" Why am I still speedskating? Why am I doing this to myself?"
It's the type of question every athlete has asked themselves at one point in time or another. Usually it's after a rough patch, an injury, or not reaching your goals. It's easy when things are going well. But when when they're not, you have to ask yourself: "Should I continue?"
I began skating when I was 13 years old, and moved to Calgary when I was 18 to pursue the sport and train in a high performance program. Between 2005 and 2010 I had many successes: I qualified for my first Junior and Senior World Championships, was invited to join the US National Team, and traveled on the World Cup circuit; and setbacks: I injured my back and trained myself into a hole. I had several years where I was not progressing, I was regressing. In 2010, I was bouncing back from an injury, but things were looking up: I was skating faster than I ever had, and posted the fastest American 1500m time in October. My plan was to make the Olympic Team and then retire on a high note. Afterwards, I could finish school and get going with rest of my life.
Everything was looking good - until I didn't make the team. I was an alternate in practically every event, missing some by less than 2 tenths of a second.
I "retired" from the sport and finished University. I went backpacking around Europe, learned to cross-country ski, and improved my downhill: I did all the things I had been wanting to do, but couldn't because of commitment to speedskating. Upon graduation, I began working in my field as a chemical engineer. But I couldn't get skating off my mind.
I had to go back. There was unfinished business, things I still needed to learn-- I wasn't sure what, but I was sure that God was leading me in this direction.
This was 2 1/2 years ago - still enough time to make a comeback for the 2014 Olympic Trials.
As I was working full-time, I trained early in the morning and late in the evenings. It was hard - I was out of shape and every day was a struggle. But I was passionate and excited, and kept pushing through the pain. There are no programs that accommodate people with careers, so with the guidance of my very first coach, Andrey Zhuikov, I trained myself.
At first I was super motivated, fueled by my dream. After 8 months of training on my own, however, I was struggling. That is why in June, at the start of the 2013 skating season I cut back to 30 hours/week at work and joined a high performance training group in Calgary. I went to Nationals in September (the first time in 2 years) and surprised everyone, except myself and Andrey, by qualifying for the World Cup Team in two events: the 1000m and the 1500m.
I was invited to train with the US National Team in Salt Lake City the following year, but decided to stay in Canada. I felt supported there by all my friends and co-workers - Calgary had become my skating home. As my new coach, Crispin Parkinson, had brought me back onto the National Team, I was confident that he could bring me to the Olympics as well. I wanted to set myself up as best as possible to make this Olympic Team. Spartan Controls told me to "take whatever time you need off the job", I hired a personal massage therapist, and I began working on my mental game. "No regrets" became my motto. I was all in.
And it worked! I qualified for my first Olympic Team on the first day of the Trials in the 3000m. I couldn't believe it - and began to weep. Not for joy, not for relief, but for the knowledge that after all the ups and downs, the years of training and sacrifice, the dream which had sometimes felt so impossible had suddenly come true.
Especially since the 3000m really wasn't "my race". I was aiming at the 1000m and 1500m later that week, but as luck would have it, I fell ill with a flu illness and was sick for those races. Life is just so surprising and unpredictable. One of the coaches had earlier suggested I not even race the 3000, just focus on the others!
I believed in myself when many didn't. I did a few things that I was told were impossible, like working at my job and training for world level competition. My belief, and the support of my friends, are surely what made the dream a reality.