How does it feel to be an Olympian?
As the media attention builds in anticipation of this week's opening ceremonies, I've been asked this question in just about every interview I've conducted recently. While I normally respond by saying how proud I will be to represent the U.S. (which is very true), the honest answer to the real question is that I don't really know how it feels to be an Olympian. Yet.
Once I don my USA uniform and compete in the triathlon on August 4, I will be able to truly answer that question. As hard as I try, it is difficult to imagine exactly how I will feel. Will I be grinning from ear to ear? Will I be crying in my goggles out of nervousness and fear? It's my first time as an Olympian, and I have no idea how I will react to competing in the world's greatest athletic competition with millions of eyes watching. (Since typing that previous sentence made my pulse quicken a bit, however, I'm 99 percent sure that I won't be greeting the competition with nonchalance or apathy!)
One question I do know how to answer is how it feels to qualify for the Games. Qualification was a grueling, emotionally charged process that came from years of personal sacrifice, thousands of hours of training, plenty of globe-trotting and significant financial investment.
So, let's just say, finally making the team feels really, really good.
I was fortunate enough to earn my Olympic spot early, but some of my friends have been fighting to represent their country in London until recently. I've shed tears of joy for those who have succeeded in their quest and tears of sadness for those who have fallen short. I feel like I've shared their journey along the way, seeing how much they too have given up to be an Olympian.
Although all of my current training partners have made their respective Olympic teams, my former training partner and dear friend, Canadian Lauren Campbell, was less fortunate. A bike crash in the 2008 Olympic Games ended Lauren's race early in Beijing, and since then she's had a fierce determination to make the team for London.
It has been very tough, though. She's had a series of major setbacks over the past few years, including an ill-healing collarbone fracture. It's been an extraordinarily difficult process for her, but in spite of the hardship, Lauren managed to retain her buoyant personality, infectious optimism and even her strange penchant for elderly poodles. It was heartbreaking when Lauren fell just short of making her Olympic team, but her journey has been enormously inspirational to me.
I have no idea what it will feel like to be an Olympian, but I do know exactly how hard the road has been to get there. Like Lauren, I've had my share of ups and downs over the years. When the race is finally over in London, I'll be able to have a real answer for that big question. In the meantime, however, I'm grateful for every step of this incredible journey.