Saturday, July 23, 2016

Life of an Olympic Athlete

What is it like being a professional athlete? What is it like to travel the world? What is it like to play for your country? What is it like to go to the Olympics?

The answers to these questions may surprise you. Because the glorified life that may be projected by many professional and Olympic athletes, is not the life that all of us “professionals” live.

This is my real story about my journey with USA Field Hockey and I want to share with everyone just what it is really like. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t be here doing what I am if it wasn’t for the love of the game. At the end of the day, I love the sport of field hockey, I love my teammates, and I love being able to represent my country more than any sacrifices and struggles I’ve had to go through!

First off, let me start by saying that I am so fortunate. I grew up in a family that gave me every opportunity to succeed in whatever avenue I so chose. I was privileged to go to great schools and try any sport I set my mind to. That is a huge reason I am here today. But even though I had these opportunities, nothing has been handed to me. I still had to work extremely hard to excel on and off the field. I still had to earn it.

I often read much of what the US Women’s Soccer players write about their struggle for equal pay, facilities, and treatment as their male counterparts. I also read many of the stories and struggles faced by other Olympic athletes like myself, in lesser known sports. There are some similarities, but there is also stark contrast. I want to share what it has been like for me.

What is it like being a professional athlete?
For me, being a professional athlete should mean that you play your sport for a living. This, to me, would mean that you get paid enough to cover your expenses in order to train and thrive. To be the best in the world, you must train pretty much year round, you need to be able to eat the right foods, rest properly, and not worry about the stresses of money. So here is where I’m going to talk about the money! We don’t make anywhere near what NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, even MLS makes. Not even close. We don’t even make a quarter of what the talented women of the US Women’s soccer team makes. For my teammates and I, like many Olympians, we live just above the poverty line. And I consider us some of the lucky ones. I can live off of that. We don’t get housing or other living expenses paid for. Many live with teammates in order to share costs. We are fortunate that all of our travel, including housing, food, etc. are all covered when we go to tournaments and games overseas! We all look forward to these tournaments, not only because it is a test of our abilities, but because we save money when we travel! (I’m not kidding about this one!) It is actually quite amazing that some have even saved up enough for down payments on a house (well, a small house in Lancaster, PA! J). We have learned to become pretty money savvy! Field hockey isn’t a hugely popular sport that garners lots of outside sponsorships. Due to this, some have chosen to find part time jobs that are flexible on hours or let them work from home. I personally, did not feel I had the mental or physical capacity to work on the side and still be at my best for every day of training. Yet, some don’t have a choice financially. This is the dilemma for us as professional athletes. And this is on top of getting a paid more than we had been in years past. But I don’t have to sit at a desk all day, I get to work outside, and I get to do what I love. I still consider myself lucky! But hopefully, one day, the future USA Field Hockey stars will have more than we did!

What is it like to travel the world?
I’ve been playing field hockey for 17 years. Over half of my lifetime. In that time, I have traveled to more countries than I could have ever imagined! Hockey has brought me to 5 continents and 13 different countries. I’ve played against 31 countries in over 200 games for my country. Although we are traveling for business (games) and we rarely get more than a day (if that) to be a tourist, I have still learned so much about the world and about other cultures from all of these experiences. Just seeing other countries, interacting with the people there and being immersed in their world, if only for a short time, has really  opened my eyes to how people live differently. It makes me appreciate America and miss home. But it also allows me to see the world through others eyes. Traveling has made me more aware of world issues and has helped me understand how to see through other perspectives. There are drastic distinctions between how people in China live to those in Azerbaijan. The foods Indians eat are contrast greatly with those in England. The humble, quiet nature of the Japanese is offbeat from the upfront Dutch. (Don’t get me wrong, I love the Dutch and very much love their culture after living and playing there for a season!) At times, I do wish I could have been more of a “tourist” in many of the places I’ve been, but I am so incredibly thankful to have been able to learn so much about the world and see some unbelievable countries!

What is it like to play for your country?
Despite the money, this is the real reason why I continue to show up every single day and push myself past limits I didn’t even know were capable. It is difficult to put into words just what it feels like to play for your country. Putting on the red, white and blue with USA emblazoned across your chest represents so many things. I get a wave of emotions every single time. When I put on my jersey, pull up my socks, and grab my stick, I know every hour, minute and second of hard running, diving, lifting, pushing, and pulling my body has endured has been worth it to arrive at this very moment, prepared, confident and excited to put it all to the test. Competition fuels me. But walking out onto the field, when I hear the USA chants coming from the energetic, watchful crowd, I am brought back to a bigger purpose. I was once that little girl in the front row, eyes wide, smile beaming, with a world of possibilities in front of me, watching my heroes show their strength, courage, determination and heart. I want to show that impressionable mind that her dreams can come true! I want to encourage her to one day be even better than me! But I look past this child to her parents, to my parents, to all Americans and I am inspired on another level. Sport can bring so many people together! When the stands fill with the buzz and excitement of a nation, there is an incredible energy that allows me to forget the world and live in the moment. When I stand in front of the American flag, one hand over my heart and the other around my teammate, proudly singing the National Anthem, I fight back tears every time. Those moments are truly about something bigger than myself and our UN1TED team. I know my teammates would agree that there is nothing better than standing together, as teammates, as fellow Americans, in uniform, ready to show the world what Team USA is all about!

What is it like to go to the Olympics?
THE OLYMPICS. Wow. Unbelievable. I was blessed to go the London 2012 Olympic Games and I am just as blessed to be just days away from my second Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016. Although this is my second Olympics, it is not any less special. Each Olympics and it’s build up is totally different. The team, the way we qualified, it is all a process. I have had my dreams set on the Olympics since I was a little girl. US Women’s soccer played a huge role in my childhood dream, which evolved into a life goal, and a reality. To be joining the most elite athletes in every field of sport is amazing. It is the pinnacle of an athlete’s career. Greater still, is what the Olympics represents. The world coming together, to celebrate peace and pursuit of greatness in each and every person competing, no matter the gender, race, religious affiliation, or other categorizing aspect. Each athlete proudly wearing its countries colors under the Olympic Rings. I am excited to be a part of the world’s greatest sporting event (and probably the world’s greatest event), and I can’t wait to share the rest of my journey with you! In a world full of chaos and contrast, there is no better time than now for the world to come together and celebrate all of its people once again!

I’ll leave you with this:
The Olympic motto:
CITIUS – ALTIUS – FORTIUS    [Faster – Higher – Stronger]
The Olympic creed:
“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well.”


Time to fight well. GO USA!

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