O’Neal, who, she said, “is just a big kid with a great sense of humor.”

Over the past couple of years, Pottheiser has also been photographing musicians, and said she loves that too.

In the next few weeks, she will be photographing tennis players at the U.S. Open in Flushing, Queens. “I respect people’s expertise and how hard they work, whatever their pursuit,” she said.

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