My Olympic story: chasing dreams, overcoming odds, and finding joy. by Maria Lamb


I stepped to the line of my Olympic race with a huge smile on my face. A few short minutes after finishing my 5k at the Olympics, I got my 5 minutes of Olympic fame with the press. I wanted to be honest and inspirational, to tell a story of overcoming the odds, rising out of a difficult situation and enjoying the moment I had worked so hard for. However, being more than just a little bit tired at the time, I’m not sure I did a very good job of fully expressing my thoughts, emotions and feelings to the press. I feel that some people could have perhaps misunderstood what I was trying to convey. So, more rested and composed, I wanted to take a minute to give you my entire story.
The last few weeks have been difficult for me. I have watched my teammates, many of whom are World Cup medalists, World Champions and Olympic Champions come here and not perform as well as I know they are capable of, and to me that was heartbreaking. I felt that we were let down by some of the leadership in US Speedskating, mistakes were made that were out of our control. The team atmosphere grew increasingly negative as time went on, and as much as I tried to stay positive, I struggled at times and I know it affected my training. I wasn’t recovering well, my skating felt off, and I just wasn’t able to get my body to do what I wanted to and felt I should be able to do in training.
But in the last few days things finally started to come together, my skating and my legs were feeling better. I got on the ice to warm up the day of my race and I felt on—the best I’ve felt since I’ve been in Sochi—and I was smiling inside and out skating around the rink. I realized that I had overcome so many odds—from getting disqualified to injury, and illness—just to be here. So, as I told my coach, I intended to enjoy it and skate my heart out!
I had watched the men’s 10k’s the night before and the skater whose race most inspired me was not that of Jorrit Bergsma, who skated one of the most fantastic races I’ve ever seen, winning the gold medal in Olympic Record time and coming within a few seconds of the World Record. But that of Bob de Jong, who clearly wasn’t having a good day or a great race, yet fought for all he was worth, skated his heart out, and left everything he had on the ice. He finished thinking he had no hope of a medal, but ended up winning the bronze. I watched him turn himself inside out in his race, and made a goal for myself—to skate my heart out like he did no matter what. Because if you can truly give something your all, then in a way, you have won no matter how you finish. I told my coach I would rather do that and be last, than finish and know I had something left to give.
I came home that night and went to sleep thinking of all the wonderful people I have in my life who have done so much for me, supported me through good times and bad, and made it possible for me to accomplish what I have. From my coaches, to my family, friends, sponsors and teammates past and present, I feel incredibly lucky to know I have so many wonderful people pulling for me. I made up my mind to skate with all of that good, positive energy in my heart, and vowed to do my best to make all of them proud.
So I walked up to the ice smiling, so happy to be here doing what I love, my heart filled with the love and support of so many, and proud of what I have accomplished. I stepped to the start line having no idea what I had in me, but smiling and ready to give it my all.
I wish and could say I flew, that my legs were there in their crazy-will-do-anything-you-ask mode that I know they have when I’m physically on. But they just weren’t. My first lap was right on schedule, but by the second lap my time had slipped up. I tried to bring it back down and couldn’t, so I tried again, and again, and again. I realized at some point that no matter how much I wanted to, I just wasn’t physically going to be able to do what my head and my heart so desperately wanted; my legs just didn’t have it. So I did the only thing I could, stopped focusing on the lap times and told myself to just give it everything I had, finish with nothing left, no matter how hard it got or how much I was getting beat by.
I can honestly say I finished with nothing left. And yes, I also finished last. I know that is nowhere near what I am capable of; I have beaten many of the skaters who placed far ahead of me today. But I also know I did what I set out to do. I skated my best, gave it everything I had, and as much as that race broke my heart, I am also incredibly proud of myself for being here and never giving up. Someone has to finish last and today it was me. Huge congratulations to all my competitors for some truly fantastic races. I know what that feels like too, and I am so happy for everyone who raced well!
And then, I had to go talk to the press. I had three goals: to try and convey my story of overcoming all that I have and perhaps inspire someone to not give up, to fight for what you love and believe in your heart you can do. To be honest about the questions I knew I would face about the team’s performance here, why we haven’t performed well and how that has affected me. And to not start crying while being honest and open about some very difficult, emotional subjects.
I apologize if I came off as being negative, sounded like I was making excuses for myself or anyone else, or offended anyone—that was not my intent. I wish I would have been able to overcome the all the problems, had a fast race and placed well, as an athlete I have always considered that my job, but I didn’t. It would have been much easier to just mumble a few words about not feeling good today and walk off. But I felt the truth ought to be spoken, so exhausted as I was, I did my best in the few minutes I had to tell it. I think that much of the positive I spoke of—what I overcame, how happy and proud I am to be racing here, and how I feel I achieved what I set out to do—didn’t get aired, make the headlines or get printed. Instead, my words about some of the problems I and others have faced over the last weeks and months seem to have found there way there. And I understand that. I’m sure the press has been looking for more solid answers than apologies for not performing better. But I wanted my entire story to get out to the world, so I decided to take this opportunity to tell it myself.
So, to my coaches, sponsors, family and friends; to all the people I’ve never even met who have emailed, tweeted and facebook messaged me their stories, support and encouragement; to everyone who has stood by me, supported me, believed in me, and helped me become the person and athlete I am, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I may not have won a medal, but I wouldn’t trade all the wonderful people in my life for all the gold medals in the world. And to everyone who has ever had a dream, been told they couldn’t do something, felt the odds to great to overcome or been afraid to go after what you really want, here is my advice. Do it. Go after it. Follow your heart, go after your dreams, trust and believe in yourself and never give up. Find the people who will support you on the good days and the bad, because those are the people who really count. And even if you lose at times, feel that you’ve failed or finish last, you’ll win in the end. Because you’ll have really, truly, lived! And trust me, that is the greatest feeling in the world!
And just in case anyone is wondering, no, I’m not done skating; my skating journey is nowhere near complete. I still love what I do, I know I have a whole lot more in me, and I am far too curious to move on until I find out just how much I’ve got!
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  • Kristi

    Nicely said Maria. A champion is not always the one with the medal around their neck but who’s heart is full of love and gratitude for the games and for those that helped you get there. Way to go!

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