Ashton Eaton crouched in the dirt and concentrated on conquering his latest rival — weeds overwhelming his backyard.
The Olympic decathlon champion and world-record holder dominated those pesky intruders, with his wife posting his handiwork on social media.
Just a snapshot into the life of the Eatons — your ordinary neighbors in Eugene, Oregon. Ashton frequently toils in the yard while Brianne Theisen-Eaton does the grocery shopping and cooking.
“There it is for you: She hunts and gathers and I take care of the nest,” Ashton said, laughing.
But this power couple is far from ordinary. Ashton hopes to defend his Olympic decathlon title at the Rio de Janeiro Games for the U.S., while Brianne, who competes for Canada, figures to be a favorite in the heptathlon.
“We feel like pretty normal, boring people, to be honest,” Brianne said.
A little history on the first family of multi-events: Ashton, 28, and Brianne, 27, met at the University of Oregon as teenagers and married in July 2013. Their coach, Harry Marra, officiated the wedding.
“Most nervous I ever was in my life!” Marra exclaimed.
The couple trains together. They celebrate together, too, with Ashton embracing Brianne after her gold-medal performance in the pentathlon at the world indoor championships in Portland two months ago — and vice versa when Ashton won the heptathlon. They motivate one another as well.
“Our lives are more organized because if one of us gets lazy, the other is snapping their fingers to say, ‘OK, get back to it,'” Brianne said.
Date night for them is usually dinner and a movie. At least, they strive for that. Most times, it’s simply watching a show on Netflix (the couple is currently watching the documentary, “Making a Murderer”).
“It’s definitely beneficial to have the support of someone who’s also trying to do the same,” Ashton said. “When you have someone else going through this it’s like, ‘Oh, you know what? I’m not the only one suffering here.'”
The couple also has a shared passion for clean water. The Eatons are big supporters of Team World Vision, which raises money through running events to benefit children in Africa. The Eatons traveled to Kenya last fall and met the child they help sponsor. They even demonstrated what they do — using a stick as a javelin and a rock as a discus.
“It’s us sharing these experiences together,” Brianne said. “Because when we both are able to go somewhere and show up and show that it’s a family supporting it, it’s even stronger.”
Marra has been a part of Team Eaton since the early stages, realizing right away they weren’t your typical athletes. Take Brianne, who had a long talk with Marra after the 2012 London Games when she didn’t medal.
“She said, ‘Coach, I don’t want to be 10th anymore. I don’t want to continue to do this unless I can be a factor,'” Marra recounted. “We had some ideas and made the commitment to step it up to move to the next level.”
It’s worked, too. She’s finished second at the last two world outdoor championships.
Ashton’s drive has long been legendary, but kicked up a notch after taking silver at the 2011 worlds in South Korea.
Since then, he’s won two world outdoor titles, an Olympic crown and broken the world record twice, the most recent time last summer at worlds in Beijing when he finished with 9,045 points. It was six points better than the mark he set at U.S. Olympic trials in 2012.
During training, they sometimes change things up to have fun. A few months ago, Ashton asked Marra to place a piece of rope into sand during long jump practice. Then, Ashton tried to leap past the string.
That’s something Ashton used to do as a kid after watching Carl Lewis compete in the Olympics.
“It brought Ashton back to his childhood,” Marra said. “And he got technically done what he wanted to get done, but had fun doing it.”
Ashton has to earn his spot on the U.S. team at the Olympic trials in July. Brianne just needs to hit the Olympic “A” standard, which she’s hoping to accomplish next week at a meet in Austria.
Should both make it, the days are going to be long for athletes and coach. Brianne competes on Aug. 12-13 and the plan is to train Ashton in between sessions, so both can root for Brianne.
Ashton would take center stage Aug. 17-18, with a chance to become the first decathlete to win back-to-back Olympic titles since British star Daley Thompson in 1980 and ’84.
“Would it be nice to see (Brianne and Ashton) win and then after the dust settles — a month or so later — sit back in my garden with a nice big glass of wine and say, ‘Yeah, that was pretty good.’ Sure, it would be,” Marra said. “But you can’t do that now.”
On the web: http://www.worldvision.org/
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