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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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or find the file at http://traffic.libsyn.com/hopesports/HS22-Olympic-Runner-Abbey-Cooper-DAgostino.mp3

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About This Episode

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@[email protected]V0dGluZ3MiOnsiYmVmb3JlIjoiXCIiL[email protected]

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Despite her years in the pool as a swimmer, it was destiny for Abbey to become a runner. Both of her parents were avid marathoners and her mother a triathlete, but it took until high school for Abbey to muster the courage to lace up with them. She joined the cross country team as a freshman in high school mainly because all students were welcome and she didn’t have to brave a tryout. The first day she recalls being so nervous that she could hardly get out of the car. But she was quickly welcomed into a jovial, family atmosphere among the girls on the team and her first two years she experienced one success after another. Unfortunately her final two years were marked by several coaching changes and health issues, but her love of running persisted and she was recruited to run for Dartmouth. She looked forward to working with an entire team of woman who were equally invested in their sport and their studies and came into her first year just hoping to add some points to the team. She never anticipated having the incredible season that she did, which culminated with her qualification for nationals. Empowered her to see her own potential as an athlete, Abbey began dreaming a bit bigger.

The support of her parents, her collegiate coach, and her faith community gave her the resources in every area of her life to flourish. She invested in a faith community through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes which allowed her to develop her sense of identity and purpose outside of her splits and standings. Her coach, a former Olympian himself, reinforced the narrative that they had the potential to achieve more that what they considered possible and Abbey rose to the challenge. In 2012 after her sophomore year, she qualified for the Olympic Trials and says that it was, “like the icing on the cake at the end of the season.” Her underdog status gave her the ability to relax and just enjoy the experience - a posture that she credits with her impressive performance. She qualified for the finals and took fifth place, less than one second away from qualifying for the Games. Even though she was disappointed that she narrowly missed those Olympics, running better than she could have ever hoped gave her a confidence boost and renewed vision for her next few years. “I set my mind on taking it one year at a time and enjoying the rest of my collegiate experience and then going on from there,” says Abbey.

She graduated from Dartmouth in 2014 as the most decorated Ivy League runner in history and with seven NCAA titles to her name. New Balance signed her to their team and she moved back to Boston near their headquarters and, conveniently, her family. But her first few years as a professional were not seamless. For the first time in her career she began to struggle with physical injuries. Stress fractures and muscle injuries plagued her which deeply refined her character as she dealt with her own frustration, anger, and perceived loss of control. Running had become an idol in her collegiate years and it was being repeatedly stripped away. “If running is my ultimate source of satisfaction and identity, then I won’t ever be satisfied,” says Abbey. The challenges recovery built in her a sense of humility about her abilities. Just weeks before the 2016 Olympic Trials she experienced a stress fracture in her shin that nearly removed her from competition. She placed fifth at the trials, but two woman who had finished ahead of her forfeited their spots in order to run the 10,000m race instead of the 5000m and Abbey was granted a spot. More than ever, she realized that her place on the team was truly a gift.

But in the weeks between the trials and the Games while recovering from her shin injury, she suffered a stress fracture in her pelvis. Not wanting to give up her spot, she soldiered on and was restricted to non-impact workouts in the pool only; she wasn’t allowed to run at all until her actual event. Her mental space was one of peaks and valley as she wrestled with her training limitations. She stepped up to the line of her preliminary run not confident in the status of her fitness, but determined to run a race of which we could be proud. As 5000m races typically go, the pack started at a conservative pace, but picked up speed abruptly around the 3000m mark. This sudden pace change caused a collision in front of her tripping New Zeeland runner Nikki Hamblin who caught Abbey’s foot under her as she fell. Both women ended up in a pile on the ground, but rather than continue on with her race Abbey made the split second decision to run backwards towards Nikki to encourage her to get up and finish. The two woman proceeded together, despite the fact that Abbey was visibly injured. She would later learn that this fall had torn her ACL and meniscus, an injury that she is still recovering from today. The woman embraced at the finish line and video footage of the event immediately went viral. Abbey had absolutely no idea that anyone would see what happened on the track that day, as preliminary races harder garner any attention, but her sense of sportsmanship and unity was praised as “The Most Beautiful Moment” of the Olympics. Around the world her actions were applauded, but she says, “I was just thankful to be an instrument in the larger story that the Lord was telling.”

Earlier in the week before that race she had heard a story from Olympic chaplain and former distance runner, Madeline Manning. Madeline shared about a time that she got hurt during a race and instinctually prayed for help to finish. She doesn’t remember the last 100m of the race, but knows that God carried her through the end. Madeline shared a verse from Ephesians with the athletes present at her session and Abbey held on to that story and even had the verse written on her hand during that preliminary race. When she fell, she instantly thought of Madeline, thought of that verse, and without hesitation went back to her competitor because it was the right thing to do. The media attention and publicity was overwhelming for both woman, but has been an incredible part of Abbey’s story and has given her a platform to share about her faith and the values that she believes to be at the core of the Olympics.

The past two years Abbey has been working to regain her strength, balance, and stamina after undergoing surgery to repair the damage done by that fall. At times she still faces frustration at the pace of recovery, but is confident that she will work her way back to Olympic standard in time for the 2020 Olympic Trials even if it’s not how she envisions the journey. “God can take our dreams and reroute them for His glory and our ultimate benefit,” says Abbey. To younger athletes she shares this advice: “Be sure that you’re cultivating joy in your pursuit.” Sport needs to remain fun, a passion, and with the richness that comes from knowing worth and purpose. She advises athletes to not try to do too much too soon, saying, “so much of success if just layers of consistency.” Through it all, she can testify to the fact that challenges will inevitably come, “so the earlier you can start finding your identity in the right things, the better.” Abbey is on her way to the trials for the 2020 Summer Olympics, so be sure to follow her recovery on Instagram,  Twitter , and Facebook so you can cheer her on.

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Laura:

[00:00:06] Welcome to the Hope Sports Podcast where we believe sport can give you the freedom to be your best. All too often the fear of failure takes the fun out of the game. We're here to help you discover the real joy and freedom to compete for your best. I'm your host Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson. I can't wait to jump into today's conversation. But before I do I want to tell you about a really cool way that people are engaging with this podcast. We're giving a big old shout out to Courtney Spencer's 7th-grade writing class at maybe Junior High in Texas. Courtney found the Hope Sports Podcast and created an entire project around it. Her students have been listening to different episodes and then writing the athletes from those episodes they listened to with what they learned. And we are loving it. You guys are amazing. Keep believing in your dreams and pursuing purpose and you guys are bound to change the world. Speaking of believing in your dreams we have such an inspiring guest on today. Abbey D'Agostino Cooper is the most decorated Ivy League track and distance runner. She has seven Institute titles and runs professionally with Team New Balance. But she is most well-known perhaps for what was named the most beautiful moment of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. In the preliminary race of the 5000 meters. Abby was tripped up when another runner fell in front of her. But instead of continuing on she went back to pick up the other woman to finish the race. Her actions are the epitome of sportsmanship and they represent the heart of the Olympics. And today on the show she shares the story behind that moment. She shares her less than the perfect run-up to the Olympic Games and her own struggle to recover from an injury. And through it all she shines this incredible humility that I'm so excited to share with you. So let's dive on in.

 

[00:01:53] Abby Cooper, welcome to the Hope Sports Podcast. It is such an honor to have you here with us today.

 

Abbey:

[00:01:58] Thank you, Laura. It's an honor to be here.

 

Laura:

[00:02:01] OK. Well, let's just kind of start with what made you fall in love with running? Kind of take us there.

 

Abbey:

[00:02:07] I have kind of in the background where I didn't start off running when I was like three years old if there's anything like that. I grew up in a family of runners both my mom and dad. I was growing up when marathons and my mom was actually a triathlete as well. So I was raised in an after just kind of exercise enthusiast environment. I was actually a swimmer growing up. I swam competitively through 8th grade. And when freshman year in high school rolled around. Honestly, the reason I first went to cross-country practice was because that was the only sport that I didn't have to try out for. And I had never been to a sport with individuals who were so much older than me. And I think I know that I was a bit intimidated by that. So I didn't even want to get out of the car the first day of practice. But very quickly found that it was such a welcoming and jovial group of girls. And quite a big team actually too. So it felt like a family and I learned pretty early on that I had a natural talent for it. So yeah just worked out.

 

Laura:

[00:03:22] Oh that's so cool. I love it. Was there a specific moment do you think in or out of the competition that kind of changed the trajectory of your running career?

 

Abbey:

[00:03:31] Well, I think there was probably a series of those in the time that I've been running. My first couple of years in high school I had quite a bit of success. Those first two years where I actually ran my best times. My sophomore year in high school and had continuous coaches in those first two years. And then after I think it was between my sophomore and junior year in high school. We started having quite a few coaching changes even within seasons. And I started to struggle with some health problems of mono and anemia. So running wasn't going quite as well for me those last two years. And you know school was getting harder. So although I was still an active participant in team captain and still involved very involved with the team. My love of it started to just become a bit more. There were ebbs and flows I think and how enjoyable it was. Then again I think that now as I look back it was a blessing in disguise because it really set my heart on competing in college. And looking forward to this new start where I was going to be around a whole team of people who were equally as invested in the sport and in their academics.

 

[00:05:12] I love my high school team but there weren't many of us who were looking to compete at a more serious level. Yeah, really my first two years of college were just exploring what it was like to buy into this mentality. As you know running is not just an extracurricular activity but actually a lifestyle what does that look like on a day to day basis. So that really changed my trajectory in that I was able to more fully realize my potential over the course of those first two years. I was actually quite surprised by the jumps I was able to make in my performance. As well as the love of the sport where I'd never imagined at all. My goal entering freshman year was to just contribute to the team and be able to score points. So when I qualified for a national championship and then was able to go on after that. That was not anything that I expected. So I haven't been pretty quickly.

 

[00:06:25] Just over the course of those 4 years that's when I grew to realize that I was capable of competing on an even grander scale and look toward professional running. So I'm really thankful for my coaching. And the support system around me that embedded that allowed me the resources to realize that and grow in such deep ways.

 

Laura:

[00:06:55] So who was that support system like was it just a coach? Was it the whole team? Was it one person in particular? Like who really kind of helped to grow and change? And like you said really make that your lifestyle.

 

Abbey:

[00:07:08] Right. So yeah. It was a collection of amazing people. And of course, my family was behind me the entire time really. In allowing me to choose the school where there are no athletic scholarships at Ivy League schools. So you know that was a huge sacrifice on their part. It started there. And then I was actually recruited by a different coach than my collegiate coach Mark Coogan. And the other coach had gotten pregnant and resigned the summer before we arrived on campus. But then found out that Mark had an incredible experience and background being an Olympian himself. And he was really a great fit for our team at the time. And helped us learn how to ask more of ourselves and believe we had the potential to be a national caliber team. So he again was hugely instrumental. I had no idea what it looked like from a physical standpoint from a psychological standpoint emotional to compete at that level. So he planted the seeds. And he was also a perfect balance personality wise where I'm by nature a type A personality and he's a validly type B. And so where I tend to overdo it he was always there to balance me out. And help me to remember the joy of it when I started to get a little bit too dialed in and just self-destructive way.

 

[00:08:59] And then aside from my incredible teammates who are still some of my best friends to this day. I think one other huge component of my support system in college was the faith community. In college was where I came to faith. There were a lot of outlets you know Christian groups on campus. But the one I was most connected to was called FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) which I'm sure many listeners are familiar with it. But yeah I had great discipleship and mentorship through that program. And really just learned what a personal relationship with Jesus could be. You know in part through my experiences but then also the way I was drawn to the people in that community. So yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:09:55] It's interesting that you said you came to faith there and through Fellowship of Christian Athletes. But why did you start going if you didn't already have that faith. Like what brought you there?

 

Abbey:

[00:10:06] That's a great question. So I did grow up in the church. I was raised in a Catholic home. And you know like we were regular churchgoers and I attended CCD. And I had a very much intellectual understanding of who God was. And as a first born as a natural perfectionist I kind of understood God as prescribing a set of rules that I had to follow. And I was always good at following rules. So it really was kind of a work based understanding there. And then you know when I started to struggle in high school with my health and running wasn't going as well and school was harder. It just became less intriguing to me. Because if I'm not reaching that standard that God is supposedly setting. Of course, I'm going to run the other way if I don't know who he is. And so I didn't really at the time. So entering college I had a few teammates actually which is amazing to think back of such a small team. I had multiple teammates who were believers and were regular members of FCA. And would invite me to their Bible studies and larger group gatherings.

 

[00:11:31] I'd gone not on a regular basis but again I was enticed by the people there. The message that I heard. And yeah. I just sense that it was real for those involved. And it wasn't until I started to experience the pressure that came with the success I was experiencing in running and in school. And the sense of internal emptiness that I felt. It wasn't until then that I really started to seek help from that. All that I had heard who Jesus was and the freedom that he provided. So that's really what it started to become personal.

 

Laura:

[00:12:22] Oh That's awesome. I love it. And you did have a very successful collegiate career. You were the most decorated Ivy League track and cross-country runner. You won 7 NCAA titles. That's insane. So where did your pursuit of the Olympics begin and all of this?

 

Abbey:

[00:12:39] So in 2012, of course, that was an Olympic year. I had just finished my sophomore year in college. And another teammate of mine Alexi Pappas she was senior that year and she had also she and I both qualified for the Olympic Trials in Eugene. And she in the steeplechase and I'd qualified in the 5000. So we really just went to that race. You know as I said we were done with our academics. I was living on campus at Dartmouth that summer. So we just enjoyed that as kind of an opportunity as the coach would call it icing on the cake at the end of our season. He had spoken of course so fondly of his experiences in college at the Olympics. But then in college at the Olympic trials. And how much of a benefit it was to be an underdog in that environment. And so we both were able to compete there. And I very honestly had I mean again I told you I was at times by what I was able to accomplish in college.

 

[00:13:58] But I think that experience at 22 miles trumps all. In terms of just being so shocked but I able to handle that type of competition. So yeah. It took me to really process. For those who don't know, I qualify for their trials and finals. I qualified for the final. So I was about less than a second shy of qualifying for the Olympics that year.

 

Laura:

[00:14:37] So heartbreaking.

 

Abbey:

[00:14:39] So yeah. Honest. I really didn't know it was. But I really felt like emotionally I'd gone from zero to 100. I wasn't mentally prepared to be in that place at all or even close. So it took me a while to digest that experience, recognize, and feel thankful. This was introducing me to this potential that I didn't realize was there and so. Yeah. I mean I was very content and satisfied with my experience in college. And I wanted to though I knew within my heart I wanted to do anything I could to be there in 2016. I really set my mind up taking it one year at a time and enjoying the rest of my collegiate experience and then going on from there.

 

Laura:

[00:15:37] Smart. So you said going into 2012. I mean kind of like you said you weren't really sure what to expect there. So I mean were you actually happy with the result or were you still upset? I just hear a second often it sounds heartbreaking to me but like wasn't in your headspace. I mean maybe that was really exciting. And Dan Jansen telling us that he got 4th in the Olympics his first Olympics. And he was stoked like he thought he did great and everybody is like oh that’s a shame he didn't win a medal but he was excited about his performance. So yeah. I guess I should have asked you what exactly was your headspace going in there?

 

Abbey:

[00:16:09] Yeah. I mean really? Like I remember I kept actually a pretty religious journal of kind of the happenings. And you know because we had been out in Eugene ten days before the race so we're able to experience the vibe of the Olympic trials. And I remember actually writing that the goal was really just to make the final. And I actually ended up winning the prelim. So it's not that you know with a prelim I was just like I was so stunned but by how relaxed I felt. I think just because the stakes for me were so low and it was actually really beneficial evaluation tool. For me to see Oh I actually perform well. When you know you hear about as an athlete like the optimal arousal for competition. And then I walked away from that experience realizing that I actually perform better when I'm a bit more relaxed versus hyped. So yeah to answer your question the goal was just to make the final. So then when I was able to do that and then come so close.

 

[00:17:26] I think the best word is just surprised. You'll see if I were to rewatch an interview you know I'm crying in the interview of course. I think that was more just this like paralysis. It's hard to say I was disappointed. Because I truly believe that the Lord's will was not for me to be there that year and for three other amazing athletes to be there. But as I grow older and more mature in my career I recognize just how few and far between those opportunities are. And so it is challenging not to look back and feel a sort of sting from that.

 

Laura:

[00:18:13] So interesting how the perspective changes. I totally get it. I totally get it. Well, so what changed you when you finished college and you started running professionally and aiming toward Rio 2016. So kind of take us on that journey.

 

Abbey:

[00:18:27] So when I graduated in 2014 I signed a contract with New Balance and was able to move to Boston which is right near where my family lives. And really just was such a seamless fit in terms of training environment. I was part of a newly developed team and the New Balance headquarters are in Boston. So it really seems to be almost too good to be true. And then pretty much right off the bat. You know later on that fall when I started training after the summer for the next season I started getting injured. You know it was like first a soft tissue injury and then a few months later I got my first serious stress bone injury. And then a team that every six months or less I was getting the same sort of thing in different areas. And in college I never had longer term serious injuries like that. So yeah that was new territory. It challenged me to say the least. And you know provided a right opportunity for God to reveal my heart to me.

 

[00:19:52] And just in the way that I would respond to the continuous cycle of those things happening. And the anger and bitterness that I had to wrestle with. And just revealing that just how powerful running can be as an idol in my life. It just kind of stripping away layers of control and comfort. And graciously showing me that you know if Running is my ultimate source of satisfaction than identity then I won't be satisfied.

 

Laura:

[00:20:32] Oh such a good lesson.

 

Abbey:

[00:20:36] Right. And it was so humbling to go through it so many times and also realize my pride in that. Like I started to develop the sense of like I've been through this before you know. I feel like I've learned this lesson and God just showing me like when we struggle with some good thing that brings us joy. And then it's taken from us and we have to kind of shift and replace you know remind ourselves where our true identity really lies in Christ. It takes a long time to at least for me I'm stubborn you know. I don’t want to speak for anyone else but it took a long time for me. I hesitate to even say to learn that lesson. I think it's just gonna be a bunch of relearnings.

 

Laura:

[00:21:27] Yeah. Right there with that.

 

Abbey:

[00:21:30] Yeah yeah. So that was kind of the road to Rio in 2016 was just kind of like this total ebbs and flows of health and injury. Really up until you know 10 weeks before the Olympic trials I got another stress fracture in my shin. And it was the first time that I really felt like desperate before the Lord with the injury like I'm just tired. You know like I felt emotionally fatigued from all across training and thankful for that time because it taught me a lot about just relying on his word as manna. You know as like my food during that time. I'm just trusting that it would be there for me freshly every day. So getting to the starting line at the Olympic trials itself like the fact that I was able to get healthy. And with very limited training on the ground you know I was actually doing a lot of swimming. I was able to still get to the starting line. And then I actually didn't even place top 3 in the 5000 I placed 5th. But then to the gals in front of me forfeited their spot. So I was able to sneak in fifth place.

 

Laura:

[00:22:51] Why would you forfeit a spot on the Olympic team.

 

Abbey:

[00:22:54] So two of the other women Molly huddle and Emily Infeld had also qualified in the 10000 meters. So they both decided they didn't want to run the 5000 and that was essentially what allowed me to run in the games. So that was an enormous gift. I still think about you know the moment that Emily came over to me at Team processing and shared the news you know. Super super emotional.

 

Laura:

[00:23:24] So did you find out at trials or not until way later?

 

Abbey:

[00:23:29] I found out the same day as the race. It was just like 3 hours later or something like that.

 

Laura:

[00:23:37] Wow.

 

Abbey:

[00:23:40] Yes. So just getting a spot on the team felt like a gift in and of itself. And then there were 3-4 weeks I think from the trials to the games. And I got another stress fracture in my pelvis between that Tucker in that period of time. So you know in light of what happened in Rio. You know like I think it is really important to share actually this part of the story. Because you know what I always say is like everything that happened in Rio was a product and was made possible because of what God had done beforehand. To prepare me for that event and just giving me a season of trial. I was on crutches with the pelvis injury. I was told that I could still go and compete at the Games. But like I couldn't not run until the week before I could just get on the track a couple of times just to make sure my hip wasn't going to break during the race. So needless to say it was just like I was so thankful to be there. You know it's like you can't go wrong you're an athlete village just kind of soaking it in. But internally it was challenging just not to be in the same routine. I had people asking what event I was swimming because I was out in the pool. God just continued this work that he was doing it in my heart to make me fully dependent on him through that time.

 

Laura:

[00:25:22] And I know because I've been through a lot of these seasons too. It's hard sometimes to know that in the middle of it he's actually equipping you for something. Did you recognize that? Or were you just frustrated like OK I thought I got it, you know. Like where were you walking into Rio in your head?

 

Abbey:

[00:25:40] Yeah. That's a really great question. I would say it would depend on the moment. I felt that one of the things I noticed most you know I'm an avid journal. And I really value my devotional time in the morning. And I just like I would start off the day. So just incomplete enjoyment of devouring the word and because it was all I had. It was like it really spoke so deeply to my heart. It always does. But like in such a powerful way through that season. You know it took a start off the day feeling assured of why I was there. And that you know God had clearly just because of the way things had happened you know he clearly wanted to be in Rio for a reason. And I challenge myself to not stop looking for that reason and just be where I was and trust him with how it would unfold.

 

[00:26:43] So yeah there were there were peaks and valleys in terms of like feeling assured of why I was there. But then also you know by the end of the day this feeling discouraged and frustrated and honestly annoyed. You know it was just hard. Like a solo sessions in the pool you know that they have no translation to what you're you know it really is so hard to tell where my fitness with that. So yeah there were ups and downs. Absolutely.

 

Laura:

[00:27:16] [00:27:16] At Hope sports we know that you want sport to be fun. But in order to do that you need to compete with freedom. The problem is you believe that everything hinges on your score performance or medal count. But we believe that athletes should be able to experience joy regardless of their win - loss record. Because sport is more about the process of who you're becoming than the end result. We understand what it's like when the pressure to perform exceeds the passion for the game. Which is why hundreds of athletes rediscovered their love for the game with hope sports. We have a workshop coming up November 15th through 17th in San Diego California. And you do not want to miss it. It's so easy to get involved go to HopeSports.org sign up for the November workshop and win like never before. So sign up today and can figure out what you've been missing. It could be the key you need to find success in your career.

 

[00:28:12] So walk us through Rio. You actually got to compete but as you were being prepared it was not exactly what you were expecting I don't think. So walk us through. Because you made headlines worldwide it was one of the biggest and brightest stories of the games but not for reasons you would expect. So tell us what happen.

 

Abbey:

[00:28:31] During the preliminary round of the 5K we start off pretty conservatively. And that's exactly what happened which was completely to my benefit. As I said I've been working really hard in the pool but I wasn't quite sure where my fitness was at. So we started off at a pace that I could handle. And about 3K into the race right where it usually starts to pick up. It did. And I was in the very back of the pack. And you know I guess there was just some sort of sudden pace change up front of the pack and there was a domino effect. And a couple people the gal in front of me fell and my foot got caught under her. And little did I know I had torn my ACL and meniscus. But yeah. I was able to get up. And both of us this woman Nikki Hamblin from New Zealand and I were both able to help each other to our feet and then finished the race. And then later when I couldn't walk I found out that I had torn my ACL and meniscus. So in short that is what happened.

 

[00:29:54] But you know there were so many small moments and big moments throughout my experience. Even before that the race in Rio where got to just place people in my life or encouragement in my life. To like give me strength in the moment where I had to make a decision like I'm hurt. What do we do? And it just happened so quickly that the decision to get up and help this other girl from New Zealand like that is not. It happened so quickly. I know from the bottom of my heart I can't take any credit for that. That's not the way that I'm wired. You know I had the same goals as everyone else out there to go and to compete in the final. And so the fact that it was an instinct to get up and help her is just the work of the Holy Spirit. As I said he had made me so dependent on him in the time leading up to it. And things have been so hard that I had no choice but to rely on his strength and be fueled by his joy. As I said there were so many little things that had happened.

 

[00:31:18] I'll just share one quick thing. There was an Olympic chaplain named Madeline Manning Mims who had shared a story. So she's an Olympian she ran in the 68 and she had several time Olympian. She just shared an experience of back when she ran in the big games and she was in a relay and she had hurt her knee. And in the middle of the race it was a 4x4. And like coming around the bend with 100 meters to go she could feel her knee. I mean it was affecting her stride and she remembers praying Lord help me. And she finished the race but she does not remember that last hundred meters. And several years later she went back to the track where that Games was held. And she just realized, I don't remember it but this is where the Lord carried me through. And she shared a verse from Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we could ask or think. And then it goes on. And I was so inspired by that story. And I'd written on my hand actually that day “Now to him who is able”.

 

[00:32:41] And so when I fell I remember like it was this is just the work of God. Like everything's happening so quickly that I was just like Madeline. I thought about her. I thought about how the Lord had carried her through. And that really I mean that just spoke through me and allowed me to continue on despite you know knowing something was seriously wrong with my knee. So yeah. I'm just so thankful to be an instrument in the larger story that the Lord was telling through what happened there.

 

Laura:

[00:33:18] Did you realize in those moments that it was a big deal?

 

Abbey:

[00:33:23] I had no idea that it would receive the media that it did whatsoever. No idea. Of course this is the 5K prelim so it's like 8:30 in the morning or something. You know there were barely any people in the stands. Until I think that is such a testament to the way the Lord is too. I mean the way that it happened I am thankful. I believe that I belonged at the at the Olympic Games and you know what I like self-deprecating. But I was not in a position to medal or even close that year. And so the fact that it would happen to me and another gal who was in a similar position at the you know the problem of a race no one is there. Like that's just like the Lord has just wrapped himself in humility. The whole situation was wrapped in humility. And so I think that's such a cool piece of like how it happened and the fact that it points to him. So yeah. It’s really cool.

 

Laura:

[00:34:29] I love reading because of course I have to do my due diligence and stock you a little bit before you know we talk. But I was reading some things that Nikki had said too. And she just curled up into a ball when she fell in front of you and in slow mo. I can totally see your knee go out too. That’s ah! Yeah. That kind of felt good. But she said she was just curled up in this ball and you kept saying you have to get up. You have to finish the race. And she said if you hadn't told her that she said I might still be laying in a ball on the track you know. But you just like you said God was preparing you and feeding you that message like you just have to get up and finish. And she got up and then that's when your knee started to get out and you collapsed and she helped you back up. And you eventually went on. You had four laps left I believe is that right?

 

Abbey:

[00:35:13] Yeah. Something like that. Yep 4-5.

 

Laura:

[00:35:15] You ran the last 4 laps on a torn ACL and meniscus. I mean it was just incredible. And you guys embracing after it was over. Those are the parts that the world the rest of the world saw you know and understood immediately. And that's why it was so beautiful about the Olympics right. So it's amazing and people to whom do these great feats and someone win these medals. That there's those moments is really human humble moments where you realize that just your humanity is way more important. And then just being a person of love and to not worry about what's happening to your result. But you care enough to pick up the person next to you and help them cross that finish line or get up and go. You know I mean that's why it's so beautiful I think.

 

Abbey:

[00:35:56] Thank you. Yeah. Like I said I can't take any credit for the event itself and how it went down because it doesn't belong to me. But at the same time I agree with you. I do think it's amazing. I'm stunned by it and grateful to just be a part of it. Because it really has broadened my platform and ability. A means through which I can use this sport to point to the Lord and point to what really matters.

 

Laura:

[00:36:28] So cool. Well afterward I mean I'm wondering. I want to hear about your kind of post Olympic experience. Because I know like President Obama you know even said you guys are exactly what the Olympic spirit in the American spirit should be all about. You and Nicki were nominated for the Laureus World Sports Awards you were nominated for the best sporting moment. I mean was it like a whirlwind? What happened after that? And what was that experience like?

 

Abbey:

[00:36:53] Right. Oh so overwhelming at first. You know I know for both Nikki and I had a chance to speak with her a few times afterward. And both of us are pretty introverted. You know despite opportunities like this we have to speak to larger audiences. But yeah I mean the next day we had a slew of interviews and we were still just emotionally processing it ourselves. And Nikki actually was still gearing up to run the final a few days later. So I can imagine what it was like for her. But yeah I mean even going home afterward and just having to get surgery and thankfully was able to. My mom is a nurse and was so cared for and just kind of nourished in that time. I was able to just be like you know have a small circle around me. Because it was so overwhelming and just it allowed me time to digest the experience and feel thankful. Yeah I mean just process all of the emotions that came with it.

 

[00:38:12] And since that time I've just kind of having surgery and recovering from that. I do still feel a calling to a deep calling to continue clearly. You know I'm still running now and still doing the best that I can to make it to the Olympic trials in 2020. Yeah I just I sense that the Lord isn’t done with me in this realm yet. And I know there is still potential to be released. So I have been continually humbled by just how long it's taken for me to just feel like myself again. I feel like I've had glimpses of it. But you know my injury is such a unique experience for an Italy distance runner. You know there aren't many practitioners who have worked with someone like me before. So I'm sort of a case study and taking time to find the right people. And then of course you know I've gotten married and moved in that time as well. So just a lot of transitions and adjustments. And so what I just continue to again re-learn is just that it's OK to sometimes they get frustrated. Because when you care a lot about something.

 

[00:39:42] You know I have this dream of reaching my potential and making it to the 2020 Olympics or another Olympics. And when I still can do to have little glitches and things pop up because my body isn't quite balanced yet. I do some get frustrated. And God's reminding me that it's OK to still have that dream could still believe it. But you just can't envision what it looks like together. You'll never know you know. And if I've learned one thing from Rio it's just that God can take our dreams and rewrite them for His glory and for our ultimate benefit. And that's exactly what he did in Rio and so I just need to trust that. From now probably for the rest of my life never gonna happen as pictured or as anticipated. And I'm just learning to find his peace and joy in that.

 

Laura:

[00:40:48] Yeah. That's so beautiful and so true. Yeah. I totally understand where you're coming from. I've been through a lot of these seasons myself so I'm relating a lot of what you're saying. So what kind of advice would you give to an up and coming athlete?

 

Abbey:

[00:41:05] It's a great question that I get asked quite a bit. And I always feel unsatisfied with my or dissatisfied with my response because it's a little bit cliched. But one thing that I always caution against is just getting to. I guess the best way the best advice is to be sure you're cultivating joy in your pursuit whether it's sport or anything else. Because I think you know the trends now in our culture is just early specialization. And just hyper-focus and hyper volume especially in runners early on. And the potential for burnout is so strong physically and psychologically and emotionally. So yeah I look fondly although sometimes in my high school experiences I wouldn't have said the same. But I do look back fondly upon those experiences because we just kept a really lighthearted atmosphere at practice. And I was not overdoing it in terms of my actual physical training. And yeah it just takes time. I think so many of the athletes that I compete against will say the same thing. Where it just so much of success is just layers of consistency. And so if you squeeze too much out of yourself too soon there's a definite risk in that.

 

[00:43:05] And then another thing that I think is even more important is just along the way asking the WHY question. You know. Why is the sport so important to you? And why does it bring you joy? And can it ultimately satisfy you? You know it's so hard. I certainly didn't have the maturity to ask that question when I was in high school. But I think the simple like WHY? is a great place to start. And hopefully you can start getting the wheels turning about like the deeper things. Even if an athlete hasn't experienced a challenge in their sport quite yet it will come inevitably in some form. So the earlier you can start finding your identity in the right things the better.

 

Laura:

[00:43:56] So good. Well, so I guess how can we follow you online or cheer you on the way to Tokyo in 2020?

 

Abbey:

[00:44:07] So both my Instagram and Twitter handles are @abbey_dags my main name. And I'm on Facebook as well Abby Cooper I just have an athlete page on there. So yeah. I would appreciate your support.

 

Laura:

[00:44:29] Of course we'll make sure to link to that in the shownote so everybody can just click on that and follow you because we definitely want to cheer you on. Abby thank you so much for coming on for inspiring us for sharing your journey for being so open and vulnerable with all of those things we really appreciate it. And I think it's going to help all of us grow a little bit more.

 

Abbey:

[00:44:47] Thank you Laura. Thank you for such insightful questions. Just being able to relate through your experience.

 

Laura:

[00:44:55] Isn't she incredible. Hearing her whole tumultuous road to Rio gives so much backstory to that moment on the track that went viral around the world. She had already been through so many trials and difficulties and was building her identity throughout it all. So falling at the Olympics was just an opportunity to once again get up and keep going. I hope that you feel inspired today to keep going through those hard moments and to remember that your words isn't wrapped up in your situation or your performance. If you're an athlete in these themes are hitting home for you then check out the work that hope sports is doing. Hope sports has upcoming workshops and programs for athletes looking to develop a value based performance mentality. Just check out the show notes for more information. Up next week we have Jonathan Horton sharing about the ups and downs of his 28 year career in gymnastics that includes two Olympic medals. I'm your host Laura Wilkinson. Thanks for listening. This podcast is produced by Evo Terra and Simpler Media. For more information on Hope sports and to access the complete archives please visit HopeSport.org

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About This Episode

Sarah Wells didn’t get into track and field because she loved running, or was inspired by a particular athlete, or dreamed of standing a podium. As a Canadian high schooler she really just wanted to be “sporty” like the cool kids, but unfortunately didn’t succeed in any sport that she tried. She was cut from dance, volleyball, basketball, and field hockey. Eventually a high school gym teacher encouraged her to give track and field a shot and she decided to give athletics one last, triumphant effort. Just running around in a circle didn’t appeal to her, so she gravitated towards hurdles since they offered a fun distraction from sprinting. Her track coach was a former hurdler and the Varsity coach for a local university. He immediately noticed her natural ability to pace herself -- something that most athletes spend years perfecting. He encouraged her to focus on the 400 meter hurdle event and even drove her to practice with the collegiate athletes that he coached. “It was great to be very ignorant to my ability at that time,” said Sarah. Training with collegiate athletes set the bar so high from the beginning that she didn’t necessarily feel unique; she was just in step with the athletes around her. Within a year she was ranked nationally for her age group and she began setting higher and higher goals. “Thanks to that teacher who believed in me I started to see my own ability over time,” said Sarah.

For nine years she trained with her original coach and followed him to the University of Toronto where she had practiced with the team through high school. She had never really considered the Olympics as a possibly until a close friend and training partner qualified as a decathlete for the 2008 Games. Having observed him put in the hard work, focus, and dedication to his dream and see it come into fruition planted the seed in her that she could do the same. The next four years were defined by sacrifice and discipline and, though she wasn’t at Olympic pace yet, she was inching ever closer. Unfortunately, while at a training camp, she woke up to searing pain in her leg. When she returned home, an MRI revealed that she had a stress fracture in her femur. Stress fractures among hurdlers are not uncommon, but usually they are in the foot and typically require only six weeks of rest. But the femur is the largest bone in the body and training on that injury could risk a clean break which carried complications as serious as death. To allow her bone to heal properly, the doctor recommended three months of complete non-weight bearing which suspended not only her training, but her entire life.

This news crushed Sarah. “Every night I wouldn’t go to sleep until I cried myself to the point of exhaustion,” she said. She was just under two years away from the Olympic trials and couldn’t fathom the repercussions of halting her training plan. Not only would that have an impact on her performance, but she began to question her self worth without hurdling. The recovery was an emotional roller coaster; the mood of everyday was determined by the status of her leg and her progress. The temptation to quit struck her daily, but she continued to attend physical therapy, attempted to stay in shape, and battled through it one day at a time. When she arrived at her doctor’s appointment three months later she was elated to have survived was she considered the most challenging part of her career. But an MRI revealed that the bone still wasn’t healed and she was placed on another month of bedrest. This didn’t just happen once or twice, but month after month she was turned away with disappointing news. “Every time I would climb to the top of the mountain thinking that I’d be cleared, to just fall off the edge of the cliff on the other side,” she said. For nine straight months she stayed off of her leg. “I felt like I was watching my dreams slip away,” said Sarah.

With only eight months until Olympic trials, she was finally given clearance to compete again. She remembers the exact day that she stepped back on the track, because it was the same day that she drove to a tattoo parlor and got the world “Believe” tattooed on her wrist. Despite the practical realities in front of her and the kind people encouraging her to be realistic, Sarah believed in herself. In the following month she not only got back in shape, but improved upon her time, and vividly remembers the day that she qualified for the Olympics as the best day of her entire life. “Everything seems worth it in that moment,” she said. She represented Canada in the 2012 Olympic Games, was a semi-finalist in the 400m hurdles, and promptly came home and added a tattoo of the Olympic rings underneath “Believe” on her wrist.

“I had a strength inside of me that I would have never recognized without that experience,” said Sarah. Working through such a lengthy recovery and building back her strength at record speed uncovered a unique fortitude that would carry her through more trials to come. Upon returning from the Olympics she felt a shift in the way that she viewed herself. “I saw myself as ‘Sarah Wells the Olympian’,” she said. She started to expect a certain level of performance from herself every day, didn’t allow herself to show weakness or reach out for support, and lacked physical and mental compassion for herself. “When we achieve a certain level of success we instantly assume that’s our new baseline; that nothing except that or better will be a success,” said Sarah. This battering led to a recurrence of the same stress fracture and she was back on bedrest. But knowing that she overcame the injury once gave her the strength to persevere again. She was able to return to hurdles to tie her personal best and snag a silver medal at the Pan American games. Just two months before the 2016 Olympic trials she chose to push herself too hard in practice when her coach recommended for her to back off, which resulted in a tear in her hamstring. Despite getting back up to 90% of her strength by the time the Olympic Trials rolled around, Sarah came in 4th place, narrowly missing out on the team. When she got home from the event she remembers pulling into her driveway and not being able to get out of the car to walk inside; it was too symbolic of the fact that her dreams were over. She just laid on the driveway and cried, feeling foolish, defeated, and like all of her effort was a waste.

The following year Sarah took time off from training completely to focus on healing emotionally and physically. She began sharing her story of victory and perseverance, but her audience always resonated most with her moments of defeat. “We can all remember our ‘lay in the driveway in the fetal position and cry’ moments,” she said. So many people know how it feels to work hard, but not achieve every single dream and in that, she could relate deeply. During this year she founded the Believe Initiative which helps kids learn to believe in themselves. During Summit Days at school, Sarah brings in keynote speakers, hosts workshops, and leads group discussions. “We help students connect a passion that they love with a problem that they see in the community,” she said. There is a ten week curriculum that follows the event which culminates in a Passion Project for each student that is shared at an Inspiration Fair. She challenges others to consider the question: “What if you believed that you could?” Sarah recognizes the power in speaking out dreams, writing out goals, and sharing them with others. It requires immense vulnerability to let family and friends in on a big dream, because there is always the chance that it won’t happen. But the fulfillment in journeying together towards our goals is worth it. Sarah likes to tell students that “You don’t build self-belief through achievements, you build it through action.”

Be sure to follow all that Sarah is doing through her Believe Initiative as well as on Twitter and Instagram as she has returned to training and is believing in a spot on the team to Tokyo in 2020.

 

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About This Episode

Her father was a professional baseball player and her mother a ski instructor; Katie grew up with sports all around her. Her strongest memories as a kid weren’t of learning how to swing a bat or carve a perfect trail down the slope, but of how her attitude and effort mattered far more than her ability ever would. She remembers sports being about integrity, work ethic, and teamwork. After she graduated from high school she became friends with a bobsledder that she had approached in the weight room who invited her to give skeleton a try. Just four weeks later Katie found herself at the top of the track at the Junior National competition. In her eighth week ever sliding she was ranked sixth in the nation and on her way to the Junior World Championships. It was a whirlwind, but Katie is a self-proclaimed “go big” kind of person and would have had it no other way. She walked away from her conservationist aspirations in order to chase her Olympic dreams.

Much like the luge or bobsled, skeleton racers slide down an ice track, but do so face first on their stomachs, hitting average speeds of 70-80 mph. For some this might sound terrifying, but Katie describes it as similar to the feeling of flying in a dream. Rather than the fear of injury or error, it’s weightlessness and freedom that stick with her the most. Her natural level of comfort with the sport, coupled with her impressive physical ability, easily landed her a spot on the team for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino. She remembers those games as “magical”; she took sixth place, was surrounded by family and friends, and even had the opportunity to travel around Europe afterwards.

Katie was a rising star in the international arena and at the cusp of an incredible career, snagging medals at the next two World Championships and boasting a 75% podium rate in the international circuit. However, in 2008 her father was diagnosed with cancer and her focused shifted from times and training to the health of her father, her family, and her self. She was abroad racing when she received the news that he was ill and her requests to return home to be with her family were denied. Katie found herself torn between her desire to represent her nation and the urge to abandon it all to be with her family. Pressure mounted from the Olympic Federation for her to compete; her record was just too good and with each win came more and more funding for the next Winter Olympic Games. She stayed in close contact with her family during this time, but her performance began to suffer. “I just didn’t want to be there,” says Katie. Her coaches and the Olympic Federation encouraged her to just make it through the end of the season which culminated with the World Cup in Utah. She agreed to stay, but the worries about her father’s condition only further clouded her emotional landscape, leaving little room for thinking about skeleton. Unfortunately, the worst case scenario came true; her father passed away while she competed in her final race of the World Cup. She got the news of his death when she stepped of the track that afternoon.  

Katie flew home as quickly as possible feeling devastated by his death and infuriated at the position she was put in by the sport. Her time at home was short lived, however, as she was expected to return to her team just four days later for the World Championships. She hardly even wanted to race, much less face the media storm that was brewing. “I felt like the story was getting exploited for sponsors and for the media,” says Katie, “In that moment I felt like I had to swallow all of who I was in order to say the right things that they wanted me to say.” There wasn’t space to grieve his loss, there was only the track, her performance, the funding, and the medal count. In order to just survive it all, she stuffed down all of her feelings about her father, became numb to the pain, and buried herself in the sport. The “win at all cost” culture of elite sports had demanded of her something more precious than time or effort; it had stolen final moments with her family that could never be replaced. In retrospect, Katie felt incredibly underserved during that season. She recalls no offers for grief counseling or encouragement for a sabbatical, and felt that in order to hold on to her dreams of competing, she had to consent to the negative culture around her. “I bought into the lie that my performance mattered more than anything else,” she says.

Following the World Championships she carried on racing through two broken knee caps, several surgeries, and without ever giving herself the space that she needed. Despite her traditionally competitive times, she only finished 11th at the following 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, something she still feels was a strong indicator of how her emotional health was affecting her athletic performance. In 2013 she suffered a severe concussion that required 18 months of recovery. She was sent to a military facility for traumatic brain injuries and claims that her time there really put things in perspective for her. “Recovering with them really revived my courage,” says Katie. She went into the 2014 Olympics with fresh energy, but narrowly missed the podium by only .04 seconds. The saga of that medal standing would drag on, though, as evidence of a state-wide doping scheme by the Russian Federation came to light. Katie was beat out by a Russian woman who was known to have participated, so for a brief time she was awarded the bronze medal. Unfortunately, months later an international court rendered the medal returned, and Katie walked away unfairly empty handed. It wasn’t the loss of the medal that really bothered her, but the greater glaring issue of individual athlete rights. She lamented with athletes being put it situations to do things that they would prefer not to, but feeling like they didn’t have a choice; it was a situation that hit close to home. Katie has continued to be an advocate for anti-doping regulation that will protect athletes in the future. She testified in front of the U.S. Helsinki Commission on the subject of doping and in support of the Rodchenkov Act that would further tighten down on how cases such as this are handled.

Not long after, Katie experienced another emotional blow when she discovered her best friend, Steve Holcomb, dead in his room at the Olympic Training Center. Steve was an Olympic bobsledder and had been a friend, confidant, and rock for her; the events surrounding his death were traumatic. The experience, however, jolted her from the shell that she had created around herself. For the first time since her father’s death, she gave herself permission to grieve, she reached out to friends, she rediscovered her faith. She began asking herself what she needed and wanted, and began standing up for herself again. “The only one who knows if you’re OK is you,” says Katie. It was an uphill climb to the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang as she battled PTSD, panic attacks, and night terrors. The Games were steeped in emotion; the sadness over missing Steve, a surprise reunion with her estranged mother, and a richness in exercising her own agency again. She credits good friends and her faith for carrying her through those two years, but was again struck by the ways she was persuaded to put her emotional health second to her performance.

All of her frustrations in regards to the treatment of athletes were only further catalyzed when over 250 women came forward with claims against USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. “Athletes have no one to mediate for them,” says Katie. When an athlete feels threatened, exploited, or unheard, the only place to go is often to those who are either committing the abuse or directly benefiting from it. Athletes are forced to swallow their concerns and intimidated into competing as a duty to their country. Their dreams are held ransom in exchange for their silence and their medals. The injustice of these situations moved Katie to support the development of the Athlete Advisory Counsel that would be recognized by the Olympic Federation. This would provide a space for athletes to be heard, advocated for, and represented by other athletes when they have a concern with the way they are being treated. “Athletes have no one to ensure that this culture is changing,” says Katie. The first meeting of this board was in February of 2019 and she hopes to see it develop into a fully functioning element of the Olympic culture.

Katie continues to train for skeleton and looks forward to the 2020 Olympics, but says, “if I go to another Olympics it will be for myself and for completely different reasons.” She remembers one of the final pieces of advice from Steve before he passed away, “Remember who you are. Be the Kate your dad said you are.” She is on a journey of setting boundaries, redefining her identity, and exercising her voice. “I am remembering what it’s like to do something for myself,” she says. In addition to the skeleton track, Katie can be found on another track - a velodome. In 2018 she picked up team track cycling and won gold at the USA Cycling Elite Track National Championships and hopes to make back to back summer and winter Olympic appearances. But no matter where or how she races, she is confident that she is doing it for herself and for the right reasons and will continue to fight for the rights of other athletes to do the same. Be sure to follow her on Instagram and Twitter and cheer her on as she trains for the next two Olympics.  

 

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Laura:

[00:00:06] Welcome to the Hope Sports Podcast where we believe the best way for you to unlock your full potential is by living into your purpose. We believe discovering your purpose is the only way for you to live a meaningful life. I'm your host Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson. Each week I have the privilege of connecting with a different elite athlete to discuss how they win big in and out of their sport. We want you to compete better and live into your purpose as well. So stick around to hear about an amazing opportunity that we have for you. But first, let's talk about today's episode. We are so honored that Katie Uhlaender on our show today. I personally remember her for that flaming red hair she squirted at the last Winter Olympic Games. My daughter and I both agreed that she must be totally awesome because of that hair. And we were right. Katie is not only an incredibly decorated skeleton athlete but she's also doing important work advocating for athletes rights and cheerleading others to find confidence in their own identity. Her story is filled with some seriously painful seasons but her vulnerability with us on today's show it's truly impactful. So thanks for joining us and let's dive on in. Katie Uhlaender thank you so much for coming on the Hope Sports Podcast. We're excited to have you on.

 

Katie:

[00:01:18] Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. I feel honored. Really appreciate it.

 

Laura:

[00:01:21] So for our audience who may not be familiar with your background. Tell us a little bit about how you got into sports and how that led you into the skeleton.

 

Katie:

[00:01:28] My father was a major league baseball player named Ted Uhlaender. My mother was also very active. That's how they met actually. My mother taught my father how to ski.

 

Laura:

[00:01:38] Wow!

 

Katie:

[00:01:39] So yeah. I'm like the perfect blend of the throwback traditional cowboy and then hippie ski bug from Colorado. But I got a good mixture like I grew up in Texas and my dad was very supportive of me as an athlete. I think he helped create my identity as a person how I approach life and sport. He was very clear on his expectations of me and was very adamant that I hold integrity above all else. Of course, I want to go out to do my best and win and try to win. But he was more concerned about my effort and what I learned throughout that process of putting my best foot forward than he was about my results. And I think I feel so grateful and blessed to that especially now at 34. Because it gave me a really solid foundation and I think especially now it's coming in and big-time youth. It's given me a whole new perspective. It's something I didn't really realize that’s the kick.

 

Laura:

[00:02:43] Right. What wisdom. That's really cool. So how did you get into the whole skeleton field?

 

Katie:

[00:02:50] Oh sorry I forgot that part.

 

Laura:

[00:02:53] No problem.

 

Katie:

[00:02:55] I was graduating high school and I walked up to this girl. She had shaved head, tattoo, piercings like I just to everyone else she looks scary but I just saw an athlete. And I was like oh you're squatting a lot of weight which would probably mean you're a fast sprinter. So I walked upturn as hey you sprint? And she's like yeah. And I, you wanna race? And she goes who the blank are you? I was like oh sorry yeah I’m Katie. I was kidding as a be was just like I would love. You know trying to be an athlete although not there yet. But I haven't gotten the sprint in a while and I just I thought would be fun. And she was like you're a nut. So we automatically became friends. And she had to be a bobsledder and she talked to me into trying skeleton. Four weeks later I won junior nationals went to junior world championships. My 8 week ever sliding I won Senior Nationals and ended up ranked 6th in the nation within 8 weeks of starting the sport.

 

Laura:

[00:03:51] What?!

 

Katie:

[00:03:51] Yeah. So the federation was like I was 18 or 19 at the time. And they're like hey if you want to do this sport well we'll give you free housing, free food, and a scholarship for school. All you have to do is work out and go sledding. And I was like I thought about it. I was hmm do I wanna go get my Ph.D. and be the next Dian Fossey? And for all of the millennials out there google her and watch Gorillas In The Mist? She's awesome. Or do I wanna go to the Olympics? And I chose to pursue the Olympics thinking I could go back to college. Well, 4 Olympics later I am now studying for my essay piece.

 

Laura:

[00:04:29] Nice. Hey! Better late than never. That's cool. Oh my goodness. OK, so that's awesome. That's just crazy awesome. I love your story. So most of us have never tried skeleton. So tell us what exactly it's like to go face first down the track of ice at 90 miles an hour?

 

Katie:

[00:04:47] You know I don't know the speed. I think the record for women is like 92. I think the average is like 70-80. But we have some tracks that you go hecka fast. So have you ever had those dreams where you're flying?

 

Laura:

[00:05:01] Yeah?

 

Katie:

[00:05:02] And you feel free and your stomach kind of goes into your throat and it's just awesome fun.

 

Laura:

[00:05:11] Yeah.

 

Katie:

[00:05:12] Goldens like that but a little bit more restricted. So you start going down and you get a little scared at first because you don't have brakes. And you can't stop but then you realize that you get a little scared at first. But if you're able to embrace it you find yourself chasing the speed and going with gravity dancing down the track and craving more of it. And it's something I definitely love very much.

 

Laura:

[00:05:38] Oh wow. So cool. So like from four weeks in your nationally ranked. Was it getting you to the Olympics like kind of your first goal? Like was that immediately something you saw you could do?

 

Katie:

[00:05:55] of course. I mean that was basically I didn't think of anything small. It was either go and get Ph.D., be the next Dian Fossey and study gorillas in the jungle or go to the Olympics. Like that's how I looked at it. There was no in between. And I was excited to discover how to do those things and figure out how to become my best self. So yeah I mean I wouldn't like start something and be like Well I don't know what I want to do you just care cause it's cool. No. I'm definitely gonna attack awkward. Yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:06:29] I love it. All or nothing. So what was it like then making that first Olympic team in 2006?

 

Katie:

Oh my gosh. I remember seeing Pavarotti sing. And Ferrari's doing doughnuts to create the Olympic rings. You know crying and holding hands with someone I didn't know that was experiencing the same thing. Jeremy Bloom causing the Olympians to get roped in because he kept climbing outside a little circle they put us in. I mean it was such a great experience. My father was there my family my boyfriend and then as soon as we traveled to Europe because you could go anywhere in 4 hours in Paris-Milan. Where else do we go? Carina Venice it was like the most amazing experience ever. I think it's one of those moments in life that you're just like did that really happen? Because it is really cool.

 

Laura:

[00:07:26] So awesome. Now OK. You mentioned your dad Ted was a major league baseball player. And that he was very supportive and it just sounds like he gave you so much wisdom which is beautiful. But was it ever an issue of pressure like when media started to get involved? Because I'm sure it was always like Katie daughter of you know Dadada. Like was that ever difficult to handle?

 

Katie:

[00:07:49] It wasn't until he passed away. I think that moment is when the Olympic environment swallowed me whole. It's really difficult. I had asked to go home to see him when he was diagnosed with cancer. Well, we're on tour and the federation said no. I was not allowed to leave because they needed me to perform so they could get funding for the Olympic year the following year. The U.S. is the only funds' federations that have medal shot and I was a huge portion of their performance plan. So I had to stay and compete. And he passed away while I was competing. It devastated me. I have no words. I mean I could go into the details that season but it was psychologically damaging and man it just hurt a lot. And when he passed away they finally let me fly home for the funeral. And I had to return four days later and compete in the world championships. And I just I remember I didn't want to go because the media and the federation insisted. So I did and the first question out of the gate was how does it feel to lose your father. What do you think you would think? How do you think you would feel about your performance. And I just remember at that moment I felt like I had to swallow all of who I was to say the right things that they wanted me to say. You know the whole reason they put me in front of the media was that they were going to exploit this story to get publicity and sponsors. And it's big for NBC, right?

 

[00:09:21] It was a year out from the Olympics and I was ranked 3rd in the world. Despite all the trouble they had competing on while he was sick. And I didn't get to say the things I want to do. I didn't get the process degrees. It was pretty much from that moment on I had cameras in my face talking to me about my father who said what it meant. They even asked to come. We had a memorial service after the funeral like in November the following year. And spread more of his ashes. And NBC tried to insist that I have cameras there to film it. And I just like never got to deal with my grief for what happened because it would have been one thing if I had chosen to stay and compete and not been forced to stay. Or I guess worst in any word coerce. You know I asked three times to go home and the first time I thought they couldn't do it because they needed me. The second time he just said we can't. And then I think the third time I realized that you know they said they couldn't because winning so coming in 4th every week. I don't think it was like consciously on purpose but subconsciously. I think I was doing it because I was bitter I was mad. I did not want to be there. And then they said you know your performance must be important to you. You know your dad would want you to keep competing and you can’t make it if you are weak. So I said and then he died. And I remember like it was the last World Cup so I thought I'd meet it. I talked to him that morning and I remember him just telling me about the cattle we'd brought together and the ranch. But he would see me next week and how much he loved me like he said he loved me I think. A usual amount of time. And I won my first medal of the season because I was relieved that I had made it. I thought I was going to see him again. And when I finished the race they told me he had passed away.

 

Laura:

[00:11:26] Oh man.

 

Katie:

[00:11:27] So. sorry.

 

Laura:

[00:11:29] No. I can't even imagine.

 

Katie:

[00:11:32] That kind of puts it into context like. But the coaching staff in the federation they didn't really ask if I was OK. They didn't know there was no I could use a grief counselor or something. And I think it was really apparent that you know throughout the season that I wasn't okay because I had been winning everything up until that point. And then I just thinking back I was just like man you know making me talk to the media go to NBC do all the stuff that they didn't offer. They didn't ask how I felt and my true feelings were that I was kind of mad at the sport. I blamed it for taking because I didn't value winning or performing over my family over my well-being. And I got to the point where I think that is what's expected of you to perform. To perform at all costs. Win at all costs. And that was not who I was that was not my identity. That's not what brought me to the sport. So there was a good period of time where cancer question that some I did remember it. My identity and who I was was challenged significantly. And it was mostly influenced by the generalized other. Or in other words the expectations of what the federation wanted me to tell the public of what was what people wanted to hear versus how I felt and what was really going on. I kind of lost the humanity that I think I need personally need to be able to perform well.

 

Laura:

[00:13:00] Oh yeah. I can't. I mean you said you had to compete like four days after the funeral? Like at what point did you grieve?

 

Katie:

[00:13:10] I am not sure that I ever was given that opportunity really. And I remember I spoke out at the Olympics about how upset I was. They'd find me, took away my stipend, my housing and told me I had no OPEC privileges or trading privileges. Until after I made the team again the following year. I no longer had like my sounding board I was pretty lost. And I didn't know how to let go of the sport and start something new. Because I've been in this weird place that was like Oh I love skills and I want to do skeleton but I love my father. And I want to be with my father and my father was gone. And then I was like I was left with this lingering feeling while I was supposed to win an Olympic medal and I didn’t. And if I want to do that I have to be OK with doing these things they're putting in front of me. And it was like a state of cognitive dissonance that I didn't become aware of. I think honestly until after Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics. So. Yeah. Lives live am I right?

 

Laura:

[00:14:16] Wow. Like you know I'm just trying to process what all you went through. I just can't even fathom that. I mean he's not even long after you lost your dad you broke your kneecap twice and you had 4 surgeries on it. And you still came back and competed the next year at the 2010 Olympic Games. I mean at some point did you just disconnect or is that when you really dove into it? How did you get yourself together to do that?

 

Katie:

[00:14:46] I never did. I don't think I understand. I still am working on it. Like I was winning 50% of the time statistically. 75% of the time when I went to a race. 75% physically I was going to I was gonna win a medal. There was only a 25% chance that I'd walk away from a race without a medal. So for me to go to the Olympics like it wasn't even a question in my mind. Of course I was going to make it but when I get the medal. And I ended up like 7th I don’t know 11th I think.

 

Laura:

[00:15:22] So you just go and went through the motions. Is that kind of?

 

Katie:

[00:15:25] Yeah. That sort of thing. Like I was top 3 in the world. I had 22 World Cup medals, 11 gold, 6 World Championship. That it's like the most medals of anyone in the history of the sport up to that point. And I think that it was a huge indicator that something went wrong. I don't think I snapped out of it truly until after this past Olympics because something similar happened with my best friend passing away. So now I'm left at this point where I'm like OK well now I'm regaining my own agency. Like I'm remembering what it's like to do things for myself for me. Like who I am what I'm about and I can start saying no. I can start creating boundaries. And if I do go to another Olympics it'll be more for myself and for completely different reasons. Like I feel invigorated again. But yeah. I mean like I think that shattering my kneecap 6 weeks after my father passed. It was a symptom. Another symptom of what I was going through mentally. I crashed a snowmobile I think I was just kind of lost and numb and died. And I didn't have anybody. I was alone. So I don't really know how to describe it. That was like.

 

Laura:

[00:16:42] No. I think that was a very good description. Yeah, I think it just goes to show us that like you can't just block things out then perform like you know things in your life have to be together and it's important you know who's in your life and what else is going on behind the scenes. Like sometimes we just forget that we think oh I can block it out and I can just do this thing. But it's no. It's your whole person right? I mean that's kind of what you keep saying. It's like everything has to kind of be together to make it all work.

 

Katie:

[00:17:07] For me. I mean there are some people and that's what I think that's the difference. Like some athletes begin as children, right? And they become taught that performing is part of who they are like winning it defines them. That was never me. What I loved was discovering more of myself more of the world. And like I felt like God was taking me on a journey that I was meant to do you know. And that integrity like those things is all more important. And I somehow I think I got trick. I don't know. I got sucked into the other aspect of it. It swallowed my identity and I became an Olympic product. A commodity. And I think for me it's telling like for me personally. Because if I'm not true to myself and what I believe and what my essence is. Then I think it results in injury. Results in poor performance. Results in just a state of cognitive dissonance numbness. And I think it was like over this past season a good friend of mine was like I feel so bad for him. He was just there for me when I was like sorting through all this mentally poor Giddeon. I don't know if you know Giddeon Massie a two time Olympian for cycling. And I texted him all season long. I found my relationship with God again. But I didn't even really explain to him everything I was going through because it's pretty emotional and pretty dramatic. And I even talking to you about it I feel like this is a comfortable setting because people are gonna know. They're listening to like hear something. Significant something. Deep something. That’s to take you to the core.

 

[00:18:51] But in real life it's really difficult to find people that are willing to listen or engage because it shows vulnerability. Like for you to show your emotions they’ll talk about the way you're processing life. I don't think wade you're focused are the things you're facing. I think it's really rare to find the right people to do that with. And it's important for me personally to have a relationship with God. And I think that whole process I'm so thankful to have had a friend like that. But you know I'm coming back to realizing and this is really important guys. This is an important part of the lesson that the only one who knows if you're OK is you. And it truly comes down to being honest with yourself about what you're OK doing and what you're not. And the thing I forgot was in that moment when I said I didn't want to speak to the media I should have just stuck to that and said no. When I said I wanted to go home I should have stuck to that and pushed and not moved on my ground on that. I started to buy into thinking that it was my duty to go to compete for to make sure that the team could get money. I thought it was my duty to win a medal for my country and sort of go home to see my family and for some people that might be the right choice.

 

[00:20:11] I'm not saying that there is a right or wrong. But if you do something that you truly don't feel in your heart is the way for you then you're putting yourself in a state of conflict. And if you're in a state of conflict it's really difficult to hear the Holy Spirit. It's really difficult to hear God guide you the way he wants you to go. And I think that was the biggest epiphany I had. Was like whoa if I'm more honest with myself if I'm more true to myself about what I want to do my mistakes and make my commitment to my choices then I'm much more at peace than I can see clearly in my path forward.

 

Laura:

[00:20:50] At Hope Sports we know that you want to be the best athlete that you can be. And in order to do that, you train hard and dedicate yourself to performing at your peak. But sometimes it can feel monotonous. Every day has a similar routine and when you win well no victory feels as good as a loss feels bad. It doesn't have to be this way. We believe athletes can compete at their full potential and reach their dreams while feeling lasting satisfaction from their accomplishments. We understand what it's like when you've dedicated your life to something. But you feel like you're never living up to people's expectations and you don't feel satisfied with your achievements. Hundreds of athletes have told us that they've discovered how to compete at their best while finding lasting fulfillment in their achievements during our interactive international service trips. Our next trip is coming up June 7th-10th in Rosarito Mexico and we want you to be there. It's so easy to get involved. Just go to HopeSports.org sign up for the June 7th-10th home build and build hope for a family and win like never before. So sign up today. It could be the key you need to find success in your career.

 

[00:21:57] Well I'm guessing so the next four years you made your third Olympic team in 2014 in Sochi. And it appears that you were kind of doing a little bit better emotionally, mentally because you did amazing there. And you just missed the podium by a fraction of a second for 100th of a second. I love how you put that in perspective and you say it's faster than you can even blink. Walk us through that experience.

 

Katie:

[00:22:20] Sochi. [00:22:21] Oh my gosh. Well obviously that into athlete right? Because that's where that goes. I got a concussion and I spent some time with some combat veterans at a TBI clinic which is a traumatic brain injury clinic in Dallas. And I was like getting down on myself like here I am injured again this always happens like blah blah blah. And those guys told me their stories. Marcus Luttrell was there about how they'd been blown up. Crawled on their hands on their elbows for 7 miles to get to safety. And some of them were blown up and continued fighting. And I was over there with a head injury like still going to the Olympics acting like my life was over. And I was like OK So that just put everything in perspective. I'm still going to the Olympics and I'm capable of putting my best on the line. So my mentality shifted because I had men that served their country and put their lives on the line. To show me that I was serving my country but I wasn't putting my life on the line. And if they could do that I could definitely go with a new sense of courage and fortitude and just bring everything I had and let that be that. And that was the lesson my father had originally taught me. It kind of just revives that for a moment. Unfortunately, there was a Sochi doping scandal which was if you all could go watch it that will explain it in depth.

 

Laura:

[00:23:46] That’s a powerful documentary. Yeah.

 

Katie:

[00:23:45] But the Red Corn Russian KGB and the sports minister of Russia conspired to cheat. So they helped the athletes take this Austrian and different performance-enhancing drugs at the Olympics. And then they switched out the doping samples with clean ones and destroyed the dirty samples so they could ensure they won medals. Now the girl who beat me was named in the investigative report as one of the athletes who is doping.

 

Laura:

[00:24:17] You didn't know that at the time though did you?

 

Katie:

[00:24:20] No I had the time on my leg. I mean I was pretty bummed that I didn’t get a medal but like it’ll be best Olympic like it was super fun like could have put on a great show. But in 2015 they disclosed all the stuff and Wrench a buddy of mine with friends Bryan Fogel the director of the movie. Texted and said that 100% Elena Nikitina on the girl who beat me was doping. And it broke my heart and I wasn't. My heart wasn't so much broken to the medal. It was broken because that Olympics was fake. I was just like oh my gosh everyone that participated in the race participated in something that wasn't real. They went to such long extended lengths to make sure they won. And it breaks my heart. And then you know like those pretty crazy like. It was exposed the IOC decide to strip the medal in November 2017 which made me a bronze medalist. I was like wow this is awesome you know. But the day I arrived in Pyeongchang they gave the Medal back. So I arrived at my fourth Olympic Games thinking I was a bronze medalist. And then when I woke up to go through processing I woke up to hate mail. And I mean some of whom are kind of funny but not nice. It was like you're not an athlete.

 

Laura:

[00:25:33] Wait wait wait. Just back up a minute. How did they take it back? Like what exactly happened?

 

Katie:

[00:25:41] That was through the court of arbitration of sport. So the athletes appealed to the higher court. And so the court of arbitrational sport ruled there wasn't enough individual evidence to show the athletes knew they were cheating. Or knew about the conspiracy. So I mean I'll just skip it. Skip the god Pyeongchang part. But I read a letter after the 2018 Games after experiencing that and I said I appreciate that you are attempting to protect the individual athlete right. However, I think you've done the opposite. You have not set any parameters in which the state can treat the athlete. And by giving them back the medals you're rewarding an abuse of power. It is not the reason that there is a conspiracy to cheat. It's not disputed that they distributed drugs. And it's not just that they destroyed the samples and replaced them with those athletes. That evidence is 100% factual by you rewarding them the medal. You have now allowed Russia to force their athletes to participate in a conspiracy to cheat against the Olympic movement. Olympic spirit and their health.

 

[00:26:48] What happens in 10 years when they can't have children. Some of them are having severe health issues or some of them pass away. Their friends their family and potentially themselves will come to you asking why you didn't do anything. Who is protecting the athlete from how the state can treat them? And that kind of set me on a pathway this fall where I began investigating the Olympic movement and the systems and processes in place. All the way from the top to the from the IOC down to the USOC. And I'm on a mission to create an independent athlete commission or association like a player's association for athletes in the US. I'm hoping it can be recognized by the 96 Olympic Committee. Acknowledging that there is a cultural issue that there is a problem. That the athletes have nowhere to go outside of their federations or any and National Committee is open to NSC. that can negotiate. Mediate on their behalf or hope their well-being first. We really truly need to define athlete right? And ensure that the culture is changed from a win at all costs. Performance at all costs to you. Your well-being is as important as your performance.

 

Laura:

[00:28:03] That would be huge. That's awesome. I'm glad you've made that part of your mission. That's really really cool. I mean I don't like that you've had to go through these things to learn that and become passionate about it. But I mean just think of all the people that you're going to help in the future because of that. That’s really cool.

 

Katie:

[00:28:19] I think the only reason people are listening is due to what happened to the gymnast. And so I think that I'm hoping you know I think one of the girls Jamie I don't remember how to say Well I think the thoughts of a D. She was one of the first ones to speak out against Larry Nasser. And the sexual abuse he did. And because of her slowly the rest of the girl started to stand up and speak out. It was like 1to 10 to 15 now 300 over 300. And because of them, Congress is listening USSC is listening. And I can't imagine what it was like to go through what they went through. But I think the solution like this like I spoke to her last night actually and she was like oh my gosh I had no idea. I was like you know our experience isn't unique. But the susceptibility to neglect. To neglecting our needs. And the culture pushing that on us to believe that that's what it takes to become an Olympian. That’s what it takes to perform is real. And I think that this is a great solution that can bring us all together. And kind of bring some empowerment to some of those victims or people that have suffered you know. It makes me feel better to come up with a solution to the problem. And I see that I could have easily been one of those administrators that believe in that process too. Like I can't imagine being put in a position where it's like my paycheck or the depends on this athlete performance. I actually want to recheck that statement because I would want to make sure that athletes were OK. But I think that you know the environment's gone. The culture has gone a little too far.

 

Laura:

[00:30:01] Mm-hmm. For sure. Well, now that lead up to we're talking about to Pyeongchang. Your fourth Olympic Games can't leave you in for that's so cool. I mean it was difficult on so many levels. Obviously you just talked about the whole finding out about the medals from Sochi. You mentioned earlier your best friend Steve Holcomb his Olympic champion he passed away. You've had you had five surgeries. You struggled with an autoimmune disease. I mean you have quite the story to athletic career you know. How did you handle emotionally, physically, and mentally going into that games?

 

Katie:

[00:30:40] Well like I said I had really great support. Giddeon was someone I spoke to all the time and it was really great for him. I had this other friend Leah Oriel she is my sister in Christ. And then she came on tour with me like a month. I had another friend that I met out there. His name is Manny he used to be a minister. So I mean like it was really important to me for me to have God in my life. I think that really got me through a lot. And then Elana Meyers was on tour with me and she was a huge support. But honestly like I didn't share with either anyone really what I was truly going through. I was diagnosed with PTSD. The only people that I told were the Federation and the coaches. So I don't know if I handled it really well I didn't really know how I ended up just kind of going numb and I was still pushing transport through things. There's no real black or white answer there. You know I was feeling I would have triggers so I would have anxiety attacks panic attacks and then you know I was trying to sort through a lot. So I just tried to put my best foot forward but I went numb.

 

[00:31:55] To be honest I was exhausted by the time I got to the Olympics. And I can't say that I was really excited to be there but I did my best. And I was very aware that I was a role model for a lot of people so I made sure to be clear about that good thing. Like I was really happy about the fact that I got to start a relationship with my mom again. That was really happy to have really had a come to Jesus moment on that year. I was really grateful for my friends and family but that doesn't change the fact that I was dealing with a lot. And I was emotionally exhausted. And like there are plenty of moments I didn't feel like I handled myself well at all. I spent way too many long texts to Giddeon.

 

Laura:

[00:32:44] Giddeon if you're listening. Thank you.

 

Katie:

[00:32:47] Yes. But I mean that's what friends are for right? And if they can really understand who you are and what you're going through like and not judge you for it. That's pretty awesome. I mean it's tough right? I don't know how I dealt or process it. I think I still am. Like I finally got thanks to talk space and Michael Phelps. I got some real help. The USOC doesn't have any true mental health resources. So when I told them I was having panic attack anxiety attack. They didn't really know what to do and then when I ask for help they just kind of brushed me off. So. I'm really grateful that you know I have the right people in place to help now. And but it's still a process. Like I'm just starting to get back on ice and I get triggers every once in a while or a nightmare and I can't sleep.But I think it's definitely getting a lot better. It's much less intense than it was. I should have clarified I got PTSD. Because in May 2017 I found my best friend Steve Holcomb passed away in the Olympic Training Center from an overdose. He accidentally took too many sleeping pills and drank and it ended up being lethal.

 

[00:34:08] So that was I think the whole situation though I think that's what woke me up finally. Because it paralleled with my dad and I remember Holcomb said to me right before he passed away. Remember who you are. You said be the Kate your dad said you were which was fierce. And you would go to the line dancing your own music and not really care about winning and thought and relax. Like the performance was never my focus and you should stop looking for people to assure you that you know. Stop looking for your dad to be or for people to be who your dad was you. No one hope you passed away. I was like. It kind of snap me out of it I think. And like I said I'm regaining my own agency and you know going through these therapies and stuff. That's when I started I realized like Wow that's where all my trauma came from. Was when I swallowed who I was to perform I lost my identity. So I think currently I am rediscovering that. I'm on a mission of personal discovery.

 

[00:35:16] And I'm grateful to have rediscovered God along the way. Which I think is huge because it was always a huge part of my life in the past. And I'm rambling now but I think that was one of the things that I realized was that when my father died I stopped praying as much. I stopped doing a lot of reflection and intersection and the things that took care of me. Like you have to make time and create space for yourself and create space for God. And I think that was one of the things I didn't do when I became overwhelmed with sadness or you know. Like I said if you're in a state of cognitive dissonance a state of conflict really hard to hear the Holy Spirit. Hard to hear yourself. So you know facing those things to clear that out and create faith that's going to be a constant job I think.

 

Laura:

[00:36:09] I'm glad to hear you're on the right track and you're figuring out how to sort through it. And like you said talking to God and having those important relationships. And having therapy and talking. Like working through those things that's so huge. And you said you're back on ice so are you still competing and looking forward to Beijing?

 

Katie:

[00:36:30] Oh my gosh Beijing so far away. Just pick your day and time.

 

Laura:

[00:36:34] Well, you also I picked up another sport in this process too, didn't you?

 

Katie:

[00:36:39] I did. I am currently a national champion in 2 sports back to back. And I'm gonna try and do it again. When I try to win skeleton Nationals and then cycling Nationals again it’s like you've done?

 

Laura:

[00:36:48] That’s amazing.

 

Katie:

[00:36:51] I don't know. I'm just gonna take a day of time like I got injured and I'm just now getting back on ice like tomorrow. So I have about 6 weeks to prepare for national and everywhere else has been sliding since October. But I'm just like. I'm just starting to think that my career numbers are coming up on most people stages. So I should be at all. They’re like calling me grandma skeleton at this point. I'm like I am 34 and offended.

 

Laura:

[00:37:22] Grandma Skeleton I like it.

 

Katie:

[00:37:24] Ouch. But I'll take it. So then I'll do nationals. And then if I win I get to buy on to the world team next season. And then I'm gonna head back to L.A. immediately and start training for Team front. Which is like you go in this little circle and a velodrome it's like a fishbowl. The sport getting in bed and my teammate is Mandy Marquardt I think. I like calling her Marquardt because it is French. But so we won nationals and if we win again in my time is within the league standard then I'll get a Pan Am games. And hopefully help us attempt to make the summer games Tokyo 2020. But I'm like a second offer I need to be which is quite a bit of time. And I haven't had a lot of experience on a bike but I'm really enjoying it and the community is fantastic. I love being a part of a team. I love that I can do it and stay in one place like skeleton I’ve travel non-stop. So I think I'm ready to like transition into not traveling as much. And I was in L.A. up until like last week. I have to say 70 degrees in January was pretty awesome.

 

Laura:

[00:38:38] A far cry from the skeleton you know area I'm sure.

 

Katie:

[00:38:43] Yeah. I mean like Christmas was super rad. I wanted to get a palm dream and put like a Charlie Brown decoration on it. And then just wear an ugly sweater because the flake warm enough where you don't need a coat. But cool enough to wear like a sweater is appropriate. I was like This is great. This is business Christmas.

 

Laura:

[00:38:53] That would be perfect. Oh That’s awesome. Well cool. Well, where can we follow you because you're absolutely incredible you're awesome. So where can we follow you online to continue to be inspired and encouraged by you and cheer you on toward Tokyo and Beijing perhaps?

 

Katie:

[00:39:16] Instagram @kateu11 and all the other ones there @KatieU11 Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook. It's not hard to find me. So is there another platform missing?

 

Laura:

[00:39:30] No. That's perfect. We'll make sure to put those on there. Katie thank you so much for coming on the podcast and sharing your story and just encouraging and inspiring all of us.

 

Katie:

[00:39:42] I really appreciate the opportunity and thank you.

 

Laura:

[00:39:46] Wow. I love how vulnerable Katie is willing to be with her story. Knowing that her openness can encourage others to take an honest look at themselves. As well and perhaps even be bold enough to engage with where they're at. At one point she said the only one who knows if you're OK is you. And men that is so true. If you're feeling off or unheard or you resonate with Katie's sense of neglect then I encourage you to just like she did to go on a journey to discover who you are again. Reach out to a friend or a mentor and get connected to those who can remind you of your identity. Seriously Katie that was some amazing wisdom and we're so grateful. Be sure to follow her on all of her socials that are linked in the show notes so that you can cheer her on as she aims for her fifth Olympics and shoots for back to back Summer and Winter Games. Don't forget to subscribe and join us each week for more raw honest conversations with athletes about how their journeys have shaped them and how they are engaging in things that give them purpose. And if you're interested in getting outside of your normal day today and you want to pursue purpose then consider registering for an upcoming trip with hope sports. The link is in the show notes and a trip is coming up this June that you do not want to miss. Next step is swimmer Michael Andrews who is a young up and comer who has broken over 100 national age group records. He's blazing a trail to the 2020 Olympics and he'll share more about his story right here next week. On behalf of Hope Sports, I'm Laura Wilkinson. Thanks for listening. This podcast is produced by Evo Terra and Simpler Media. For more information on Hope sports and to access the complete archives please visit HopeSport.org

 

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About This Episode

Before most people could doggy paddle, Dana Vollmer was swimming competitively. The daughter of a swim coach, she was in the water at such an early age that she cannot even explicitly remember learning how. By age eleven she was swimming year round and at age twelve she stepped on to the block at her first Olympic trials. A self described “feisty competitor”, Dana always focused on her times, never her age, and was frustrated to not make the team that year. Her father gently reminded her that, although she took 49th place, that meant that 51 other elite athletes had just been beaten by a twelve year old.

In the wake of the Olympic trials, Dana decided to train even harder, with her hopes set on the 2004 games in Athens. One afternoon during training when she was 14, her heart rate soared and wouldn’t slow down. This happened several more times and prompted a trip to a cardiologist where it was discovered that she had an extra electrical pathway in her heart. She had immediate surgery to correct the issue, but still had other markers for a genetic heart disorder that was known to cause sudden death in young athletes. It was the advice of her doctors that she give up swimming entirely.

Weighing Dana’s dreams with the potentially tragic outcome was incredibly difficult. But at the end of the day, “my parents did not want fear to control my life,” says Dana. They decided to let their daughter continue doing what she loved, but in the safest way possible. That meant her mother sat poolside at every practice with a defibrillator clenched in her hands in the event that her daughter’s heart stopped mid-race. Year after year the risks lingered over her as she swam. It wasn’t until she interviewed her mother for a medical research paper in college that Dana truly understood her mom’s position. “She managed to shield her fear from me so that I didn’t carry it,” says Dana. Her mother used to check on her at night to make sure she was still breathing, didn’t ever want to her to anything scary or startling, and, quite literally, held her daughter’s life in her hand at every meet.

Putting health concerns aside, at age sixteen Dana stepped back on to the block at another Olympic trials. This time, however, she was older, more mature, and learned how to focus on just her race. Not only did she make the team, but won Olympic gold in the 4x200 relay and set a new World Record. She headed home overwhelmed, proud, and straight into the halls of a typical high school. “It felt like half the school loved me for what I had done -- and half hated me,” she says. She struggled with how to be herself--an athlete and a normal teenager--within the public eye. A disc injury in her back completely threw her training for the year and added another component of uncertainty. Eager to move on from the awkward season she was in, she graduated high school a year early and headed to the University of Florida. Amidst a new team, new coaches, and new friends, she felt even greater pressure to live up to her reputation. The mismatch she felt with the training program and the staff compelled her to transfer to Cal-Berkeley after just one year.

Despite the improved fit at Cal-Berkeley, she was still grappling internally with her interpretation of other people’s expectations and with her fragmented identity. At her third Olympic trials in 2008, “I was in tears behind my goggles before I even swam,” she shares. The World Record holder failed to make the Olympic team in every single one of her events. Ashamed and disappointed, Dana went to stay with a friend, hoping to just disappear. Two of her coaches, Terry McKeever and Milt Nelms, recognized that she needed to get away from competition and gain some perspective. Milt founded a “Learn to Swim” program in Fiji, an island nation with huge drowning rates, and invited Dana to join on an upcoming trip. She spent time teaching others how to swim and said, “It was amazing to realize that it wasn’t all about Olympic level swimming.” For once it wasn’t about proving herself or finishing with a certain time - it was about doing something for others that made a difference. She specifically remembers a final open water relay race from island to island with the students. In the midst of the beautiful ocean, with the fish and the sky and new friends, far outside of her bubble, she remembered that she truly just loved to swim. And she wasn’t ready to be done.

She returned to California with a fresh understanding that it was her mentality, not her physicality that needed a reform. Other areas of her life began to get the attention that they needed. She worked with a therapist, got married, sorted out food sensitivities, and balanced her training. “I took a look at my entire life, realizing that everything impacts how you race and how you train. All areas need to be happy to be the best athlete that you can be,” she says. And the results spoke for themselves. At the 2012 Olympics in London Dana won three gold medals and set two more World Records. In retrospect, Dana says that she wouldn’t be the athlete she is today if it weren’t for missing the Olympic team in 2008.

She briefly considered retiring after such a successful 2012 games, but the momentum was too alluring. Although she made the World Championships the following year, nagging shoulder and back issues needed to be tended to. She never actually signed retirement papers, but decided to take a break to see what life was like outside of competitive athletics. She studied architecture and design, bought a house in the suburbs, and became pregnant with her first son. During the final eight weeks of her pregnancy she was put on strict bedrest. Sitting still was brutal, and after giving birth she hopped back in the water to get back in shape the only way she knew how. The 2016 Olympic trials were only a year away, but she committed to train for them. “It wasn’t about the goal, it was about the lifestyle I wanted to have,” she says. She knew that she was the best version of herself when she live an intentionally balanced life - and that included swimming.

Dana was elated to make the 2016 Olympic team, but heading back to training camp as a mom had its unique challenges. Not many swimmers had families and she had to advocate for time with her son and a training regimen that fit her postpartum. Again, Dana medaled large in Rio de Janeiro, taking home gold, silver, and bronze medals. But participating as a mother changed the way that she related with her teammates, trained, and viewed competition. Out of her own longing for community, Dana has started the Power of Mom movement to help give a voice, encouragement, and motivation to elite athletes who are mothers and may feel isolated in their sport. She even took her family to Denmark to spend time training with one of her former rivals who also recently had a daughter, but still has Olympic dreams for 2020.

At each competition, Dana still feels the results-based mindset start to creep back in. She has to resist the temptation to analyze others’ expectations and constantly let go of the need to prove herself. “I always have to step back and realize that this is about my journey, racing, and doing what I love,” she says. She believes that there is a faster butterfly technique out there and is determined to discover it as she aspires to the Olympics in Beijing. These days, however, training looks like family trips to camps, workouts around her kids’ schedules, and swimming in the open ocean. But now, more than ever, her life is full of things she loves.

For more about Dana and to be a part of her journey, check out her website and follower her on Instagram.

 

Follow online:

 

IG: @dana.vollmer

Danavollmer.com

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Laura:

[00:00:05] Welcome to the hope sports podcast where elite athletes recount the challenges and experience that have shaped them both as competitors and as people. I'm your host Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson. This week's guest was just 12 years old when she swam at her first Olympic trials. And as of today she's won a total of 32 medals in major international competition including seven Olympic medals. I'm so excited to have Dana Vollmer with us today sharing about the ups and downs of her incredible career. She has swam through a life threatening heart condition falling short of making the Olympic team mid career and becoming a mother to two beautiful boys. And still she swims on inspiring us with her optimism and aspirations and desire to unite a very unique set of athletes.

 

[00:00:51] And if this conversation resonates with you and you're looking to dig deeper into exploring purpose and performance then I have a really great resource for you that I'll tell you more about after we hear from Diana. I'm glad you're here. Now let's dive on in. Dana Vollmer welcome to the hope sports podcast are so excited to have you on today.

 

Dana:

[00:01:07] Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here.

 

Laura:

[00:01:09] Now for those listening who may not know too much about you. Can you kind of tell us how you got your start in swimming.?

 

Dana:

[00:01:15] Yeah I actually was in my first competition when I was 4. For my mom was a swim coach. I don't actually remember learning how to swim. I have just always been around the water and always had a love for being in there.

 

Laura:

[00:01:28] Oh that's awesome. I don't think I could swim at 4. Not at all. Not even strokes.

 

Dana:

[00:01:31] Yeah. So then it was just a summer league team until I was eleven and then I transition to year-round swimming. And when we moved down to Texas and actually made my first Olympic trials at twelve and then still competing today. So many many years later. OK so first Olympic trials at twelve years old. I mean did you even understand the hugeness of that.

 

Laura:

[00:01:48] OK so first Olympic trials at twelve years old. I mean did you even understand the hugeness of that? What was that like for you?

 

Dana:

[00:01:58] You know I don't think I fully comprehended what it meant to make that time standard to be at the Olympic trials. But I mean I was feisty competitive little thing and just always trying to get best times. And that was the gold time that was set in front of me. And when I was a little 12year old walking around with her board on deck getting everyone to sign it and in all of everyone.

 

Laura:

[00:02:20] That's awesome!

 

Dana:

[00:02:23] And. But yet I remember walking away so mad that I didn't make an Olympic team and I got 49th place and.

 

Laura:

[00:02:30] Oh man.

 

Dana:

[00:02:31] My dad had to remind me that 51 women just got beat by a 12year old and sick to go back home and train. And so it's come full circle now that I see these youngsters coming up and beating me at the competition.

 

Laura:

[00:02:46] Oh man. That is cool. That is cool. OK well it's also just two years after that you're 14 and you get a kind of scary health diagnosis. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

 

Dana:

[00:02:55] Yeah I was in the middle of training and my heart rate spiked to 250 and we couldn't get it to come back down. And it actually happened a couple of times. Once when I was sitting on the couch watching TV. Once when I was jumping rope. Once when I was in the pool. And so we immediately went to the cardiologist and it turned out that I had an extra electrical pathway in my heart. And so we ended up during surgery they went in through my from your artery and cauterize it wasn't open heart surgery or anything. They cauterize that electrical pathway and I didn't have that racing heartbeat anymore. But through testing, they had seen random patterns of what they call long QT syndrome. And so that that was the scariest part for us. That's known as one of the leading causes of sudden death in athletes.

 

Laura:

[00:03:42] Oh Wow.

 

Dana:

[00:03:43] And luckily now all these years later they now have a genetic test for that and it turns out that I don't have it.

 

Laura:

[00:03:50] Wow!

 

Dana:

[00:03:51] So that was a huge relief to us. We just found out actually through prenatal testing for my second child that I officially didn't have that genetic marker.

 

Laura:

[00:03:59] Wow. Because after that your mom had to carry a defibrillator to every single practice and competition you went to right? Like just in case?

 

Dana:

[00:04:07] Yeah. Just in case something happened. I refused to touch it as a 14year old. It was just too scary I think for me to process. So I really felt the strength that my mom had and taking that on and letting me still train and letting me compete. And she was right there clutching this defibrillator hoping that nothing happened and luckily nothing ever did.

 

Laura:

[00:04:28] Well how did you guys make that decision? Because I can't. I mean you're a mom now too. I can't imagine being faced with that for my kid. I mean can you kind of walk me through those perspectives like what were or was it even not a question for you? I don't. I don't know.

 

Dana:

[00:04:42] Well for me the 14year old of course was no I will always swim. But I think you know my parents had many conversations about not letting fear control my life. And we couldn't be in a bubble. And they were gonna do everything that they could to make me safe but allow me to do what I loved. And I. To my core loved swimming and training and racing and so they did everything they could. And that meant being right next to me in training holding onto a defibrillator.

 

Laura:

[00:05:15] Wow! What an amazing kind of courageous move from your parents. That says a lot about them. I think and I know you said you did in college you did like a research paper. We were talking about illness or something. And you interviewed your mom and said it was the first time you knew how scared she actually was?

 

Dana:

[00:05:29] Yeah. I was doing a medical anthropologyclass on the different perspectives of illness and I decided to write it on my mom. And me she shielded so much of her fear from me. And she didn't want me to know how scary of a decision this was and didn't want me training constantly thinking if I was putting my life at risk. And so just hearing how many times she came in in the middle of the night to see if I was still breathing. She was terrified to let me do anything scary that it might put my heart into some strange rhythm. Just how much fear she had. I just never really understood.

 

Laura:

[00:06:08] Wow wow. I think parenting is probably the hardest job on earth right.

 

Dana:

[00:06:13] Yes. Yes. It is.

 

Laura:

[00:06:15] So OK. It wasn't long after that diagnosis and the decision to keep going. That you made your first Olympic team as just a 16year old in Athens Greece. And you won a gold medal there in the 4 x 200meter free relay. I mean did you. Obviously, you're competitive and you expected to make the Olympic team at 12 so I'm guessing you fully thought this was possible?

 

Dana:

[00:06:35] Most definitely. That was the goal. That was the plan. I felt like you know while the heart episode was really scary. It didn't necessarily take me out of the sport for very long. And so I just kept training and my coaches always really good. About saying like it's the same lane it's the same block. It's you know just get up there swim your own race. Do it you know how to do. Don’t focus on other people and. At the Olympic trials, I was actually next to the American record holder at the time. And I just I can vividly remember that race more so than a lot of other races. Just making that first Olympic team being 16 I just. I remember being very overwhelmed a lot of the time? I just kind of went with the flow tried to copy what all these other amazing Olympians were doing.

 

[00:07:22] And even when we won the gold and you realize that you just broke an ancient world record. And got that first gold medal. And you can watch videos. It's like every couple seconds I copy what Natalie Coughlin did. She puts her arms up in screen and I have my arms do the same. I just was so overwhelmed. So excited. So proud of the journey. And I don't think I had. Everything had seemed like it had fallen into place kind of along that path. At that time.

 

Laura:

[00:07:52] Oh that's so cool. Did you get to walk an opening and closing ceremonies and things too?

 

Dana:

[00:07:57] I didn't. So opening it is like I mean they say what you stand on your feet for like eight hours? And the night before we start competing the next day.

 

Laura:

[00:08:05] Oh you're the first day? OK.

 

Dana:

[00:08:07] Yeah. So I have not. I actually haven't ever walked in opening ceremonies.

 

Laura:

[00:08:12] Oh no!

 

Dana:

[00:08:13] But I did get to do closing in 2012. So.

 

Laura:

[00:08:17] Oh good. OK well, we've got one in there. That's good. So what happened after Athens?

 

Dana:

[00:08:23] After Athens and you know it's part of that identity crisis. You come home you just you were a gold medalist. And then you have to go back to high school. And so I mean half. I did feel like half a high school loved me for what I did. Half a high school seemed to hate me for what I did. And you're just I don't know I felt like I was you know I had homeschooled going into that. So I only did one year of high school has actually ended up graduating a year early. And it was just a struggle of who am I as a person. Who am I as this Olympic athlete now at 16years old and how do you make mistakes. How do you figure things out when you feel a little more in the public eye. And you know I took some time off. I actually injured my back at that point when I started coming back from training I had a disk injury and. I just I felt like I was kind of floundering and so I didn't really know where I was at home. So I decided to graduate a year early and I went off to the University of Florida for my first year of college.

 

Laura:

[00:09:32] So you were like 17 when you went off to college?

 

Dana:

[00:09:34] Yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:09:35] Wow. That's all so overwhelming I would think.

 

Dana:

[00:09:38] It is another you know it's a hard step to then also go into college and you're supposed to be this amazing Olympic athlete. And trying to live up to that every day is sometimes really challenging. And the coach and I just didn't really see eye to eye. The training program was different than I would like. And so then I ended up transferring over to Cal Berkeley and I loved. I loved the school. I loved the program. The coach and I obviously I still train at Cal Berkeley today. So something's working. And it was I think going into 2008 I found myself really struggling with other people's expectations. And or my interpretation of other people's expectations that I was supposed to qualify for so many events. And you know for the US it's not just qualifying then you're expected to medal. And I just I Crum I absolutely crumbled under that. And one event I walked out and I was in tears in my goggles before I even swam the events.

 

Laura:

[00:10:39] Is this about Olympic trials?

 

Dana:

[00:10:40] Olympic trials in 2008. Yeah. And. I miss it. I miss it and every single one of my events one as close as 1100th of a second.

 

Laura:

[00:10:51] Oh that's so heartbreaking.

 

Dana:

[00:10:53] You can beat yourself up about it all day long. But now I feel like perspective has changed so much that I don't think I would be the athlete I am today without having gone through 2008.

 

Laura:

[00:11:05] I feel like I hear that a lot. Like it really stinks to go through those moments but it seems to make you stronger and more capable of things later. But like how in that moment of just kind of crumbling under that? Like how did you walk that out and how did you come back from that? You know is it the people around you? Is it you having to change the way you were thinking about stuff? Like what I guess. How did you walk out?

 

Dana:

[00:11:30] Yeah. I mean there are very important people. I went home I stayed at one of my best friends houses that in my hometown in Granbury. And she just kind of helped me with perspective. Her job her kids. And then it was honestly Teri McKeeverand my other coach Milton Nelms. And Teri knew that I couldn't just go home and sulk. That was not going to help me get through this. And so Milton Nelms actually runs a learn to swim program in Fiji.

 

Laura:

[00:12:04] Oh wow.

 

Dana:

[00:12:04] And they have one of the highest drowning rates in the world for an island nation. And so they. It kind of took me out of my own bubble. They helped me fly to Fiji and we got to teach. It's kind of like a community college and you teach them how to teach kids how to swim. So they go out into their villages and teach kids how to swim. And it was just amazing to kind of realize it's not all about Olympic level swimming. I was helping save lives with the knowledge that I already had. I didn't have to go out and prove anything else about my swimming. That I already had the skills to make other people's lives better. And it was just an absolutely incredible experience to be helping them. But then it was still that place when I thought about my own swimming. It was like an instant weight on my chest of how am I supposed to come back? How do I face the team? How do I face my coach? How do I come back to training in a way that I want to? And we actually did an open water race when I was in Fiji. It was at 18K relay from one island to another. You could see fish and coral and I mean it was beautiful. And to me, that was the moment when I realized that I still love the water. I love to swim. And that was the core of it. And what I really needed to work on was the mental side of the sport.

 

Laura:

[00:13:27] I love that you just like you said got out of your bubble. Did something. Saw that there was more to this whole swimming thing than just your races. And then kind of recaptured that love and that passion for it. That's so awesome. And so things did change. Going into London. I mean you went into the 2012 London Olympics and walked away with three gold medals and two world records. I'm guessing that was a little bit different of an experience.

 

Dana:

[00:13:51] Yes. Yes. completely. I mean there's so much work that we put in in those 4years. And to make me feel like almost a different woman walking out for the 2012 Olympic trials and we explored nutrition. It turned out that I had many food sensitivities that were really hindering my training and my recovery and then the mental side of it.

 

Laura:

[00:14:12] How interesting.

 

Dana:

[00:14:15] I actually enjoyed seeing a normal therapist. Not a sports psychologist. I always felt like they somehow were trying to just get me to race better. And it was nice to just really take a look at my entire life. That everything impacts how you train how you race and all areas need to be happy. To be the best athlete that we can be. And I got married in 2011 to my husband and.

 

Laura:

[00:14:42] He's a swimmer too right?

 

Dana:

[00:14:43] He was young he swam for Stanford. He also just missed the Olympic team in 2008. So I think that was a good bonding place for us to find strength together. And. Yeah. It just walking out there you know some of the sports psychology training though was like you have set yourself up to where if you have a terrible race you're still making an Olympic team. And that was kind of our motto in training was that it's it's not that I need to expect way more of myself than I've ever done to make an Olympic team. It's like OK if I have a cold I can still do this I can still get up and make this team. And yeah I mean even at the Olympics when I walked out. I was like OK Just swim your own race. Just try not to screw anything up and we should be good.

 

Laura:

[00:15:34] And you were. I mean did you three gold medals and you already had a gold medal so you have four gold medals now. I mean did you think about retiring at that point?

 

Dana:

[00:15:43] It's always one of those really hard things where. Honestly leading up to 2012? Yes. I assumed that I was done after 2012 I wanted to go out with a bang and go out at the pinnacle of your career. And then it's always one of those how do you retire when you're at the top of your game? Like you just had the best performance you've ever had in your life. And now you're supposed to walk away? And so that was hard. Not really hard because I was just so excited after winning three golds to just get back in it and train. And then it kind of dawns on you that OK it is another four years. And the time commitment is huge. The effort level is huge. You can't just kind of skirt by on what you've done before and expect to make an Olympic team. And I was able to make the world championships team that next summer. But I kind of been dealing with shoulder issues the back injury had never fully gone away. So at that point, I did decide quote-unquote “to retire?” because I didn't actually sign my retirement papers. Part of me just could never sign the actual papers. So Teri told me to just go with that something in me might not be done and let's just respect that.

 

[00:16:51] So I stepped away from the sport. Decided I wanted to see what life was like as not a competitive athlete. I went to school for architecture and design. We bought a house in the suburbs and decided that we wanted to start our family. And so yeah in 2015 my youngest or my oldest now Arlen was born. And it wasn't a very interesting process of being pregnant as you know. I can't say I'm one that loved being pregnant. I felt very out of control with my body and we ended up being on bed rest for eight weeks and.

 

Laura:

[00:17:31] Oh my that's a long time.

 

Dana:

[00:17:33] Yeah. Yeah. I made it through like all ten seasons of Friends. I honestly I think that that was when I decided to train again. Because I could not imagine another day of sitting in my bed.

 

Laura:

[00:17:46] Wow. So you hadn't been training for a while?

 

Dana:

[00:17:49] No.

 

Laura:

[00:17:49] You’re Pregnant. You're on bed rest. And you're like I have got to get back in the water.

 

Dana:

[00:17:53] Yeah. well I mean that's the only way that I really know how to get back in shape and how to push myself. I've never been a runner.

 

Laura:

[00:18:00] So then it was. It just kind of I'm going to get back in the water just to get back in shape after this or you want to do like compete?

 

Dana:

[00:18:06] Yeah. Well, I don't think I knew how to separate the two yet. I need to have a big goal to get myself to kind of do the daily grind of training.

 

Laura:

[00:18:15] Totally relate to that. Yeah.

 

Dana:

[00:18:16] Yeah. So basically I set that goal OK let's see if I can make the 2016 Olympic team. I mean that's right around the corner. But it was obviously a huge goal and it kept me going to get up in the mornings and to push myself. But deep down I think what really helped me through the process was yeah that was a big goal. But the ultimate goal was to be the best mom that I could be. To feel in control of my body. To get back in shape to have the lifestyle of running around with the boys that I want to have. And I think that's what made it to me that one of the healthiest places for me that I've ever been in the sport. It wasn't necessarily about the goal it was about the daily lifestyle that I wanted to have.

 

Laura:

[00:19:05] Oh that's so cool. So then what. I mean because you ended up making the Rio team and what was it like going to an Olympics this time with a toddler in tow?

 

Dana:

[00:19:15] Well I wish he honestly. I wish he was more in tow than he was allowed to be. And so that that was actually really hard. Of course, on one hand, I'm thrilled. I was absolutely stoked. I made an Olympic team. I got to compete again. But then it's also you know there hadn't been many moms in the sport of swimming yet. So training camp technically he wasn't allowed to be at training camp. And I had to sit down with the coaches and with USA Swimming staff and talk about like I can't do that. I can't just go away for a month and leave my child. And so at first, it was agreed that he should come for two weekends. Which was even obviously daunting to me at the time too. I mean I literally was never by myself.

 

Laura:

[00:19:58] Right. And it's like an appendage right? Like you’re missing an arm or something walking in there without them. Yeah.

 

Dana:

[00:20:04] A huge piece of my heart was gone. And to be in a hotel room by myself and then go to training with girls that I hadn't trained with before. With coaches, I hadn't worked with before. My. Like the person that does my weights isn't allowed to be there. The massage person like they have an Olympic staff that kind of starts to take care of everything. But it was an incredibly lonely place to be. And it was a really hard trying to balance that. This side of me that just missed my family so much. And this daily routine that I had developed that I had loved. And to kind of have to create an absolutely new one for 2016 Olympic Games. I mean the Olympics is the biggest meet that you get to go to. And I had to completely change what I had done to get there. And a.

 

Laura:

[00:20:58] And like a limited amount of time too. Right?

 

Dana:

[00:21:00] Yeah. Yeah. We only have four weeks between the Olympic trials and the Olympics. And honestly, before being a mom I would have said like oh it's only four weeks of your life. Like you can go you can be with the team and just fully commit. And then you get to go home and be with your family. Four weeks is just a really long time to be away from your kids. And so it is a goal of mine going in 2020 to better work with USA Swimming. I feel like they will. I think like you said it was just such a short time span to try to figure out how we make this work. About how I can see more of the kids and have more of my support system there for me going into 2020.

 

Laura:

[00:21:41] That's great. So I mean you won a gold silver and a bronze in Rio right?

 

Dana:

[00:21:47] Yeah. I mean I just wanted to get the trifecta.

 

Laura:

[00:21:49] Yeah. There you go. Yeah.

 

Dana:

[00:21:50] I mean one of everything.

 

Laura:

[00:21:52] I mean this is incredible so you had four weeks. You revamped your entire routine. You're flying solo. It was hard. And you were still so successful. I mean did you just keep going after that? Or did you. Because I know now you have your son Ryker who was born in 2017 right? Was the plan to keep going after this again? Or you know. How is this? What are logistics like here?

 

Dana:

[00:22:14] Yeah. I mean it's again I feel like it's a cycle every four years. Again I was successful in 2016 and I had created more of a daily life that I loved. Like going in after Arlen was born and it just felt so much healthier of a routine of a lifestyle of a focus. It wasn't just pushed my body till it breaks because that's what you have to do. I learned a lot more about recovery and it just felt like a lifestyle that I could sustain. So I figured why not. Why not try and so I trained. From after 2016, I did train through being pregnant with Ryker. I actually swam at a swim meet when I was 28 pregnant.

 

Laura:

[00:22:56] Oh my Goodness! Wow.

 

Dana:

[00:22:58] That was obviously much more for just the joy and fun of racing than the actual time.

 

Laura:

[00:23:05] Right.

 

Dana:

[00:23:06] But I enjoyed it. We got to do a Gender reveal with what color suit I wore.

 

Laura:

[00:23:10] Oh that's so fun.

 

Dana:

[00:23:11] So it was yeah it was really fun. And then I actually ended up having the same contractions that started at 30 weeks that they did with my first child with Arlen. But this time they didn't want me on bed rest. They just wanted me to have limited activity but not actually be in my bed like I was before. And so it's a little scary that time just being moving around a lot more and having all the contractions. Just trying to listen to my doctors and Ryker came at 37 weeks. So Arlen was at 41. And so he was just as tall as Arlen but hadn't really gotten to put on all that baby fat yet so it just seems so little at first. But then honestly it's different with two. And I can't imagine with you having four and trying to train.

 

Laura:

[00:24:03] I know. Crazy. For crazy people.

 

Dana:

[00:24:07] But you know I think I expected it to be the same. I think I put more almost more expectations on myself that here.

 

Laura:

[00:24:14] Coz you've done it once.

 

Dana:

[00:24:15] Yeah I had done it before. It's supposed to be the same. And now I know and so it's supposed to be easier. That is so not true.

 

Laura:

[00:24:22] Yeah. My first child slept through the night. And people just laughed at me and they're like Oh wait till you have a second line. Yeah. She didn’t sleep through the night at all. So yeah.

 

Dana:

[00:24:31] Yeah. And so of course it was like my older ones stopped napping as soon as the second one was born. And well you know just being up again and nursing. And then not getting to nap when he naps because the older one was awake. And trying to figure out how to get groceries in my house with two kids. And it's. There's been a whole new set of challenges. And honestly, I feel like just this past fall I've really kind of gotten more of a routine and figured out more of what I how I'm gonna make this work.

 

Laura:

[00:25:03] That's great. That's great. Now I know on your website you said you found a new love for something. I think we've heard a little bit about that and you said for years you let it define your life through your success or failure in the pool. But now it's your family that matters most. I know you went to Fiji rekindle that and now you have your family. Like I guess how do you ever still get kind of bogged down or caught back up in that? I feel like we go through these seasons right? You kind of get it figured out and you think you're in a good place then you get kind of sucked back into that. Like you know that mindset where your result defined you. Like how do you check that how do you keep that at bay?

 

Dana:

[00:25:37] Yeah. I feel like it's it's not just something that you master. And it doesn't happen again like you said. Honestly, it's something that I feel come back before every competition and I have to work on that. It's like where do people expect me to be at this point. How do I prove the training that I've done that it's working? And how do I show that I can do this as a mom? And it's now I have to step back and you know this is about my journey. Like this is about just racing and figuring things out and figuring out what I love about still being in the sport. And it is a conscious reminder of having to let go of what I think other people are expecting of me. But I mean it's work. That's something that you have to be kind to train yourself to catch yourself in those mind brains. And to bring yourself back from that. But yeah it's not like I've just figured it out. It's something that I still work on and honestly you know it was Ryker was probably six months old. And I went to the Austin Grand Prix in January. And I had been kind of training a much smaller amount but I still felt fast. And it's one of those in your mind you always think like oh I got this and.

 

Laura:

[00:26:51] I love your self-confidence. It's awesome. I love it.

 

Dana:

[00:26:54] I went to a competition and it was one of those kinds of like rude awakenings of just you know hey I do love the sport. I haven't been able to get as much training. And it's one thing to just think you can stand up and perform with the best in the country. But that is something that takes a lot of dedication. A lot of hours. A lot of training. And I did let that get to me. And I didn't know what to kids why I was fighting so hard to make an Olympic team. You know I still struggling with kind of how 2016 went for me mentally. Like was I ready to go through that again being away from my family being away from my own support system? And then so I did end up taking some time away. And I was just working on strength training trying to figure out the training pieces that I really enjoyed. And that was when I saw it’s actually on Instagram that Jeanette Ottesen a swimmer from Denmark. A butterflier that's been in almost every international competition final with me in the Butterfly was having a baby girl and wanted to train for 2020. And it just felt like I just instantly had this bond with her and I mean we were friendly.

 

[00:28:10] I can't say we were very close friends but I mean we talked to competitions. And I instantly wrote her on Instagram as like I need to come to Denmark but can I please bring my boys? Can I come train with you? Can we try to figure out how moms train in this sport together? And it was just so inspiring for me to have another person that got it. And to get on that pool deck and talk to each other. How'd you sleep last night? Were your kids up all night? Were you stressed about this or that? And Do you have the power to change our training ourselves? And create what we wanted and each workout. And to talk about the hardships of getting stability back in your hits and getting your abs back. All these things that just your body changes so much and to have another person that was right there with me just meant the world to me. And that was when I started the movement to the power of mom. And I just really started looking at other athletes and other athletes stories. And how they manage dealing with kids and training. And being so inspired by all these other women that were also doing it and feeling like I wasn't so alone. Like we need we need to have a stronger voice and be heard by each other even to help motivate each other when it's hard.

 

Laura:

[00:29:28] And I love it. I mean I've followed you for a long time. But when I saw you start that power of mom thing it just it hit me. Because I feel very isolated like I totally understand what you're talking about because divers there tend to be younger. When I retired at 30 I was considered old and I didn't have kids or anything at that point. Now I'm here 10years older and four kids you know it's definitely not something anybody else is doing. And so to see that other people are doing that it makes you feel like you're not a crazy person. Like it's OK to have dreams. It's OK to be a mom and do these things and in fact, you can be even better. You know it's just so nice I'm so thankful that you created something and it is gonna make a big difference for so many of us.

 

Dana:

[00:30:04] Yeah I mean there's nothing worse than feeling lonely an isolated. And we find strength in each other. I find strength in your story. I find strength in Serena Williams. And Allyson Felix just having her little one. And it'll be amazing to have all of us chasing this dream together.

 

Laura:

[00:30:23] Yes I love it. You had your hashtag was Mama on a mission in 2016 and now it's to the power of mom. I love it. So what's next on your road to Tokyo 2020? I mean obviously, there's going to be competitions in between that. And are there any plans following Tokyo? More kids more swimming other adventures. Like what's on the plate for you?

 

Dana:

[00:30:43] So I just got back from a competition in Knoxville Tennessee earlier in January. And it's just kind of one of those there's the tier Pro Series circuit there's kind of a meet every month almost. And it's just kind of seeing where I'm at in training. Seeing what falls apart. What is feeling really strong? Continue to focus on that one reason why I think I'm still in the sport today is just that I know that there is a faster butterfly. It's not just that I need to train harder or more hours. It's like the physics of how we swim butterfly. I think we're still figuring out how to do it. And I love the learning process and the challenging to think outside the box. And technique and training. And I will be going to Tasmania for a training trip again. I've actually gone a couple of times so that's where the coach Milton Nelms and his amazing wife Shane Gould. She's a multi Olympian for Australia for swimming. And so that's where they live. And so we end up doing an Airbnb down there and we train in the ocean all the time. There is not a pool where you train in the way.

 

Laura:

[00:31:51] Is it freezing?

 

Dana:

[00:31:53] It is. I do have a wetsuit that I wear. I do get an occasionally just in my swimsuit just because the wetsuit does change your buoyancy and how you feel. So I try to challenge myself from time to time to get in. But as a swimmer, I do have a deep hatred of cold water.

 

Laura:

[00:32:12] I hear that from a lot of stories.

 

Dana:

[00:32:14] Yeah. Yeah the most of us. So I have the wetsuit on a lot. But we're really excited that Jeanette Ottesen and her husband and her little girl Billy nay are also going to come.

 

Laura:

[00:32:25] Oh so is your whole family going too?

 

Dana:

[00:32:27] My whole family is coming. My husband two boys and a friend of ours that's going to help us with the boys. And yeah. And then her and Jeanette and her husband and little girl and then she has two people that are coming with her as well.

 

Laura:

[00:32:41] That's so cool. That'll be wonderful.

 

Dana:

[00:32:43] Yeah. Yeah. So really excited about that. That's always a really good chunk of training. A lot of times I do it February before an Olympic year is a kind of always when I've done it before. And just feeling like my training needed a boost right now and kind of getting back into the sport. And I've loved this trip and it's always kind of brought the best out of me and my family. My husband has some of his favorite memories are on these trips. And so getting setup for that. And then August will actually be my next major goal that's Nationals it'll be at Stanford just an hour away. So that'll be nice won't have to travel really for that. And then we start entering into 2020. I mean there'll be winter nationals in December and then the same tier Pro Series circuit in 2020. And so honestly my main focus is just kind of at each meet to hopefully each chipping away at little things. Even if that doesn't necessarily show up in my time it better turns. It's it's starting to feel that pieces of the race I want to have at Olympic trials in 2020. Start to have those pieces show up now.

 

Laura:

[00:33:46] That's great. I love the plan. Okay, so where can we follow you online to continue to just be inspired and encouraged by you? And also so we can cheer you on toward Tokyo?

 

Dana:

[00:33:55] You can follow me on Instagram is the main one @Dana.Vollmer and @DanaVollmer.com.

 

Laura:

[00:34:06] Awesome thank you so much Dana for coming on. I love your story. Obviously, I feel very connected because of the mom component. We're still training but you're absolutely awesome and we thank you for your time.

 

Dana:

[00:34:17] Yes definitely. Hopefully, we will be together on that 2020 team.

 

Laura:

[00:34:24] Such great wisdom from Dana today. I love how when the pressure became all too much. It was that trip to Fiji that really helped her reset. A few weeks ago we hadDr. Ben Holtzberg on our show and he told us the best way to shift to a purpose based mindset is to find ways to serve others outside of ourselves. And Dana has clearly discovered that. As she expresses is so important to continually keep our perspectives in check. When we feel overwhelmed by the pressures of other people's expectations. We have to remember who we are and why we love to do what we do and let everything else just fade away. Along those lines, I wanted to let you guys know about something coming up over the next few weeks that I have been working like crazy on and I'm super excited to tell you about. Have you ever been anxious going into a competition or felt like you won the warm-up but not the meet or maybe you just don't understand why you don't perform when it counts but you do in practice? If that sounds like you then listen up. I've designed an online course that is just for you. I'm going to teach you the most crucial mental skills that I've acquired over my 20 plus years as an elite athlete. I'm going to walk you step by step through the process that will help you optimize your performance and set you up for success. If you're ready for change and you want the skills to take your performance to the next level then I want you to head on over to LauraWilkinson.com/performance and sign up so you'll be the first to know when this course is available. And when you sign up I'm going to send you my list of the five things that you can do today to become a more confident competitor. So head on over to LauraWilkinson.com/performance. Next week we have legendary speed skater Dan Jansen on the show with us. Dan clinched Olympic gold in the final race of his career and dedicated that victory to his sister who died just hours before his event in a previous Olympic Games. His story is one of incredible dedication and determination and I'm so excited to share it with you next week. Be sure to hit the subscribe button wherever you're listening so you don't miss a single episode and remember to leave us a review because that helps us to keep bringing on these awesome guests. I'm Laura Wilkinson. Thanks again for listening. This podcast is produced by Evo Terra and simpler media. For more information on Hope sports and access to the complete archives please visit HopeSports.org

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About This Episode

Like many, Ingrid Drexel grew up playing all different kinds of sports. From basketball to volleyball, she loved being active and her parents encouraged extracurricular activities that would help her learn about teamwork and perseverance. But it wasn’t until she first got on a bike that Ingrid came to understand true freedom. In this episode of the Hope Sports show, she shares that she would pedal around town and through the mountains, fully immersed in nature and overwhelmed with the liberty to go anywhere in her hometown of Monterrey, Mexico. It’s this sense of freedom that made her fall in love with the sport, and rediscovering that joy would be critical to bringing her back through moments when she considered abandoning her dreams.

It was after a cycling camp that a coach approached her parents and encouraged them to invest in Ingrid’s obvious natural abilities. With a better bike and a list of races, her family began road-tripping around Mexico. She started winning race after race after race and at only 14, she was invited to be a part of the Junior National Team and compete in the Pan American games - a spot normally only available to someone over the age of 17. She spent her teen years balancing a budding cycling career and her desire to be a “normal” teenager. She even took three months off of racing completely to attend all of the sleepovers, school dances, and parties that she wanted to, but found it all unfulfilling in the end. Traveling around the nation had matured her and she had dreams of cycling internationally, getting a degree, and taking advantage of the unique opportunity before her. Back on the bike, she picked up where she left off and her success landed her Mexico’s only spot in road cycling for the London Olympic games.

Ingrid was in awe of the entire experience at her first Olympics. From being honored at the President’s house in Mexico, to traveling with other Olympians from her nation, to the enormity of the athlete village at the games, the experience was almost overwhelming. Having been pulled from the junior circuit to compete, she didn’t even know her own rivals, most of whom competed professionally. As a solo rider for her country she tried not to be intimidated by the nations with full teams, but when she pulled up to the starting line for her race and it began to rain, she realized that her real rival would be Mother Nature. Having done the majority of her training and racing in Mexico, Ingrid had never once ridden in the rain, much less raced. She was able to stay with the Peloton in the early section of the race but was taken down with another twenty riders when someone else crashed on a tight turn. Determined to represent her nation and finish the race, Ingrid dug her bike from the disorder of spokes and wheels. When the snow turned to hail and the verbal discouragement from other riders weighed heavy on her, still she pedaled on. She finished the race frozen, exhausted, and outside of the time limit, but still proud to have represented her nation even if she had to do it alone.

Not long after the Olympics offers came in from professional teams and Ingrid signed with her first European team. The learning curve was steep, though. A new continent, unfamiliar language, different coaching style, and increased race distance all left her feeling defeated and lonely. She was used to competing in 20 races each year and upped that number to 30 races in just three months. She pushed herself harder mentally and physically than she ever had before, but the results just weren’t there. In fact, the more she demanded of her body the less it seemed to perform and the more discouraged she became. Comments from her coaches about losing weight spurred her to develop an eating disorder and, at one point, she didn’t even have the strength to complete races. Negativity was an internal refrain that followed her on and off the course, in training, and throughout her personal life. Despite feeling she would be perceived as weak, Ingrid finally reached out to a sports psychologist and a nutritionist. With their help, she began what would be a one and a half year journey back to herself. She realized that she needed to listen to her body and fuel it properly. She began validating rest and relaxation. And, most importantly, she faced the negative self-talk that had been crippling her performance all along. The judgment and pressure she carried from herself and others could never be overcome with more extreme training or improved performance - it had to come from acceptance of who she was apart from cycling.

As her recovery gained momentum, so did her career. Her hard work paid off when her international ranking again earned Mexico one spot at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. But just because she won the spot for her nation did not mean her name was attached to it. In a surprising move, the Mexican Olympic Committee decided to wager the spot on the results of just one race. Unfortunately for Ingrid, in that very race she experienced a technical failure with her bike and ended up changing bikes three times before finishing in fifth place and losing her the Olympic seat. To further the blow, the Committee didn’t even honor their commitment to the athlete who won and gave the spot to an entirely different rider. Frustrated and disheartened, Ingrid returned home and left her bike in its box, unsure when, if ever, she’d get back on it.

Despite losing the bid to the Olympics, calls came in one after another for her to join other professional teams. “I just decided that I was going to do what I loved just because I loved it, not because people were expecting something from me,” Ingrid shares to Laura on the show. She signed with an American team in California and 2017 turned into her most successful year. Rather than placing all of her worth and value on her performance as a cyclist, Ingrid poured into other areas of her life. She finished her degree in International Business, found younger athletes to mentor, and got married. She still has hopes to compete in the 2020 Olympics, but recognizes that she can only do her best. Rather than being dispirited that the decision it is out of her hands, she knows, “being an Olympian doesn’t define who I am.” She now rides for herself, for the fun of it, and for the sense of freedom that she experienced all those years ago.

For more about Ingrid, follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

 

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laura:

[00:00:05] Welcome to the Hope Sports Podcast where high caliber athletes share about their triumphs and their struggles on their journey toward purpose. I'm your host Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson. Today we're speaking with Ingrid Drexel a professional cyclist from Mexico. Like many of us, Ingrid hopped on a bike as a young kid and found herself inspired by the freedom she felt zipping around town with the wind in her hair. As her love of cycling grew so did her opportunities. And she's been traveling around the world competing internationally for eight years now. Her story includes victories disappointments and challenges. And she shares it all with us here on today's show. Thanks for joining us. Here we go.

 

[00:00:44] Ingrid Drexel I'm so excited you could join us for the Hope Sports Podcast today!

 

Ingrid:

[00:00:48] Thank you Laura. Thank you for having me. I'm so excited to be able to have a chance to share some of my story with the people there are hearing of. And yeah. Thank you.

 

Laura:

[00:01:00] for those listening that may not be familiar with your story. How did you kind of get started into sports like how did it all begin?

 

Ingrid:

[00:01:07] So first of all my family like my parents were always the kind of parents that wanted us to do something like extracurricular activities besides school. They wanted to keep us like active during the day. Nothing like it was not like you must do these or you have to do this. It was mostly like just a start. Like for me you know forming us as a kid. And so they just wanted us to do any activities. And so we chose like why we wanted to do so before finding that cycling was my passion. I did like I don't know really like a different sports because I went into one.

 

Laura:

[00:01:45] Oh really?

 

Ingrid:

[00:01:46] Yeah. I went into one and I was like No mom I don't like this and she was like okay just another thing you know. So I jumped from one sport to another I did like tennis, swimming, ballet, basket and I'm tall. So they want me to be on the basketball team because of my height but I just didn't like it. I just think with large balls and stuff. So no. And then I did taekwondo for a long time actually. I liked it but then there was this summer a friend called me and she was like Hey there's a summer camp cycling summer camp. Like do you want to join? And I'm like yeah sure. And I was 8 at the time so I don't know I just discovered that that's what I liked. And like I guess the adrenaline of being on the bike and the sensation and the freedom and like the wind in your skin. I don't know I just liked it and I stuck to it ever since.

 

Laura:

[00:02:41] Well so is it like cycling what you see at the Olympic or the big tour levels right from the beginning or was it different when you were younger?

 

Ingrid:

[00:02:48] No. I think it was really different I don't think that I knew about all of that when I was 8. Like I just liked the idea and I know how to call it but just the way I felt being on the bike and like riding on the parks and like true then nature and like the mountains or whatever. I know it was pretty cool and then I went there with some friends so it was also like good company and stuff. So yeah. I think I didn't even know about the Grand Tours and like even you could be a professional cyclist like No I've never thought about that. And yeah. I just like it. Like I was just enjoying and yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:03:33] Well so how did that kind of developed then because you made the Olympic team in 2012 as a teenager. So you saying that maybe wasn't on the radar like at what point I guess did that becomes something on the radar?

 

Ingrid:

[00:03:45] Yeah. It was totally off the radar. I started the summer camp man the coach of the summer camp he talked to my parents and he was like I think Ingrid has potential. Like she wouldn't likes it she's really passionate about it and she's good. So I started mountain biking and then he encouraged my parents to buy me a road bike. So then I got a road bike and I started doing both disciplines. And like the next year, I started competing nationwide. And I don't know I just started winning everything I went to. Like it was just like from day one I just like I won every race and. But I just did it because I liked it. Like I didn't have any pressure from anyone. I just enjoy it like getting out there and suffering and giving it my all like yeah. It was kind of cool I guess. And then you started to travel along Mexico with my parents so it kind of became like a family road trip like going to races and stuff. I just did it kind of like a hobby I think. And when I was 14 I got called to be on the national team as a junior. But to be a junior in cycling you have to be 17 years. And I was 14. So that was like whoa! So yeah. Then they called me and I went to my first American championship. Is it like for the junior category. And I got two medals and I guess it all started developing from there.

 

[00:05:12] Things started to get more serious and then it was a really hard age for me because I was like during 15 and you know you're in school and you're with your friends and the parties and sleepovers and blah blah blah. Then you also got a commitment like OK you get a drink. Now you're representing Mexico and not only doing it like local races or national races. In Mexico we're really used to celebrating our 15 birthday. I know in the Americas the Sweet 16. But for us is 15. So it was that age all of my friends started traveling and having all of these 15 birthday parties in and I had to like compete and be out for the weekend and like train and get up early and blah blah blah. So that was really hard. I don't know really hard like point on my life where I had to decide. Like if I wanted to continue this road because I knew it was becoming more serious and kind of more professional thing rather than being still a hobby. Now you've got compromises with the national team and like you know with your coach and everyone that's helping you and that's committed to you.

 

[00:06:26] So on that year I decided to quit or give me a break for like three months maybe. And I did all of these like I traveled with my friends. I went to sleepovers and parties and all that. But at the end of the day, I decided that it was always the same thing like you went out with the same people you saw at school you're seeing the party and then. I was Yeah. They're cool and parties as well but I don't know. I just thought it was kind of the same thing. And I realized I wanted to do something more with my life and rather just like I don’t know just going out and partying and whatever. So yeah I decided to come back in and be more committed and I guess it all started from there from that point on. I've been part of the national team. And then yeah I guess well I went to four junior pennants which you can only go to two because is 17 and 18. But I went from 14 15 Sorry.

 

Laura:

[00:07:30] Breaking all the rules.

 

Ingrid:

[00:07:30] Yeah I know and then I went to junior worlds as well and I was two-time medalist. And I was 18 at the time so I was like Yeah this is really serious here. Like this is no joke no. And after that year so 2011 that was my last year as a junior and next year were the Olympics and it was gonna be my first year as an athlete. And I was more inclined undoing track cycling. Then there was this girl that she was she had been fighting the whole four years before the Olympics to like qualify on the track. So I was like I'm not gonna get into your way. She's been doing it and I couldn't have done it before because I was a junior and I really wanted to go on the track but I was like she's being like fighting for it so I'm going to step aside. And that's when I decided to go on the road and quit the track you know. And yeah. I just started with the road and I started competing for more road and find some races in the US. Because I normally raised only in Mexico and then internationally I raised phenoms and worlds but nothing else so.

 

[00:08:40] I try to find some races in the US so I could step up my game you know and race against people who I knew that was gonna be on the Olympics and stuff and I might try and see how it goes. And then I don't know. I think things just came. It was unexpected. The National Federation they gave us several qualifying events and I won all of them again. Like the elites that have been there and fighting for many years so I was like. And then we're waiting for the Federation to announce like who is the one that was gonna represent Mexico in the Olympics because we only had one spot. So on road cycling you can have four but as a nation we had very few points that we only had one spot. So the Federation had to pick one person and I won all the qualification events that they have. And then I got the call like hey you're gonna go to the Olympics. I was 18 at the time and I was like OK what's going on. Like I didn't expected and I think I mean that event obviously it changed my life and it changed the way I saw cycling.

 

[00:09:54] So I was still studying. I had just gotten into university because I knew I wanted a career besides cycling even though I knew that I could probably become a professional. I knew I had to have something like a background. You never know. Probably at the end of the day maybe I wake up tomorrow and I can't ride my bike anymore. What am I gonna do you know. So we've got to be prepared. And I always had this plan in my head that cycling is gonna be part of my life until a certain point. Because I'm I really wanna work and I wanna have a job or probably I don't know create something and work outside of cycling. And then obviously have a family and then having a family thing being a professional for me. I just think is really risky is a really risky sport and then I mean going out training for four or five hours having your husband and kids on home and knowing that you might not come back. That just it's kind of scary for me. I'm not saying I'm not gonna do it. Like I'm gonna keep on cycling because I love it but maybe not as a professional.

 

Laura:

[00:11:04] Well so I have a question for you because you're so wise in being so young and thinking OK well I can't cycle forever I need a backup plan just in case. I mean that's wisdom beyond most 18year olds I think. Well, your parents very influential in those thoughts? Or was this all you? Or was this from watching others?

 

Ingrid:

[00:11:23] I think they really helped. Because they also grew on a family where they had a good formation from their parents. And I think they translated that to us. I think it was just all part of how I have been raised in the education my parents gave me. Because I know for my age I was more mature than the average kids. So and I think it was also part of it. I started traveling a lot to races inside of Mexico. And then you open your eyes and see that. Well, I think it was really privileged because my parents could give me everything. Like I didn't need anything else. Because of that, I think that's where I am today. Because they could provide me with all the material equipment and they could take me to races and stuff. But also traveling and seeing that other people they couldn't because they didn't have the economic resources to do it. I just think that made me like value more what I had and you know being grateful to my friends for what they have given me. And you know and just taking that as a hey you've got this opportunity to take it and do the best you can with it. You know.

 

Laura:

[00:12:51] Yeah. No. I totally agree with you. I was an athlete started traveling as a teenager as well. And I think it's very impactful seeing how other people live and get through things and it just. It really opens up your eyes in a way that nothing else can right? Well OK so you make the 2012 Olympic team. It's a total shock to 18year old Ingrid. And what was the London Olympic experience like?

 

Ingrid:

[00:13:13] Oh my God! It was, first of all, like when you get all of the like the equipment and like you know all the material for my team and all of these bags full of things. Like the uniforms and then you go to the president's housing in the capital. Because the president's going to like I I'll give you some words and like wish you the best you know and all that and I'm like. I think I’m in a real shock and I was so young. I didn't. Like I didn't know anyone so then OK we traveled to London we get to the Olympic Village and I was just shocked. It's like another city in there like yeah it was Wow! I was shocked and I didn't even know any of my rivals at the time because I hadn't competed with them before because I was a junior. So I didn't even know who was who. So what was just like OK I'm gonna.

 

Laura:

[00:14:10] That's probably a good thing right?

 

Ingrid:

[00:14:11] I know. That's what I'm thinking now like. But I think that was the best thing that could ever happen. So I was just like OK I'm gonna do what I know. What I've always been doing just OK step on the line and wait for the start and go you know. It was really intimidating seeing all of the other countries like potential countries like the Netherlands, the U.S., Australia, Italy. They all had full teams and I was there like the Mexican the Latin alone you know you don't have a team. So it's kind of like you're in deep under different circumstances you know. They didn’t know me I didn't know who they were. So it was just but then I said you know what we're all here for the same thing you know. So just go out there and have fun. Then I remembered we were on the line and it started to rain and I have never raced or trained on the rain before never. So I was like Oh my God! I started freaking out I was like OK just come down. Because where I lived it was super risky to go out on the rain because of the traffic the cars and then the roads are super slippery. That it's just like soap like if you went out you would slip. Yeah. It was terrible. So that's why I've never rode or even raced on the rain. Because whenever it rained things would get suspended. So I was like OK come down it's the same for everyone but I know. I mean in London it rains always so I know a lot of Europeans we're used to like racing or turning on the rain. Like ok, no worries same circumstances for everyone. And then OK we started we got started at the mall. So just in front of the Buckingham Palace. So it was beautiful.

 

Laura:

[00:16:05] Wow. Yeah epic start.

 

Ingrid:

[00:16:07] Yeah. And then we started writing out to the countryside. And I remember we got there and then we had to do two big laps around a. I think It was a park or a college or something. And I remember that on one of the turns it was really tight and then while the palace and we were about 16 maybe. A girl crashed in front of like I don't know probably in the middle of the pack and she because he was really narrow. And I don't know probably 20 people crashed into her I was one of them. Nothing happened so nothing really scary like we didn't get seriously injured or anything. But that was like the key point of the race. Because after that crash it was like the climb which was like the toughest part of the race and that's where all the action started because it was the last lap.

 

[00:16:58] And so yeah I mean crashing it takes time to get your bike and then it was just a pile of people and stuff. And then OK so the front of the race went and I'm like well I'm here I got to finish. Doesn't matter. Just give it your all. So I stand up. Get on my bike again and started pedaling. And then a little group about five or six girls got together and started riding together. But then some of the girls that were on my group. They had teammates on the front so they didn't wanna work anymore because if we caught them at some point they were taking rivals to the others you know? So then there was.

 

Laura:

[00:17:41] Such a strategic I didn't even think about that.

 

Ingrid:

[00:17:42] Yeah! Exactly! So then there was a point that I had I was just riding by myself. And then it was like OK I don't think you can make it to the front group riding by myself you know man the rain and all but I just kept on riding. And then I remember they started like telling me things like Hey stop like you're never gonna make it. Just like give up and blah blah blah. And I was just like.

 

Laura:

[00:18:05] Who? Like other racers or who is?

 

Ingrid:

[00:18:06] Yeah. Yeah. The other girls who were on my group. I mean the front of the race was gone and they had teammates over there so they didn't care if they finished on time or not. But I was alone I was the only Mexican rider I was there. My first times on the Olympics I wanted to do my thing and I wanted to do my best. So I just kept on riding and then I started falling from the sky.

 

Laura:

[00:18:29] Are you serious?

 

Ingrid:

[00:18:31] I'm serious. I was like oh my God! What is this? Like God help me please.

 

Laura:

[00:18:39] Oh my God.

 

Ingrid:

[00:18:39] Oh you started feeling that ice hitting you and it was. Yeah. It was just so hurtful. And I didn't have anything for like the cold weather and me. So I just remember when I saw a finish line it was like oh like it’s just a light bright enough. And I remember I crossed the finish line. I was all covered like mud and like from all this flash from the road you know.

 

Laura:

[00:19:02] Did you even feel your arms and legs? You must’ve frozen?

 

Ingrid:

[00:19:04] I can’t feel anything. I was like just trembling like oh my hands were like purple from the rain and the cold and everything.

 

Laura:

[00:19:12] Oh that sounds so awful.

 

Ingrid:

[00:19:13] Yeah. And I crossed the line. And all my family was there and my mom she was really worried because the front of the race had finished like 10 or 15 minutes before I got there. So when the first group finished and my mom didn't see me she was like OK something's wrong. Like something happened to Ingrid. Where is she.? Because she was like 5 minutes she was in there, 10 minutes, 15 minutes and then you're like Oh my God where is Ingrid?! What happened?! And nobody told her where I was or what had happened or. So she was like really worried. And finally when I crossed the line and she saw me all covered in mud and like breathing she started to cry because she was like oh there’s my baby. Yeah. I mean now I think about it and I guess it was a really good experience for me. I really really had wanted to go back but with more experience knowing the riders and obviously having a team around me. So that's what I aim for on the next 4 years for the Olympics. So that was 2012 and then 2013 I got my first pro contract.

 

Laura:

[00:20:19] Oh exciting.

 

Ingrid:

[00:20:19] Yeah. I went with an Italian team so I went to Europe aged 19. I mean it was a different country, different people, different language. Even living by yourself. Leaving home. It was kind of hard and then there was a big team house and there were some times that you. Because you didn't do all the races so sometimes you were left alone at the house. And I felt so lonely because I wasn't used to that. That I would cry like at nights just because I didn't know anyone. And like I didn't know that.

 

Laura:

[00:20:52] How long would you be at the house? For training or for meet sir?

 

Ingrid:

[00:20:56] Well because all of the races mainly when we're in Europe. So I would go for a blog of probably 2-3 months. So that was a long period especially like on my first time and not knowing anyone. And I'm telling you like different country, different language, different people, then being alone in a big house you are like Okay. And then I wasn't used to like cooking for myself and cleaning the house and like washing clothes and all that. So you gonna grow I mean gonna grow. It was really harsh because you get really lonely and then you go to races and it wasn't what you expected. Because you're on a whole different level. You're going from juniors to elite. So you're going to raising probably 80k to racing 100k, 120k, 140k and a different pace, different woman, different conditions. I mean it's a really big jump and adaptation process really takes a lot from you. And you can be the strongest woman physically but if you don't have the mental strength to get aware of that. Like you're never gonna make it.

 

Laura:

[00:22:10] How did you do that? How how did you get through the Olympic? How did you get through these difficult times? I mean starting this new professional career all by yourself like that. I mean that is a lot. How do you handle that?

 

Ingrid:

[00:22:21] It was really hard for me especially well getting through the Olympics. I have the crowds and I think it was that log. And probably that's what was meant to happen to me in order to come back and stronger. And like desire more for the next block or whatever. So then when I got my first contract in 2013 my first race I remember it was Giro d'Italia which is like the most important race for women in cycling. So I was like just thrown to the wolves.

 

Laura:

[00:22:50] Again?

 

Ingrid:

[00:22:51] Yeah just go out there and do a thing. And for my first time I actually was really good. I had really good result so I was like OK this is I mean I can do it you know I can make it. But I was used to racing probably like 10, 15, 20 races at most in one year. And then on this 3 months I remember I had 30 races. So my body after the Giro I think I didn't even know how to handle like recovery and all of that stuff because I wasn't used to all this. I kept on racing because that's what the calendar and the team had for me. And I just got onto like I bunked. I had chronic fatigue I couldn't even pedal I wasn't sleeping I was that just got into my head like OK probably you're not good enough to be at this level. It was just really hard. I remember the last races I didn't even finish because I couldn't like my body couldn't do it. And then it was also a mental thing. Now it was both physical and mental. So I came back home after all of that and I was obviously really disappointed with myself. And you know letting people down because it's just for a first contract first time is unprofessional.

 

[00:24:09] Everyone expects something from you. And I guess sometimes you start driving that towards people's expectations instead of knowing why you're doing it you know. I Started cycling because it's something I love not because I wanted to like I don't know surprise people or whatever you know or leave to their expectations. But I guess you forget all of that with the pressure and the pressure to perform and do good because you were really good nationally you know. So I came back and I was just so frustrated and I was like I kept on telling myself like I got to train more more more more and more because these girls train a lot. And that's why they're really good. But he was totally the opposite. I had to rest I had to let my body just like disconnect for a while in order to like get freshen up and start again. Because I had just bonked into and gone into a hole and had a chronic fatigue and like all my levels were on the floor and. What I didn't understand that and I think it's also soft leads. We're just thinking about OK what can we do better to be better and you can train here so hard on yourself when you never want to rest you know.

 

[00:25:29] So I started going with a sports psychologist and and I didn't want to do it because I was like No I'm not crazy. And you know how people saying is like you know seeing a psychology is because you're crazy. And I was like I'm not crazy. And everyone kept on telling me but I guess you don't understand until you actually go and see how it works. I started seeing a sports psychologist and I started realizing that first of all I had to listen to my body. Second of all I knew I had to race. And third of all realizing that I had mental issues it was not all physical. Break yourself up with the results. And just thinking about OK you were like super good winning everything in Mexico and like always having a podium internationally and the America level and now you're no one. You're like just OK you're one more in the pack. So that's really hard to overcome that. And just like people talking like oh you know you see Ingrid's not good enough like she was the best year. But as soon as you throw her to the professional then like the highest level she's no one. And so that starts getting in your head. And we finally after a year and a half it took me a year and a half to regain confidence and regain my fitness and started competing again and being myself again. So I made those changes and I think that really helped me.

 

[00:26:57] And I was on the road to qualifying for the real Olympics in 2016 and I think it was really good. I was doing everything right. And one year before the Olympics. I was racing I was winning races. I was getting points to qualify. So the way to qualify to the Olympics in road cycling is you gotta be on the first 100 on the ranking in the world ranking or as a nation be in the top 22 on the ranking. So I did that. I accomplished that. I was in the top 100 as a rider as an individual rider and I gave Mexico the ranking. I think we were at the end on the 20th. But again it was only one spot that we gained because we were so far back down on the ranking. So there was one spot I had won the spot for Mexico but the spot that you gain it doesn't have your name. So it's the national team that decides at the end of the day who goes. So they told us that they were gonna pick who went on the national championships. I was like OK so you're basing who's gonna represent Mexico in the Olympics with one race. After all the hard work. And I was like OK one more race. You can do it. Anything can happen you know it was one race. So I remember we started the race. My bike broke. Something happened in the chain goes stuck and it just it broke the buck part and I had a spare bike but it wasn't my fit it was my mom's bike but I had taken it just in case. So I changed bikes like three times. And it was just horrible I mean all of the changes and I mean you know it gets into your head.

 

So yeah. At the end I think I got like fifth on that national championships. And then they have said that the girl who won the championships was gonna be the one who went to the Olympics. But no at the end of the day they changed everything again. And they decided that another girl who wasn't even on the long list for the Olympics was gonna go. And it was all political.

 

Laura:

[00:29:21] So frustrating.

 

Ingrid:

[00:29:21] Yeah. I remember after that I went back to Europe with my team because I was going to keep on racing there. And they haven't given any news so it was like okay. I mean it's been like probably 2 or 3 weeks after that race and we haven't heard anything about it. This was July already and the Olympics were in August and we didn't know who was gonna go. So again I was racing the Giro d'Italia and one morning I remember I woke up and I wanted to Facebook you know how you wake up and you go into your social media. And so I started seeing Facebook and then I saw posts from the national team and that was the news announcing the girl that was gonna go to the Olympics.

 

Laura:

[00:30:06] So you didn't get a phone call. You didn't get an email. You saw it on their Facebook.

 

Ingrid:

[00:30:09] Anything. Yes. Anything. I didn't get a single call, a single email, text nothing. I saw the news on Facebook. And I remember this girl that had been picked. She was my roommate at the time we were on the same team. So I woke up first and I saw the news and I went out of the room and I started crying. And then when she woke up obviously she was really happy. It was a really hard moment. Tough moment because you wanted to be happy for her. Then at the same time I was just devastated. And I couldn't even believe that they hadn't had the guts to call us you know and give us the news personally or hey you're going or hey you're not going because of this is that. And I tried calling them I tried emailing them and texting or whatever and I never got a response back like I never heard back from them. So because they knew they had violated their own rules you know. So yeah I mean it was just really hard and after that I just crashed again like mentally you know it was you know. You get depressed you were like all these hard work for nothing and blah blah blah. You know it starts getting in your head. And I decided that year 2016 that I was gonna tired maybe this wasn't for me and you know.

 

Laura:

[00:31:36] Like professionally and everything.

 

Ingrid:

[00:31:38] Yeah. Like what's the point if you're doing all this. And you're I mean you have this goal and you achieve it you get to it. And then at the end of the day it doesn't depend on your performance or on what you're doing to go or not to go to a race?

 

Laura:

[00:31:55] Someone can just take it away right?

 

Ingrid:

[00:31:56] Exactly. So I was like You know what. And I was stunning at the time. I was like OK I'm just going to dedicate all my time to finishing my college degree and starting the next chapter in my life. And so I came back home after Europe and I was just really crushed and I left my bike. I remember I traveled with my bike back home. But you know it's parked in a big box and so I left it in the box when I came home I didn't even want to see it. I just want to like to refresh mentally and physically. And I tried to enjoy my family and friends and all that. And then I remember I got an email from a team from a European team saying that they wanted me to be part of their team next year. I'm like OK. But I wasn't even in the mood. And then I don't know probably like two weeks later I got another email from another team. And then I got another email from another team. So I had like four offers from four different teams to be on their team professionally. Now Im like what?! Like this it never happened before. This must be a sign like this. I mean I must be doing something good for 4 doing things they want me on the team. You know?

 

Laura:

[00:33:17] I would think so. Yeah!

 

Ingrid:

[00:33:20] Yeah. I thought to myself like you know what dialing doesn't define me. Being an Olympian doesn't define who I am. Obviously something you want as an athlete because who doesn't you know. You're an athlete you always wanna be on the first step of the podium and you're there to win. You know you're competing to win. But at the end of the day I think you gotta find. You gonna realize that being on a bike doesn't define who you are. Going to the Olympics or being an Olympic athlete doesn't define who you are. There's more to life besides that. And not everyone has the same opportunities. And most important of all things happen for a reason. And yeah I think that was a really important year in my career to make me realize that. Cycling is what I love and I do it because I love it not because I want to be someone. I had been for years in Europe already and I got an offer from an American team and I was like OK I wanna make a change. You know. Changes are good. So I signed with an American team based in California northern California. It was one of my best years of my career 2017 honestly and I had thought about retirement. And yeah I guess it all like you all came back to you're doing this because you love it not because it defines you. No.

 

[00:34:52] After all of that and after leaving all of that I just started realizing that I wanted to keep on doing this sport because it was what I like to do. And because I wanted to leave something to the upcoming generations and try to share my story and tell them that first. Because everyone in Mexico probably opportunities aren't as a. They don't present us often as in other developing countries so everyone ask me like how do you got there? Like how do you do it? This is your eight year as a professional. Like how no one has been able to do that? No one has had a contract or that many years in a row. So that's what I want to give to the Sports. I want to give back what it has shown me and how it had made me grow. Become a more mature person and realizing that there is more to life than just being an athlete. Cycling is a really hard sport I mean you got to love suffering you. Got to be able to handle the pressure especially the pressure about you got to be really skinny you're a girl and you got to lose weight and blah blah blah. You know just all of that gets into your head and I think it causes a lot of disorders in female athletes even male. So you're also playing with your health.

 

Laura:

[00:36:14] Well I'd love to ask you about that because I know you've been pretty open about how you struggled with eating disorders. And that's also I mean very prevalent in my sport as well. And so I'd love it if you could briefly take us through kind of how that developed? And how you I mean maybe you still deal with I don't know. But how you overcame it and get through that daily?

 

Ingrid:

[00:36:31] For becoming a full road athlete I did a lot of track. So track cycling you gonna have more muscle because you've got to be more strong. And because it's all about power and shored efforts and stuff. So it's gonna be all power all muscle all for strength. So I'm a big girl and I developed muscle really easily so. So yeah. I had a big body I had a lot of muscle in my legs so when I started road cycling and I went to Europe I mean most of the girls are really skinny. They just start telling you like you'll lose weight you can be better. Hey I think you get a couple of pounds. Couple of extra pounds on you like it starts getting you in your head. Even if you're not an athlete and you're a girl and someone tells you that you're overweight you're always shocked you know and gets into your head. And so yeah I was like OK I gonna take care of myself. So I saw a nutritionist and he was like guiding me and stuff. But every time it was the same thing you got to lose weight. You gotta lose weight. You got to lose weight. Got to lose weight. And I remember there was a year that I lost a lot of weight because I wasn't recovering. So I had to like I was obviously on a calorie deficit. But it was just I felt good on the bike or stronger but I wasn't happy because you don't have energy to do anything else besides training you know. You just you have solo energy. You're in a bad mood all the time because you're not getting all your nutrients. You're not recovering well. And then also if you get invited to like dinner or I don't know to have coffee with friends you don't want to go because you don't want to eat there. You know?

 

Laura:

[00:38:18] It’s stressful? Yeah. Ah-hmm...

 

Ingrid:

[00:38:18] Yeah. It’s really stressful. So I just realized and I went again to the nutritionist and I'm like OK I got to be skinny but I got to be healthy as well. So I started working with her and it worked really good because she showed me how to eat and what to eat. And fulfilled my all the other things that I lose on wild training wild racing and getting all my nutrients. And yeah I started feeling better obviously I gained some pounds but it was strength it was muscles. And I realized I was happier and I didn't have to be stressed all the time. And as long as you're performing. Try not to worry about that I mean I know you have to maintain a weight but you have to be healthy. I mean if you're not healthy and you're unhappy it's worthless.

 

Laura:

[00:39:07] Sports only lasts so long too. You have to I think remember that we think it's our whole world but on wrapped up in it. But it keeps going on after you're done with your sport. At some point everybody has to be done with their sport you know.

 

Ingrid:

[00:39:08] Exactly!

[00:39:17] Totally. I mean you're gonna hit that point that you're either no longer qualified to keep on racing because you're too old or you're just not performing as well or you never know. Or you'd have an accident that hopefully we don't. But yeah you got to realize that there's gonna be a point where you're not gonna be a professional athlete anymore.

 

Laura:

[00:39:39] Well changing gears a little bit. I love that you talked about how you are starting your university studies and you kind of going to take your time on it. And I think last year you finally got your degree right in international business?

 

Ingrid:

[00:39:52] Yeah. Yeah. I did.

 

Laura:

[00:39:54] Congratulations!

 

Ingrid:

[00:39:54] Thank you. I graduated on May last year. I felt really happy because I had been studying or doing my college degree for six years so.

 

Laura:

[00:40:08] Nice. That's dedication right there and consistency.

 

Ingrid:

[00:40:12] Instead of taking the four years that you usually take. I finished in six because I was doing professional cyclist at the time and I didn't want to leave my studies. And yeah I mean there were some semesters where I had to go to Europe and compete which I had to only take probably one or two classes. But yeah I'm so happy I got my degree.

 

Laura:

[00:40:34] Well, didn't something else happened right after you got your degree?

 

Ingrid:

[00:40:37] I got married. Yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:40:39] That's awesome. Well congratulations on both of those. It's so exciting.

 

Ingrid:

[00:40:43] Thank you.

 

Laura:

[00:40:44] Now what's next for you? Are you gonna be doing more pro circuits? Is there even a thought of 2020? Or are you moving on past the Olympics? Or what are your goals?

 

Ingrid:

[00:40:52] So I signed two more years with the team that I've been racing for the last two years the American team name Tibco–Silicon Valley Bank. And I signed two more years because yeah my ultimate goal again is the 2020 Olympics. After that I've talked to myself and I've come to a conclusion that I want to retired from the pro circuit. I'm gonna be settling with my friends maybe? But I would want to retire just take a break from the pro circuit. This year I have a full calendar starting on March in Europe with my team and it goes all the way to October.

 

Laura:

[00:41:27] Wow!

 

Ingrid:

[00:41:28] It's a really important year because it's where the Olympic ranking opens up. So every raise you go every race is an opportunity to get points and go up there and the ranking.

 

Laura:

[00:41:40] Has Mexico changed its rules at all on how they pick the Olympians?

 

Ingrid:

[00:41:43] Not really. That's what I would gonna say. I'm going into this whole process again knowing that the final decision is not in my hands. So I'm getting into this process with that idea. And knowing that if I do everything in my power to qualify and whatever the outcome is that I can retire happy and satisfied and knowing that I did everything in my power to go. So I think that mentality is gonna help me get through it more easily. I have full support of my husband full support of my family my coach. So yeah that's my goal. That's my program. And yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:42:33] It's a great great way to go into it. I think it's beautiful. It's beautiful. Well where can we follow you to continue to be inspired by you and to cheer you on along all of these adventures. Like where can we follow you online?

 

Ingrid:

[00:42:45] Obviously Instagram my thing right now is social and the top social media. So my Instagram is @IngridDrexel so just my name and last name. And I also have a Facebook page same my name Ingrid Drexel and Twitter @IngridDr so yeah. Those are social media as I use and I usually post what I'm doing and.

 

Laura:

[00:43:07] Awesome. Ingrid thank you so very much for coming on the podcast today. You are just awesome. I love your personality is adorable and I love just the way you handle things your heart for other people. And for showing people what you've learned I think that's brilliant so thank you again so much for being on.

 

Ingrid:

[00:43:22] Thank you very much for having me. Really nice to meet you. And I'm so happy I can have a chance to tell people a little bit of my story.

 

Laura:

[00:43:34] I'm so thankful to Ingrid for joining us on today's show. I really appreciate her honesty as she shared about the struggle to switch to the pro circuit. I think we can all relate to those moments when others expectations weigh heavy on us and if we let it that pressure can become crippling. But I love how Ingrid shared about her journey of releasing those voices and how that allowed her to cycle just for the pure joy of it. Such a great lesson for all of us no matter what we're doing. Be sure to tune in next week to hear from Olympic gold medalist diver David Boudia. He shares about what it's like to chase an Olympic dream from the age of 7 and how it's forever changed his life. Be sure to subscribe wherever you listen because you don't want to miss this one. And please go ahead and leave us a review because those reviews help us get these amazing guests on the show. I'm Laura Wilkinson. Thanks again for listening. This podcast is produced by Evo Terra and Simpler Media. For more information on Hope sports and to access the complete archives please visit HopeSports.org

 

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About This Episode

“You always have to believe that you can achieve the unthinkable.”

She was only nineteen years old when she won gold in Athens. Weeks before the Olympics she hadn’t even made the team.

For most of us, getting to the Olympics is a far off dream, but Mariel Zagunis shares that it always seemed completely attainable. The daughter of two Olympic rowers, she grew up believing that she, too, could someday make Team USA. Despite her parents legacy, however, rowing was not of interest to Mariel. She says that her mom put her older brother in fencing lessons to keep him from sword fighting all throughout the house. After tagging along to his classes for several week, Mariel decided to give it a try as well. What started as a way to divert boundless energy quickly became national competitions and junior world championships, all with the same coach she still trains with today.

Having Olympian parents was a real asset to her as she became a more serious athlete. They instilled in her a strong work ethic, a positive attitude towards competition, and, most importantly, a solid support system for when things didn’t go her way. This was particularly important in 2004 when Mariel was devastated to have not qualified to fence at the Olympics in Athens. All she wanted to do was sit on the couch and cry, but her parents encouraged her to continue to train as if she were going. This advice would be key for her. Just weeks before the Olympics she got a call that the delegate from Nigeria would not be going and a spot opened up in the competition.

Mariel reflects that she went to Athens to prove to everyone that she was meant to be there the whole time. Despite being only nineteen and the lowest seeded competitor, she came out swinging - literally. A true underdog story, Mariel went on to win the gold medal and break a 100 year drought in American fencing history. She turned heads not only in the world of fencing, but across the nation. Four years later in Beijing she stood at the top of the podium flanked on both sides by American women as Team USA swept the event and she went home with another gold. In those 2008 Olympics a team event was offered and she snagged a bronze medal.

Her impact on the Olympic community was recognized as she was chosen by her peers to be the flag-bearer at the London Olympics in 2012. Mariel shares that all of her success didn’t seem too overwhelming until she was highlighted at those Olympics. She felt the pressure mount and missed the podium in both the individual and team events.

Mariel headed home to the support of her family and friends, who she credits with helping her get through the aftermath of a devastating games. Humbled by the loss in the spotlight, she took quite a long break from fencing. She wasn’t sure if she would even come back to fencing, but shares, “I had to prove to myself that this one loss does not define me.” She dedicated the next few years to training even more purposefully. She shifted her perspective to see mistakes as opportunities to learn and improve herself. Rio was a bit disappointing as she walked away with a bronze medal in the team event, but didn’t medal in the individual event. But her new growth mindset didn’t leave her feeling defeated, it left her feeling empowered to train for her next Olympics in Tokyo.

Gearing up for the 2020 Olympics looks different, though. Mariel gave birth to a daughter in 2017 and now balances athletics with motherhood. She says that she didn’t fully comprehend how much her body and mind would change as she became a mom, but feels surprisingly good heading back into competition. She has had to change how she manages training, but, at only seven months postpartum, she took the bronze medal in Moscow at the World Championships and now has her eyes set on a third Olympic gold.

Today, she finds the pressure to win exhilarating instead of paralyzing. She finds confidence in her training and shows up to competitions knowing that she has put in the work, prepared as much as possible, and can let her best effort speak for itself. And win or lose, she credits her coach of 24 years, her family, and her friends for supporting her no matter what. “No one becomes an Olympic champion on their own or by luck,” says Mariel. It’s through hard work and with the backing of her community that she looks forward to Tokyo.

 

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Laura:

[00:00:04] Welcome to the Hope Sports Podcast where we chat each week with athletes about purpose. I'm your host Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson. I'm so excited for today's guests not just because she's a personal friend of mine but because there is no limit or barrier that can contain this woman. And I am constantly inspired by her amazing feats. Muriel's Zagunis is the most decorated fencer in American history. But her history-making path wasn't without struggles disappointments and defeats. She shares about her mindset after not qualifying for the Olympic Games. How she learned to find confidence in her training and her life as a mom has changed her perspective. Now listen up because this interview is packed full of wisdom.

 

Welcome Muriel's goodness to the hope sports podcast. I'm so excited that you're here with us today.

 

Mariel:

[00:00:55] Thank you for having me. I'm excited to talk to you Laura.

 

Laura:

[00:00:58] Now I have been blessed and so lucky to know you for a number of years now but for our audience who might not be as familiar with you. Can you give us a little bit of background about how you got started in fencing?

 

Mariel:

[00:01:09] Sure. Yeah. It's a very obscure sport. Not a lot of people fence or really know what fencing is all about. I have to say in recent years it's gotten more popular which is really cool. So when I tell people that I fence now they actually know that it's a sport and an Olympic sport rather than before when they'd be like, What's that? And so I started fencing now almost. Oh man! Twenty-four years ago almost? And I started because my older brother when we were kids he wanted to sword fight. And so my mom needed to find an outlet for that. And so she found an after school fencing program just at a very very small club. And so I was the younger sibling just sitting there on the sidelines watching him have so much fun hitting people with swords and I thought it looked like fun. So that's that's how we all got started in the random sport of fencing.

 

Laura:

[00:02:00] Oh that's great. Now your parents were both Olympians. Olympic rowers in the 76 Games in Montreal. Right?

 

Mariel:

[00:02:06] Yeah that's how they met actually they both made the team.

 

Laura:

[00:02:09] Oh that's so cool. So was there ever like a push for you and your brothers to be rowers too?

 

Mariel:

[00:02:14] So. Not really. I think that both my parents being Olympians gave us as kids a sense of what the Olympics were from a very young age probably more so than I don't know your average kid. You know we I remember looking at their Olympic memorabilia books and like all their pictures and hearing their stories and just being like wow! That's so cool! Like I want to be that when I grow up, you know? And It was just kind of this concept that was obtainable. You know I think that some people maybe when they look at trying to aspire to be an Olympian or make an Olympic team or even win a gold medal it seems so far out of reach and it seems so just I don't even know where to begin. But because my both of my parents were Olympians it kind of seemed like oh yes you know that's what they did. So I want to do that. Sure. Why not, you know? And so as far as rowing they never really pushed my brothers and me to try it. But we did have a monitor in our house growing up because my parents still used it for exercise. And so they got us on that a few times. And I was like I'm never doing this again. I remember I was like I don't know eight or nine or something like that and I was like I feel like I'm going to die like I don't even know how much how many meters or whatever I did on it. But I was like nope not for me. I did not seem like fun at all.

 

Laura:

[00:03:36] Well that's one of those rowing machines right? You can work out on well. I don't. That's tough. That's a tough workout right there.

 

Mariel:

[00:03:42] Oh my God! Yeah. For anybody. And so then yeah. I was like nope. This doesn't seem like fun. So and luckily they didn't push us one way or the other they were very supportive in whatever we wanted to do. And luckily we found fencing instead of rowing so we created our own.

 

Laura:

[00:03:57] Well, so I know you said it kind of made it seem normal for you. Like this is a totally achievable thing that I can do. Are there other ways that having Olympian parents is kind of help you throughout your career and even just life and generally, you think?

 

Mariel:

[00:04:11] Oh my gosh totally. You know even if you're on a clear path towards the Olympics and you know what it takes and you know want to make those sacrifices and you are willing to give it everything you have there are. As you know always going to be ups and downs and obstacles to overcome and failures that you have to pick yourself up from. And I think having parents who went through all that in order to make a team and made the sacrifices that needed to be made and definitely went through their own struggles. For sure helped me and continues to help me to this day, through my journey and through each Olympic games each Olympic cycle. Because everyone has been so different that there's always something that I'm coming to my parents with and needing their help on or seeking their advice for. And it just you know just they've been so supportive and understanding. Especially now being a grown woman with my own child. It's like Wow! They made so many sacrifices to help me achieve these goals and these dreams. And I can never thank them enough like throughout the rest of my life for doing what they did to help me get to the level that I am. That I've got to.

 

Laura:

[00:05:28] That’s so cool. Was there any part of it that was maybe more difficult like was it was there any pressure on you or any kind of stress on that on that angle or were they always just supportive?

 

Mariel:

[00:05:39] Oh they were supportive. I don't know again looking back at you know hindsight. And I'm sure you also you have this too because we have similar kind of experiences as far as getting to the top top which is the Olympic gold medal. We didn't just make Olympic teams you and I. We won the Olympic gold medal which is just again just a completely different Echelon than even just making it on an Olympic team. Both are great achievements but of course, the gold medal is what most of us are there for. And so there wasn't too much pressure. You know, Once I was starting to do well and stuff. But I definitely looking back again my parents instilled in me an incredible work ethic. And I think that there was definitely some pressure to be like well you know you're not going to go to your friend's birthday party this weekend. You're gonna go to a fencing competition and things like that where, you know? I definitely like at the moment hated it. Because when you're you know eleven, twelve, thirteen years old you want to be involved and have that social life and all that stuff.

 

But I think they pushed me in all the right ways and I'm thankful that they did obviously. Because now that I'm grown and have been doing this for so long and I'm on my own as far as like my mom's not going to tell me that I need to go to practice. Like I do it on my own now because I think they instilled in me a really rigorous kind of work ethic mentality. I need to do this. I need to work hard. I need to sacrifice certain aspects of my life in order to be successful. And I know whether or not people would agree with that? It obviously resulted in my Olympic teams and my Olympic medals that I have. So you know. Of course, it obviously worked in some rest in some respects. So.

 

Laura:

[00:07:24] That's cool. Parenting is a hard sport. I would say in itself. So kudos to your parents for doing a good job.

 

Mariel:

[00:07:30] Well you get another gold medal in that. Geez! With all that you have going on. My goodness! I have won. I have won. And I don't even know how I make it to the gym half the time these days. And you have four. And I was like, oh my gosh!

 

Laura:

[00:07:42] Well, you just start juggling at some point. So you know one's always in the air at least.

 

Mariel:

[00:07:47] Yeah. Yeah. man.

 

Laura:

[00:07:50] OK. Well back to where we talking about. So the women's saber event it was being contested for the very first time at the 2004 Summer Games. But you actually didn't initially qualify the Nigerian I guess Nigeria. Decided not to send their qualified fencer to the Olympic Games. And since you were the next highest seeded fencer in the world you got selected to go and represent the USA. And you didn't just represent like we mentioned you won America's first gold medal in fencing in 100 years. Please take us through that whole process because that's it's crazy on all friends.

 

Mariel:

[00:08:25] Yes a definite underdog story to say the least. You know not making the team initially was of course very heartbreaking. And the way that fencing. The qualification goes for fencing the cut off for us at that point was the end of March in 2004. So I had these whole couple months of limbo where I was just like I don't know if I'm going to be able to get this alternate spot. I don't know if my dreams are crushed. I'm going to have to wait another four years for another chance and all this stuff.

 

And so I think that one of the things that really helped me pull through when the opportunity arose was the fact that I didn't give up. I just even though there was such a small small sliver of hope that I somehow could make the team. I continue to train as if I had already made the team and as if I was going to be there no matter what. And I think that just having that positive mentality having myself. And my whole support system supports me and be like you know what we're going to just see out the rest of these next couple of months. We're going to keep training as if everything worked out the way we expected it to. And you know I think that made a big difference was having that positive attitude. And staying in the gym and not curling up in a ball on a couch and crying every day which is what I wanted to do. When I didn't initially make the team. Because you know like I said that was the end of March and the Olympics weren't until July, August.

 

And so if I had just kind of given up on everything. I 100 percent would not have been physically or mentally prepared when that opportunity arose. And so I think that having you know very positive support system around me just really rallying and being like you know what you already we're supposed to be you know training these months and getting ready for this Olympics. And so why don't we just see it out and make the most of this time that we have. And that's what I did and luckily I stuck with it because then sure enough you know a couple of months later I found out that I was going to be the alternate. And like I said it was nice to not have the pressure on me. And great to feel physically and mentally prepared for that opportunity.

 

Laura:

[00:10:37] Well so what was that like? I mean going in. You prepared. You know, Just hoping for that sliver of hope like you said. And then you got to go in and do it. But then you went and won. I mean. What? Did you expect that? Were you surprised? Or were you thinking the whole time like yeah I've got a shot at this?

 

Mariel:

[00:10:53] I. I believed in myself. And I believe that I had been training and preparing to win an Olympic gold medal. Like I mentioned before. Some people are just as happy working to a personal goal or working to just make the Olympic team. Knowing that I don't know that their time or their weight or their performance isn't where it needs to be to win a gold medal. But you always have to believe in yourself. You always have to think that you can achieve the unthinkable. And I went into that Olympics in Athens just fulfilling my own expectations. I didn't care about what other people were saying about oh she's just an alternate or she doesn't stand a chance and all this stuff. I wasn't listening to me that nobody was even really paying any attention. So I showed up. Just happy to be there. And I was like I'm glad I have the second opportunity this second chance and I'm not going to let it go to waste. And I just fulfilled my own expectations and I went there to win. I knew all along that I was working towards a gold medal. And I just tense my heart out and kind of prove to myself and to the world that I was meant to be there the whole time.

 

Laura:

[00:12:00] It's so good. I love it! I love it now. What was the aftermath like? Because now all of a sudden you're you're made you've made history. I mean you won this first gold medal for America in like 100 years. I mean what was there a lot of kind of you know stuff thrown on you after that or how was that aftermath?

 

Mariel:

[00:12:17] I'm not some. I mean like yes or no. It was definitely a whirlwind as you know. It's just like that post-Olympic time. But that couple of months or a handful of weeks where just like everybody kind of wants a piece of you and it's like it's very overwhelming especially as a 19-year-old. and so it was a little bit crazy. But of course, it ended up dying down. And then the ramp up against Beijing four years later there was a lot of hype run around me and repeating and. But you know to be honest our U.S. team was very strong so there was a lot of attention on my teammates as well. And so I don't know I just I think back to that time was already over 10 years ago. So crazy to just think that I just put my head down and dug deep and I was like not even thinking of it as I need to do this or I need to defend my title or anything like that. I just again went out and fence my heart out and did what I knew how to do the best which is you know to perform in and fence how I knew how to fence. And it resulted in another goal which I was extremely satisfied and happy with of course.

 

Laura:

[00:13:25] And so I mean not only did you just defend your gold medal but you also added a bronze medal in the team event. Now was that? I mean, I guess how is that different having a team to stand on the podium with. Even though it was bronze versus an individual gold medal. Like what's that what is the different feeling I guess in that result?

 

Mariel:

[00:13:44] Yes it's very different but you know it also means a lot because you're winning that medal with your teammates, you know. And so fencing is a very individual sport and it's also very unique. Because it's kind of like I don't know if you think of it like the track events where you're one day you're running 100 meters against your teammates and you want to beat everybody. It doesn't matter if they're your teammates or not but you're running 100 meters and you want to win and so you win. And then a couple days later you're running the four by 100 meter with your teammates, you know. I mean.

 

And so that's kind of similar to how it works with fencing. So actually in Beijing, I beat my teammates for brought for that in the semifinals in the finals. I don't know if you remember that we swept so it was like I literally beat them but we also swept the podium and then a couple of days later we went and won a bronze medal together. So we were fencing together so it is a very different mentality when you're going into the team event. But an Olympic medal chance an Olympic medal is really awesome.

 

And also just real quick not a lot of people realize this the fencing when women's saber was added as it is an Olympic event. They took away or put us I guess in place of another event. They didn't give fencing as a sport more medals or more events so we had to fit in there. So in Athens, we only had the individual. The individual women's saber. In Beijing we had individual and the team back in London we only had individual again and then Rio we had the individual and the team. We have that opportunity to have the team event in Beijing because we didn't have it in Athens was awesome because you know obviously two Olympic medals are better than one to handle.

 

Laura:

[00:15:24] Definitely. Definitely. Well, so how was winning the very first one in Athens when you were that underdog to winning and defending that title and then winning the one with your teammates? Like I was one better than the other were they both sweet and different ways? Like what? Yeah. Explain that to me.

 

Mariel:

[00:15:40] Yeah. I get asked that question a lot. It's sweet in different ways for sure. It's like choosing between your children. And you know like you can't decide like which one. They're both so different experiences and you know to win Athens you know being an alternate first gold medal in 100 years for the US, first gold medal for Olympic medal for women's saber, and then to repeat in Beijing. That's repeat. That's four years later defending your title. Yeah. So is they all this every Olympics. Again as you know I'm sure has its own feel its own memories its own just everything that goes into it. It's just a different time in your life too, you know? Four years is a is a long time a lot of changes, you know. So it's just. They're both very very special to me in their own way.

 

Laura:

[00:16:28] That's cool. So      OK you have two Olympic gold medals and a bronze and you decide to keep on going. And so you're heading into London 2012 for your third Olympic games. Did that feel like walking into Beijing where you're defending again even though you said you kind of kept your head down and you just wanted to do your thing? Or was this like you mentioned each Olympic Games is different was this is a totally separate event?

 

Marie:

[00:16:50] I think it was it felt different for sure. Again it's like your third Olympics is ofcourse going to feel very different than your first. And then I have the added kind of attention on me being selected to be the flag bearer. And I think that that kind of changed the mentality a little bit. Because suddenly you know I went from two Olympics and you know making history. Which was awesome! But not a lot of people really paid attention to it to all of a sudden huge spotlight on my story and my history and my performance and this and that.

 

And so I think it definitely changed the way I felt that my performance went to London because of that. I mean not to say that who knows how it would have gone if I wasn't selected Siberian flag. Being flag bearer was an incredible honor and it was such an amazing experience to lead Team USA into the opening ceremony. I was just absolutely incredible. But it probably ended up being the highlight for me for the London games because I did come away empty handed.

 

Laura:

[00:17:57] Yeah. I mean that is because you didn't even walk in Beijing, did you? because you were the first day of competition.

 

Marie:

[00:18:02] Yeah. We're the first day.

 

Laura:

[00:18:03] So did you do the opening ceremony in Athens?

 

Marie:

[00:18:07] I did opening but not closing in Athens.

 

Laura:

[00:18:10] Okay. This is your set your second opening ceremony and your flag there. I mean because that's huge. It is a huge deal because all the U.S. athletes come together. And they pitch their favorite stories. And the athletes are the ones that vote on it. And so I remember when I heard you got selected I was so excited. Just cause I knew you and I knew your story. And you know I was there with NBC with the media. But I was so stoked that it was you and watching you just carry that flag. It was really really cool. But I can imagine the pressure that must come with that.

 

So do you think you just kind of let that in? Or I guess yeah. What. You know, I guess what aspect of it that you think affected the performance?

 

Marie:

[00:18:49] Again it's hard to say because you don't have a crystal ball to say what would have happened had I not been flagged there? I was very excited to have been given that honor for sure. But like I said it with it comes a lot of added attention a lot of added stress. A lot of extra interviews that maybe you know otherwise I wouldn't have been a part of. You know, what I mean? Because then you know you want to be part of all the press conferences and all that.

 

But it was I mean again to have that experience obviously. But I would have loved to have had my cake and eat it too. As far as having the flag there and then come away with an Olympic and another Olympic gold medal. So but again who's who's to say what my performance would have been either way. But yeah you know it does add a little bit of pressure to you because suddenly you're being seen by millions of people in the opening ceremony. Which again is absolutely incredible. To have represented not only my country but to represent female athletes and to represent the sport of fencing. Like there were so many things that just made me beam with pride as I walked through to the stadium. But yeah I definitely probably was a little bit of a distraction a little bit of an energy drainer. But who's to say. I mean I don't know maybe this would have still gotten the same result but who knows. But yeah it was definitely disappointing as far as my performance side of things.

 

Laura:

[00:20:16] All right. And it's I mean you didn't totally take. I mean you lost in the bronze medal match. You finished fourth just off the podium which. I think we talked a few years ago about this and you said you were a little devastated. I mean how? It's obviously a very different experience from winning two times in a row and you have won so many like world titles and everything else like. I don't think you're very accustomed to not being on the podium. So how did you handle that defeat and move on?

 

Marie:

[00:20:45] Yeah. I would say I was more than a little bit devastated for sure. It was like just as you said you know when you're so accustomed to not that not that it's been easy at all. You know. You work. You. Again. I feel like I'm talking and preaching to the choir here. But like you know how hard you have to work to win and not only win but win consistently. And I just felt like suddenly the formula didn't work. And that was just a very odd place for me to be in. Because I'm like wait a minute this is what I've been doing my whole life and it's working more often than not working. And then suddenly when it's the biggest most important competition that I've already know how to win. It's not like you know a choke under pressure. I mean I guess I did choke on the pressure but like it's not. Like it was my first experience being in an Olympic final. To have it not play out how I was used to the last two Olympics was very very difficult to wrap my mind around.

 

And so coming back from that you know I had to step away from fencing for a little bit I took quite a long break. And I was like, man I don't know if I can do this again. But then I was like I have to do this! Like I have to come back and I have to prove to myself that this one loss does not define me. And I have to say to myself that I have another shot at Rio and I'm just gonna take these next quad and really work even harder to make sure that you know I can not come away empty-handed from my next Olympics.

 

Laura:

[00:22:28] So I love that. I absolutely love that. And so how? What changed exactly in your mindset or in your purpose or in what you were doing? Like what shifted to make that change to keep going?

 

Marie:

[00:22:43] I think that it was definitely humbling in a way. You know it's like I know sounds like I don't know spoiled or something to be like Oh well I'm used to winning the Olympics. For me, you know? So I think that it was humbling in a way that I was like I'm not going to take anything for granted.

 

You know it's not that I was before. But it's like every minute that I was in the gym was purposeful. And every competition that I went to was I was there to prove a point to myself. And I was there to learn. And I was there to you know just to make myself a better fencer. Each and every day whether it's through practice or competition and learning through my mistakes. Whether that be the mistakes that I made in mundane or the mistakes that I made in the tournament that I competed in last month.You know it's like I'm constantly wanting to improve upon myself. And just getting smarter and working harder. And you know working harder in different ways as well. Because you know obviously like I said I thought the formula I have had the magic touch but it proved me wrong in London. So I just really wanted to kind of turn things around and figure out another answer to how to get there.

 

Laura:

[00:24:01] Well so four years later you are in Rio and you got another bronze with the team which was awesome. You got ninth individually. So was was that a successful Games to you? How do you feel about all that?

 

Marie:

[00:24:15] Honestly I don't think that I would say that was not I mean successful as in not coming away empty-handed feels. So much different than coming away empty handed. So getting the bronze with my team was yes that was definitely a success for us. We lost a very very close match with Russia to make the gold medal around so that was a big bummer because we were so close. And they’re one of our toughest competitors and so to almost have beaten them if we had beat them on the Olympic stage would have just been incredible. So I wish that we had pulled through just a little bit more. But you know again to have a second opportunity after we lost to them to come away with a bronze and solidly come away with the bronze when we beat Italy was great. I think it was. We all had really great performances and I was happy with the team performance. Individually not so much and unfortunately just wasn't my day. Like I just didn't feel like it was my day. And that happens and that's a lot you're allowed to have that happen. And it was definitely again heartbreaking because it's not like I was even close to a medal that time. And so you know again you kind of come away from that and say what can I learn and how can I change? And if I'm going to go to Tokyo which that's my next goal again how am I going to make sure that when I'm there that doesn't happen again. And I can have a clear mind and a strong body and connect the two in the way that it needs to happen.

 

Laura:

[00:25:49] I love your mindset. I love the way you look at things like it's just such a gray. It's just a growth perspective. Like you just want to grow no matter what. And I love that because you can't be defeated if you're continuing to grow and to change and to learn and I think that's awesome.

 

Marie:

[00:26:02] Exactly. Yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:26:04] Well now it's a little different like you said you got your eyes set on a fifth Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020. Which is crazy amazing! But now it's a little different because you're a wife and a mom. And so I'm assuming things have changed a little bit like you mentioned earlier with training and competing. Like what's? How does that look right now?

 

Marie:

[00:26:24] I mean again I'm sure you can most definitely attest to this. It's crazy how much your life changes when you have a kid when you are a working mom but couple that with professional athlete working mom. I mean oh my goodness! It's just it isn't saying the things that I let my body did when I was pregnant. I just can't even believe that I was pregnant and I had a baby and she's here and she's amazing and now I'm a mom. And it's just it just seems so surreal at times. I'm just like is this really my life.

 

Just because you know as a professional athlete for so long you have to be so selfish in the way that you train in the way that you compete and you're traveling all the time. And you're tired and you don't wanna like sometimes you don't want to talk to anybody. And you just want to lay there and you know how it goes. And so now to have this other part of my life that is now the biggest part of my life. It changes your perspective in such an amazing way. Because now like I said before when I go to the gym and I'm like I don't want to waste a minute. Now I literally don't have a minute to waste because like every time that I'm away from her I need to make it worth it. And I need to hurry up and get that workout in. So I can come home and give her lunch and put her down for a nap. You know what I mean. So just like it changes your outlook on the way that you train and the way that you time manage. But I'm always up for a challenge and it's been challenging in an in a really amazing way. So it's it's been really great.

 

Laura:

[00:27:57] I totally agree there. Because I think now I must have been really lazy when I was just me and with my husband. Now I am like I got 30 minutes I can clean the house do all these things I can get. Like a week's worth of stuff done in 30 minutes now.

 

Marie:

[00:28:10] I know. It's really crazy how different you're like. And I think that you're probably gonna say this too. But it's like some days you're like I feel like I'm gonna implode. I don't even know what I'm doing. I'm still so incompetent I don't even know you just feel slight so drained. And then other days you get to the end of the day you're like I'm superwoman! I keep you going! I don't even need to go to bed! I could just keep doing! All this stuff. And so it's just it's crazy how just the days wax and wane like that. But it's again it's like every day that's a new challenge. And it's exciting and in some way.

 

Laura:

[00:28:46] That's cool. Now. And you already went to like several competitions this year. And I mean I kept trying to like message you and you were like in France or you're over here. Crazy! But how is it getting back into that groove? Because I know what seven months to the day after you gave birth to Sunday you won a bronze medal in Moscow. And then I think the last time you medaled was why you were you were actually pregnant. Weren't you?

 

Marie:

[00:29:09] Yeah. Uh-hmm.

 

Laura:

Oh gosh! That's crazy! So what was it like getting back into that competition groove after having some time off to have a baby and have this new kind of change of programming?

 

Marie:

[00:29:21] Uh-hmm. Yeah. And it's. It is a change and I went to actually those were the two international or the Moscow one was the Grand Prix last season. And then I went to our national championships in April and then another national tournament in October and I won both of those two.

 

[00:29:40] It's like it's nice to kind of come back and feel like I can win again. And that I'm like on the podium again and I actually feel surprisingly good. Like I don't like I was, of course, I've never had a baby and had to come back before. So I didn't know how it was going to go but it's going really well and I feel fresh. And I feel fierce. And I feel like I'm just ready to be back where I was. But just like with a new perspective because I think that break was really really good for me to kind of feel like recharged. And I'm like I want to be there instead of like again I'm sure you can attest to this it's like when you're going day in day out the competition. This that. And it kind of gets to be monotonous and it kind of gets to be like you feel a little burnt out. Having such a long break and now coming back and having kind of a new perspective. And also new goals because it's like well I'm doing this for my daughter now to really kind of recharges you and energizes you to really fight even harder and gives you that extra motivation which is really cool.

 

Laura:

[00:30:49] Very cool. Well, you just wrote a beautiful article for Team USA. And you were recalling your win from Beijing because it's like your 10 year anniversary this year. And one of the things that you wrote that I loved you said when there's a gold medal at stake in history to be made it can feel either exhilarating paralyzing or a combination of any and all emotions in between.

 

[00:31:11] So how do you rise above all of that to perform your best when it means the most?

 

Marie:

[00:31:17] I mean that's just such a loving question. Well, sometimes you just have to use. You just. You just gotta do it. You just really literally when you go to the Olympics or a national competition or worlds or what have you. You can't think of it as like oh my gosh this is the Olympics or oh my gosh this is going to make or break my career. You just have to show up and know that you've been working so hard and that you've left no stone unturned when it comes to your preparation. And then you can just fall back on that. Not fall back but you can you can feel calm and you can feel in control because if you know that you've been preparing and working towards this moment then you can rely on your muscle memory. You can rely on your mental toughness because you know that you've prepared yourself.

 

[00:32:10] And I think that's something that maybe when some. I obviously can't speak for every situation ever. But when I think when people falter is because they suddenly think that they're not prepared. Or that they haven't put the work in or they have been lying themselves or you know something like that. And so all of that crowds your crowds your ability to think clearly and to perform at your best. And so I think that if you really prepare yourself and work hard leading up to the moment then when you're in the moment it's like second nature.

 

Laura:

[00:32:42] Perfect. You also wrote this when you stand on top of the podium at the Olympics there's no greater feeling as all of your hard work and years of sacrifice come to fruition. And what the world sees is an accomplished relieved ecstatic and usually weeping athlete. What the world doesn't see is the team behind the athlete because no one becomes an Olympic champion on their own luck or not on their own or by luck. To this day I'm so incredibly thankful for my support system coaches family friends and teammates who make this all possible. So tell us a little bit about your support system?

 

Marie:

[00:33:15] My support system has been amazing. It has been the reason for my success. I've been with the same coach Ed Korfanty for almost twenty-four years my entire career. So that says a lot about where my success comes from. Obviously, my parents have supported me from the moment I first picked up fencing. I was gonna say a saber but actually, I started with foil. But let's not focus on that.

 

[00:33:45] You know first my parents supporting me through everything from the ups and downs to paying for the club fees and the tournament fees and all of my international plane tickets. I mean I just I look back now and I'm just like I cannot believe that they the sacrifices that they made in order for me to come from a very young age get the experience that I needed to accelerate me on the onto the Olympic path. And you know just also even my friends my very close friends whether they're my teammates or my friends here at home it's just to have so much support and to feel so loved no matter what. You know I think that has made a big difference because especially just looking back on my experience in Athens when I all of my friends and family obviously knew that that was my goal to make the Olympic team in 2004 but to fall short of that. But to still have the support and the shoulders to cry on when I was going through that tough time just really made all the difference. And I think that throughout my career just to be surrounded by such positivity just makes such a big difference. And I know you know this too. Because if you're just thinking that you're doubting yourself some days which obviously going through you know a performance-based sport where you are measured on your performance you know. Because if it's like win or lose you need that support system that's gonna support you no matter what. And and I've had that throughout my entire career and I think that that's made all the difference because it's helped me believe in myself when I don't believe in myself. They believe me when I don't believe myself and they're there to help pick me up when I don't. When I fall short of what it is that I think is ideal and they'll support me no matter what.

 

[00:35:34] And so I think that that's made a big difference in my outlook on my career and my outlook on myself and my results. And also honestly on my decision to keep going because if I didn't have that support system then I probably would feel more discouraged and let myself get the best of myself when times get tough. So I think that this just made a really big difference throughout my career.

 

Laura:

[00:35:57] That's great. I mean you've mentioned over the past year you've experienced amazing victories, heartbreaking defeats, days where you felt unstoppable, and days where you felt lost and unsure. What is it that keeps you going? I mean why a fifth Olympic Games? Like what keeps you motivated and pushing through all the time?

 

Marie:

[00:36:17] Well I think honestly it's that elusive third gold medal in the individual event that I have fallen short of the past two Olympics. And to have the ability to keep going and to have another opportunity is something that I don't want to pass up because what we do is time sensitive as you know it's like well I mean you're out. So like supermom you're coming back to try the Olympics too. So it's like it is time sensitive in a way for me. And so you know I think my motivation comes from wanting to prove to myself that I can do it because I know I can.

 

[00:36:53] And then also I don't think that Sunday will remember Tokyo she'll be not even three. So I don't think she'll remember but I think it'll be really great to make those memories with her. Because you know I can. We can look back together and be like this is what Mommy did. And when you have a goal these are you know you have to sacrifice should resign and there'll be a lot of life lessons I think for her as far as dedication and hard work goes. And I want to set a good example for her.

 

[00:37:19] So just being able to set one of these really crazy goals incredible goals and work really hard towards it is something that can be really satisfying. Despite the obstacles along the way. So yeah that's that's pretty much my motivation.

 

Laura:

[00:37:37] I totally agree. That's great.

[00:37:39] Now, where can we follow you online to continue to be inspired and encouraged by you. And also cheer you on toward Tokyo? We're going.

 

Marie:

[00:37:46] Yeah. Yeah. I’m on my Instagram @mariel.zagunis is my handle and yeah. Try to post our season just started but we don't have another competition until the end of January. But once that starts then it'll be. Go go go. So there'll be a lot of updates and stuff going on in there. So that's where to find me.

 

Laura:

[00:38:07] Well thank you so much. And best of luck to you. We will be cheering you on toward Tokyo.

 

Marie:

[00:38:13] Thank you, Laura.

 

Laura:

[00:38:16] I'm so thankful to Marielle for sharing with us on today's show. I loved hearing about the pivotal shift in her mindset after missing the podium in London. Instead of focusing so much on proving herself she was able to instead move into more of a growth mindset constantly wanting to improve herself. She doesn't let losses define her but rather they shape her, teach her and develop her as an athlete and as a person. It's amazing to see that out of that transition not only came for their success but also a richer appreciation of her sport and more confidence in herself. To keep being inspired by Marielle and to follow her adventures toward Tokyo 2020. Be sure to check out the show notes where we link to everything that you heard today. Next week world champion water skier Ryan Dodd will be joining us. So be sure to subscribe to the hope sports podcast because you're not going to want to miss this one. And please leave us a review because those reviews will help us continue to get these amazing athletes on this show. I'm Laura Wilkinson. Thanks again for listening. This podcast is produced by Evo Terra in simpler media. For more information on Hope sports and to access the complete archives please visit Hope Sports story.

 

 

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