When it comes to sports heroes, Kate Markgraf ranks high on our list. The three-time Olympian and FIFA World Champion is one of soccer’s most decorated athletes, and since her retirement in 2011, she’s divided her time between broadcasting with ESPN and NBC and leading U.S. Soccer’s Soccer Envoy programs around the globe. Particularly after the excitement of this summer’s World Cup, we’re thrilled to get a peek at how Kate has combined professional sports with parenting three young children. Kate and her family live in Milwaukee.
Q: When did you take your first trip as a family?
The first trips as a family took place while I was still playing competitive soccer. I do not count these since they weren’t a true family trip (I was on the field for hours each day!). But the first trip we loved was one to Beaver Creek. We rented a condo at the Hyatt Mountain Lodge at Beaver Creek during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. The location was perfect – only a few minute walk from the Lodge to the ski school and the skating rink. The village contained numerous dining options (both casual and upscale), but we always could cook in our kitchen if everyone was too tired from a day of skiing. The ice rink in the middle of the village provides a nice change up to skiing all day. We've watched the kids grow up in Beaver Creek over the years, “graduating” from the Buckaroo Express to racing around the skating rink. It’s truly a special place.
Q: What is your favorite travel memory from childhood, and what do you hope your kids remember about their travels?
My favorite vacations always involved a pool. As long as the hotel had a pool, I was a happy camper. Our kids are like fish in the pool, so maybe they acquired a little of the love of the pool from me. We always look for lodging with a great pool during our trips. Next month, we’re staying at the Le Parker Meridien in Manhattan. The view across Central Park from the roof deck pool is absolutely amazing. I think National Geographic has a great saying along the lines of, "Learn to travel, then travel to learn." I hope our kids will find excitement in traveling to new places and seeking out the uniqueness and history of each destination.
Q: Have any of your family trips been a complete fail?
I still played competitively after the twins were born in 2009 (I already had a three year old at the time). The kids didn’t know it, but they wanted to see me play (smile–and it was much easier having them with me). So naturally all of our early trips as a family were based on the location of the competitions. These trips blended together in a bleary, fatigued mess. Besides the fact my knees were no longer cooperating, and my speed was gone, the tipping point for retirement was when I was on an airplane and I learned I couldn't have two lap children. With twins (Carson and Xavier, now age 5), how do I manage holding one infant, putting the other in a car seat and entertaining a 3-year-old (Keegan, now 8)? It was disastrous but it serves as a great reference point for when I think a trip isn’t going so well!
Q: Name a place where you’ll always return and why.
The Phoenician in Scottsdale is wonderful. Nestled in the Camelback Mountains, I loved playing with our children in the kid’s pool and waterslide area with the mountains as the backdrop. We return each year in early March, and we always try to top our previous year's ascent up those rocky peaks. Combine that with delicious food, great hospitality and a few Cactus League spring training baseball games, and you get a perfect respite from our harsh Wisconsin winters.
Q: What’s your dream destination for travel a deux, and what’s on your bucket list for a trip with the family?
My next dream destination is Alaska. I want to see all the natural beauty it has to offer. It’s one of the few places on earth that remains untouched after all these years.
Q: Where would you send first-time visitors for a family day and kid-free night in your hometown?
I live in Milwaukee, which is a fantastic place to live if you can handle the brutal winters. I think the bitter cold helps keep our city a bit of a secret, but with all the press it's been getting, the secret is out. My favorite restaurants and must-try list is continually expanding due to the growing food scene. Lake Park Bistro is a wonderful place to have dinner with fabulous views of Lake Michigan. It's one of the few places in our casual city where jacket is required which adds to occasion. It's on every food critic's top ten list, and it always lives up to its billing.
Another favorite is Cafe Corazon for Mexican food. They don't take reservations nor have enough tables to fit the demand; but when you do get seated, you're guaranteed great margaritas and delicious menu options ranging from glutinous to waistband friendly. I like going to this place without kids. Many times I get off the airplane and place a carry-out order for their mixed green salad with lime-cumin dressing and pulled chicken. I pick it up on my way to meet my kids.
With children, we love the Comet Cafe. We usually go there for breakfast but dinner is great as well. They have the best pancakes in town and does all types of egg dishes well. Sometimes we bring home cupcakes and try to restrain ourselves from eating them at 10 in the morning. They are that good! I guess I can tell you about the other secret restaurant, the Safe House. This spy-themed restaurant has moving walls, spy paraphernalia and wait staff that plays the part. You have to know the password to enter the restaurant without having to jump through hoops (literally). It's all in good fun and I've never been to another place like it in all of my travels.
My favorite hotels are either the Pfister or the Iron Horse. The Pfister is where most of the professional sports teams stay when they are in town. Old world charm and history make this a place to stay. If you can't stay for the night, grabbing a tea is an experience as well. The Iron Horse is one of our few edgy (relative to our mild Midwestern-manner) hotels in town. Great bar, good restaurant and comfy rooms make a great choice when staying out late.
Q: What’s your traveling uniform? Do your kids have one as well?
My travel uniform involves lots of black, layers, and sneakers. I wore black leggings all winter with Joie sweaters (covers my bum), a scarf and black sneakers. Having a go-to uniform makes packing easy. My kids always wear pants or sweats because they tend to get cold on airplanes, and I never have room in our carry-on for extra big blankets. They layer on a t-shirt, and we love Patagonia's fleece jackets. They keep the kids warm on the plane and serve as their jackets when it gets cold on our trip.
Q: Fill in the blank. Flying with kids is...
A work in progress! We are still at the stage where the twins are kicking the seat in front of them and are learning about managing their volume in small spaces. We always try to buy that individual a drink and some extra ear buds!
Never board a plane without...
An iPad for each kid, arts-n-crafts, a Harry Potter book and lots of yummy snacks.
Q: If parents could design a hotel, all rooms would have...
Free wifi, a space for adults to turn on a light and read far enough away to not disturb sleeping children, a sizable refrigerator, and of course a great pool, all without costing an arm-and-a-leg!