The Starting Line
“Everything happens for a reason” is an expression a lot of people use, especially if things are going poorly. I’ve heard it used by so many people, in and out of athletics, that I’ve grown to almost hate it because it disregards responsibility of a situation, making it seem like—“hey, my bad!” or “Oh, well, what’ll happen will happen, I guess!” If you use that phrase, don’t feel bad—I’m simply suggesting that, for me, I can’t use that expression because I refuse to be anything but an active agent in my own life. In college, multiple times, when my life wasn’t going the direction I wanted or felt it should be going, I refused to be swept away in happenstance. This is the story of how I decided to drop out of college and chase my dream of becoming an Olympian.
When I was eight years old, I knew I wanted to be an Olympian. We were at my grandparent’s house, watching the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, because we didn’t have TV channels and they did. As I sat in a hand-crafted chair my grandpa made, staring up at the TV, I vividly remember watching Michael Phelps receive his gold medal on the podium. The American flag raised and he had a couple of tears running down his face as the National Anthem played. Even at eight years old, I recognized that the greatest honor that an athlete can achieve is not only represent his or her country in the Olympic Games, but to win a medal and to watch that flag wave and the anthem play for something you worked so hard to earn. And, so, I chased the dream, telling myself that I would do everything in my power to one day represent the United States of America.
But the path to achieving that dream has never been smooth or easy. Towards the beginning, I couldn’t decide which sport I wanted to do. Because I grew up on a lake in a small town in Northern Minnesota, my two older siblings and I learned to swim at very young ages—eventually, my sister joined the swim team and then my brother and then me. It wasn’t until about 9th grade that I started to feel split—my parents were successful runners at the University of Minnesota, but I also wanted to be like my older brother, who is still my hero to this day, who dedicated himself to swimming. I knew I couldn’t do both sports because to be elite at one of them I was going to have to pick. I ended up choosing running, graduating High School with a 9:07 3200 meter and a 4:13 1600 meter and ended up signing with Southern Utah University to pursue a collegiate running career.
Unfortunately, college athletics was nothing like I thought it would be, which caused some serious bumps in the road. It started out well enough—I ran a 23:54 8k time trial at 6,000 feet altitude—but after that, I kept running into problems, such as coaches or failing to stay healthy. Instead of accepting the path I was currently on, I decided to transfer to Iowa State University and then to Montana State University. Neither of these schools ended up working out for similar reasons: coaches, training. Even though I decided to leave these schools in pursuit of something that could help me achieve my dreams, I do believe—especially at Iowa State—I learned a lot from the coach in terms of cultivating a professional athlete mindset, approach, and intensity that is needed.
It was also at Montana State that I figured out I was actually designed for the triathlon, which was a curve in the road I hadn’t expected. I’d run a 4:07 mile indoors the first season at Montana, but due to the 200 meter flat track I got hurt and was out for the outdoor season, which forced me to get back into the pool and hop on the bike for cross training to keep up my fitness. This is where everything started to change. Jake Turner, a very close friend of mine and old teammate, was also hurt and was cross training with me whenever he could. When we were training together he asked me if I had ever considered getting into the triathlon and honestly I had never even considered it. It is because of Jake that I’m where I am today: he helped me get in touch with the USA triathlon for a camp in the summer to see if I had what it took to get in the USA CRP Group (the USA Olympic development team). After bouncing back and forth with the idea, I eventually decided to go to the camp where things went pretty well, but since I had a whole three years of college left, they wanted to see how fast I could get in running before I got into triathlons.
When I started the fall semester at Montana, I had every intention of seeing it through, but the team was no longer a fit for me value-wise, so I decided to drop out—despite my 3.6 GPA—and go full time in athletics. Most people looked at me like I was crazy for even considering dropping out of college, but the way I see it, opportunity calls— after I’ve achieved my athletic dreams, college will be there for me to finish. I moved back home to Minnesota, contacted the US Development group, told them what had happened, and they set up time standards that I had to meet, which I did.
Now I am a part of the group training full time in Scottsdale, Arizona using everyday as an opportunity to get one step closer to representing my country. Its crazy to think where life can take you, if one has a true passion for something. You will get there one way or another. I never thought I would be a triathlete but it all started with this one idea. This one obsession of becoming an Olympian.