On the night before what was, at the time, the biggest race of her life, Janis Klecker ate a Snickers bar. The next day, she qualified for the 1992 Olympic Games. Nearly three decades later, on her advice, her son Joe did the same thing and achieved the same result.
Of course, we all know that it takes a lot more than a bar of chocolate to become one of the world's best runners, but why let that get in the way of a good story?
As Joe emotionally recounted this anecdote in the aftermath of the US Team Trials event where he booked his ticket to Tokyo, it was clear that his mother's presence and advice – beyond his eating pre-race eating habits – has played a huge role in his life and career so far.
So, who better to give us the inside track on what the Team USA star was like as a child? Read on for a Q&A that covers everything from karate and skateboarding to backflips and dogs.
Hey Janis, what's your earliest memory of Joe running?
Joe began running in about 6th grade, I think. He had older siblings who ran, and he looked up to them. He started running cross country and track in 7th grade.
When you think back to these times, did you ever think he could go this far?
Running was very much part of the fabric of our home. Both Barney (Joe's dad, who was also an elite runner and is a former US record holder for the 50-mile run) and I ran as the kids were growing up. I was still occasionally racing after we started having children, so the kids saw me compete at a young age.
Joe loved to run from a very early age and was very self-motivated – like most good runners are.
When you think back to Joe as a child, did you ever think he could go this far? Were there moments of athleticism that showed he might be more talented than the average runner?
Joe was a very tenacious child with relentless ambition toward the things he was passionate about. He was very dedicated to karate for several years and earned a black belt while in grade school.
He also loved to ski as a child and was part of a freestyle ski team, where he learned to flip and spin in the air. I remember him once asking me if I wanted to see him backflip the super kicker (which was a few large jumps at a local ski area). I wasn't sure how to answer him. I loved to encourage his ambition, but it was often painful to watch.
He also loved to skateboard as a child-that too was something difficult for a mother to watch. He loved it and had no fear of injury. I, on the other hand, did.
What happened on the day he qualified? Did you speak to him beforehand?
Yes, we did speak the day he qualified. Sarah (Joe's sister) had brought her dog, Scout, along. Joe had asked if we would come out to where he was staying and specifically requested that we bring Scout.
Dogs have a way of smoothing off any rough edges and calming pre-race jitters.
Do you enjoy watching him compete? Or is it nerve-racking?
It is sometimes hard for me to watch him race. I know how hard he works. He pours his heart and soul into it – and I'm always hopeful that he will be satisfied with the result. As a mom, I care so much more about how he feels about his races than how I feel about them.
What does it mean to you to have another member of the family qualify for the big dance? Were you able to offer some advice on what to expect?
It means the world to me to see Joe achieve his dream. I know the joy he feels from having done it myself. It warms my heart that we can share this.
Any tough moments, celebrations, or losses that you feel helped shape Joe into the athlete he is today?
There are many moments and people that have shaped Joe into the runner he is today. No runners' journey is completely smooth, and Joe is no different. There have been injuries, canceled races, and sub-par performances – each has contributed to molding him into the competitor he is today.
Joe was very driven from a young age and he has a very strong support system.
Is it difficult that you can't be there to cheer him on?
It is difficult that we cannot be there to cheer him on, but he knows our hearts are with him. Each of his siblings and both Barney and I are so very supportive of what he is doing. He is surrounded by a great deal of love. I know he will feel it there.
How do you continue to support him today?
My prayer for him is that he will run the race that he has worked so hard for, that he runs to his potential and that the results might glorify God.