One may yearn for the praise and stardom athletes receive. Although most people appreciate positive reinforcement and accolades, the praise and attention garnered from playing a professional sport can come at a price. Fear, pressure and doubt can consume the minds of even the greatest athletes, yet somehow, they persevere. Depression, stereotypes and setbacks were not enough to keep the next group of Travel & Training grant recipients from following their dreams and attaining the unthinkable. They are go-getters and their will to win makes them truly triumphant.
Q: How old were you when you began your sport and what was it about practicing and competing in it that motivated you to specialize?
Sara: I am actually pretty new to skeleton. I started when I was 23 years old. I was a track and field athlete through college, took a year off, and then jumped into training again, but this time with Skeleton. Being a sprinter my whole life, skeleton gave me the opportunity to expand on my talent and hard work. My coach in college has worked with athletes in the sport for a long time, so it’s been something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. I love the thrill of this sport. Being an individual athlete, it’s so fun for me to compete against myself all the time. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the ice, on the track or in the gym, I love becoming better. The science, speed and patience this sport requires is incredible which is why I think I’m so invested and motivated. Being a student of the sport is something I hear every day and it’s the best part, learning.
Maxine: I originally wanted to be a ninja, but my mom said no. So, I went to the yellow pages and found a karate school that was further away, it was a 20-minute drive. I began training at 13 and I’ve been at the location now for 17 years. I actually started competing at the age of 17 in 2005 and at a competition in Ecuador where I ended up losing. But that lit a fire in me and made me want to make sure that I get back.
Q: What’s your biggest obstacle/challenge overall that you have overcome? And what’s the biggest or greatest challenge you face today?
Rosie: My first two challenges occurred in my early years of college, one directly after the other. The first was getting cut from my college’s ski team after my freshman year. That was a hard reality check to be told you are not good enough to have a future in your sport. Somehow, my teammate who also was cut, convinced our coach to give us a second chance, and if we could come back in the fall in the best shape of our lives, with lots of hard work and improved ski technique, we could stay on the team. So, we did by working and training a ton that summer and that fall, in the first race of the season, I finished in the top 5 of our team, which allowed me to stay on the roster. However, I fell and tore my patellar femoral tendon in my right knee in that race, which prevented me from racing half the races that season, required a massive surgery in the spring, and took over a year to be able to ski and run normally again. I hit the lowest of lows that year, struggling with depression on and off. Between those two obstacles, I realized what skiing meant to me, and how much I loved the lifestyle and community of the sport.
The biggest challenge I face today is finding a way to make my passion for skiing a positive pursuit for the greater community. I feel that I have a number of ways I can contribute to this world, and sometimes, it seems that pursuing an elite sport is quite selfish. Day in, day out, I try to find a way to use my position as an elite athlete to create positive change in my community, but it is something I struggle with quite often.
The biggest challenge I face today is finding a way to make my passion for skiing a positive pursuit for the greater community. — Rosie Frankowski
Sara: The biggest challenge would be that I have had back injuries my entire life. I had dual bi-lateral pars defect in L4 and L5, two bulged torn discs and scoliosis going into 9th grade. I’m lucky enough to have an amazing strength coach who has known me for such a long time and has adapted my training off the ice to help with the support and recovery I need. With the help from the Women’s Sports Foundation, I am lucky enough to have some financial support. However, most people don’t realize how much time and money is put into getting better. We have so many costs that I’m working 50-60-hour work weeks in the off-season in order to save for the winter. This can put a damper into the daily ‘grind’ of becoming better physically and mentally for my sport that I love!
Maxine: I have a bit of trouble with this question because every time I think I have overcome a challenge, God presents me with a new one. It’s humbling. I’m a PTSD survivor. In 2016 I was in a car wreck and suffered a concussion, but it was the second after I was at team trials for the Pan-American games when I suffered one after being hit. It was life threatening. I had suicidal thoughts and didn’t want to compete anymore and wanted to go to a different weight class. So, this year I went back to the weight class and qualified for team trials. It was an emotional strain and took a lot of mental energy and no one understood what it was like and what I was going through.
Jaelin: A fear of failure. There were times of setbacks when I thought I wasn’t good enough. I was afraid of failing things outside of my control and results stood out. But I just had to remind myself when I’m skiing for myself it’s without expectations and pressure. I remind myself to ski for me.
Q: What are some tips you would give to other aspiring young athletes who would like to compete at your level one day?
Rosie: Some tips I would give to younger athletes are: First, be ready to work harder than you ever thought possible. Second, make sure you are pursuing the sport for reasons other than success or ‘fame.’ Develop strong meaningful relationships with teammates, coaches, even competitors, and remember to enjoy the little moments on the long journey to keep yourself motivated and happy through the lows. And third, and most importantly, find a way to make your involvement in your sport greater than yourself. This means linking your passion to a bigger cause, whether that is equal opportunity in sport for girls, environmental conservation, shaping your hometown community—it could be anything. Because it takes years, and even decades, to reach the top level of any sport, having a greater cause you are devoting energy to—outside of your individual success or struggles—lets you stay balanced and puts things in perspective. At the end of the day, people don’t remember who won and lost, or your race times, but rather the type of person that athlete embodied.
Sara: The first is to stay positive. It’s so easy to get caught up in your own frustrations and setbacks. The more you look at the big picture and keep your goals in focus, the more growth you will see. The second is to ask for help. It’s difficult to try something new on your own. You don’t have any of the answers (yet) and there are many people looking to help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Last, try to be better than yesterday. No one can make you reach your goals but you. Keep things in perspective and work hard.
I originally wanted to be a ninja, but my mom said no. So, I went to the yellow pages and found a karate school. — Maxine Lisot
Maxine: You have to be comfortable and have to be motivated. After everything that happened people said, ‘Well, maybe the universe is trying to tell you not to pursue this anymore,’ and I said, ‘Well, maybe the universe is trying to tell me to keep going.’ Some think if you have a major setback, you’re not meant to go after it. Maybe I’m meant to pursue this and not everyone else. Maybe the universe is testing me to get better.
Setting athletic goals is important. Trust them to find success. The main goal is to be personally satisfied.
Jaelin: Don’t be afraid to fail, everyone in the world does it. The best athletes in the world fail. Mistakes and failures, you can learn from and use them to make yourself a better athlete.
Q: What or who keeps you motivated?
Rosie: What motivates me has changed a lot over the years. I have a bit of a contrarian streak in me, and so whenever someone tells me I can’t accomplish something, it ignites a fire in me to do exactly what he or she said was impossible. However, honestly, the love of my lifestyle and ability to get outside each day in the mountains or forests, and ski and run with my friends, is the thing that gets me out the door every morning. I have found that competition and rigid outcome goals are not my style, and so I don’t really set strong performance goals, instead relying on the happiness I have out training each day. If I am happy, I know I am doing the right thing to improve and get better.
Jaelin: My mom. She’s an incredible person and role model. She was in the X Games and won three bronze medals, me and my brother got to stand at the podium. She’s a strong female role model that told me I can do anything and that the many stereotypes out there about girls don’t apply. She pushed my love for being in the mountains.
Q: What’s a hobby or talent you have that not many know about?
Rosie: I love baking, and I actually read more food blogs on the Internet than I would like to admit. However, I also have this weird lack of ability to follow a recipe; so, often when I bake, I just throw the ingredients in without measuring. Fortunately, I know enough about baking to know the process, so my baked goods usually turn out really well. However, I can’t ever recreate them exactly how they were, because I never know the true measurements!
Sara: Shucking oysters and clams with my friend Dave in the summer, lobstering with my dad, and coaching track and field at the high school.
Maxine: I actually like to write. I considered writing in college. I’m a humanities nerd. Growing up I sang, danced and did theater but stopped when I wanted to pursue karate.
Jaelin: Surfing, I’m not very good at it. It’s just this crazy adrenaline rush you get when paddling for these big waves. I’m not familiar with it, I didn’t grow up doing it, so I enjoy the challenge to work and get better at it.
To learn more about Jaelin, Maxine, Sara and Rosie, click here.
Jessica Dennis is a summer intern with the Women’s Sports Foundation. She is currently a student at St. John’s University and ran track & field in high school.
Photos courtesy of Sara Roderick, Maxine Lisot, Rosie Frankowski and Jaelin Kauf.