A whole new ballgame
If you come home from the Olympics as a medalist, you're on a high: There are events, speaking engagements, trips to the Oscars. But not for me this time -- I've been MIA.
The reason? I'm at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., trying my hand at a new sport.
Rugby is going to be an Olympic sport for the first time in Rio in 2016. The U.S. rugby coach, Ric Suggitt, talked to me about giving it a try last summer when I was out here training for bobsled. But, at that point, I couldn't even think about another sport, let alone go out there and play. It was bobsled season, and an Olympic year at that, so I didn't want to risk an injury.
But my fiancé, Nic, and I went to watch some training and threw the ball around a bit. I used to play softball in college, and I had to admit I missed ball sports. With Sochi to focus on, however, I put it in the back of my mind.
After the Olympics, though, it was still on my mind. So I emailed Suggitt and said, “When can we get this started?” He said March 1! The team was looking for crossover athletes and Suggitt was willing to teach me what I needed to know. They're focused on the upcoming World Series in China, and I'm focused on helping Team USA in any way I can.
I live my life for the experiences, and I want to have a story to tell. This felt like a great opportunity. And when a national team coach invites you to come out and train, you say yes!
Training for rugby is completely different than bobsled. For one, there's a lot more cardio. I think the farthest I had run in the past seven years was 80 meters. The bobsled is all about short sprints -- 20 or 30 meters -- then you hop in the sled. I probably ran more in the first day of rugby training than I did in my entire bobsled career to date. Don’t get me wrong; we train hard in bobsled, but we train to do things once with maximum power.
Rugby players train to do things for seven minutes, which is what you need in a match. I say I die a cardio death every day, but then we get in the weight room and I’m still crazy strong!
Ultimately, I think playing rugby will be really good for my bobsledding. When you’ve been training the same way for seven years, it's good to have your body do something different. Canadian bobsledder Heather Moyse is a good example. She did bobsled and rugby this past summer and came back pushing bobsled better than ever, winning her second gold in Sochi. My strength coach, Stu McMillan, is also supportive, which is important.
The rugby team here is awesome. It has to be frustrating for them to have somebody come out in the middle of the season not knowing anything about rugby, but a couple of days before I got here, Kelly Griffin, the team captain, sent me a complete rundown of everything I needed to know. They're teaching me every day and patiently repeating things. It’s all with a purpose: The team is trying to win this World Series, qualify for the Olympics and win a gold medal. They know it’s going to take every one of them.
It's a "young" team in that it would be everyone's first trip to the Olympics, so I can lend my experience in terms of what it takes to win a medal at the highest level. I try to pitch in on the mental side when I can. For example, we watch video a lot and break down different teams and what they look like. I told them that, a lot of times, people are quick to focus on their weaknesses, but we have a lot of strengths. Why not focus there to make our strengths even better?
Coming off of the Olympics and jumping into the middle of a season in full swing has definitely been an adjustment. In rugby, you have a weight session, sprint session, on-field session and video session. It's a lot of daily activity -- more than bobsled! My body is ready for a break, but my mind keeps saying, "Nope, we’re going to keep going!" So I'm trying to make sure I'm not running myself into the ground.
For now, I just have a one-month contract and I’m taking it day by day. After that, we'll see how it is going and if I'm able to help Team USA. They will soon announce the roster for China, and the first game is against Canada. I have no idea if I'll make the team, but if I do, it would be cool to get in that game since I lost the gold medal to Canada in Sochi.
For now, I'm still trying to figure out how to catch the ball when I'm out of breath!