The road to greatness is often met with adversity and challenges that one must strive to overcome. The resilience and fortitude of an athlete during this time is what separates the good from the great. Plagued with injury and chronic conditions, 2018 Travel & Training Fund recipients Christine Cavallo (rowing) and Deedra Irwin (biathlon) do not allow obstacles to define them; instead, they grow more confident and improve upon their performance. They have learned to be forgiving of less than stellar performances while trusting in their ability to reach new levels. With both determination and the support of loved ones, Christine and Deedra’s dreams are made possible.
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?
Christine: I began rowing when I was 14 — a freshman in high school! I played soccer, ran track and cross country before then, but I suffered a pretty bad knee injury and had to find something that was lower impact. My competitive drive carried over really well, and I decided to stick with it!
Q: What’s something unique about yourself that sets you apart from everyone else who plays the sport?
Deedra: Something unique that sets me apart from everyone else in biathlon I think is actually my amateurism in the sport. I didn’t have any real experiences with a rifle before I joined biathlon which made it easy for the coaches to teach me good shooting technique from the beginning. I’ve also only been skiing for 10 years which is usually much less than other people who have been skiing since they were toddlers. I think these aspects have helped me be a little more forgiving of myself towards bad results and look forward to improving my performance as much as possible.
Q: What’s your biggest obstacle/challenge overall that you have overcome? And what’s the biggest or greatest challenge you face today?
Deedra: My biggest obstacles and challenges that I have overcome have all been injury related. I’ve been told many times in my athletic career from high school and on that my injuries are too severe or chronic and that I won’t be able to come back to full strength and speed. Thankfully, with the help and support of amazing people in my life, I have been able to mentally and physically come back from the many overuse injuries that I’ve dealt with as an endurance athlete. The biggest challenge that I am facing these days is some lower back pain sustained from some training and an old injury. I trained and raced through World Cup trials the best that I could with the help of our USOC team and now I’m home resting and recovering doing my best to get healthy for my races in Europe this December.
If you want something bad enough and you are willing to work for it then anything can happen. — Deedra Irwin
Christine: Overall, my biggest obstacle has been that I am considered really short for a rower at almost 5’5”. But instead of making that an excuse, I held myself to the same standards as everyone else, and it got me where I am today. Now, everything is a challenge! But at the same time, I feel more confident in myself than ever that I can take it on.
Q: What are some tips you would give to other aspiring young athletes who would like to compete at your level one day?
Christine: Find time to smile. Remember that you’re here and you’re doing this sport for fun. It won’t be pretty every day but aim to have more good days than bad and keep reminding yourself why you love what you do.
Deedra: Never give up. There were plenty of times in my career that it would have been easier to quit and move onto the next thing in my life, but if you want something bad enough and you are willing to work for it then anything can happen. I’ve never been the fastest athlete or the most talented, but I always give it my all. Work hard and great things will come. Take every opportunity you can. Give yourself a chance.
Q: What or who keeps you motivated?
Deedra: My parents keep me motivated. If it weren’t for my parents’ support I would have never gotten this far. They have always believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. And now that I’ve been in the sport for a while, there is a whole community of people who seem to always know how to pick me up when I’m feeling down. I’m motivated by their support and encouragement.
Christine: My fellow athletes — the people I have met in this sport are some of the best people I know.
Q: What’s a hobby or talent you have that not many know about?
Christine: I have a pretty strong interest in geology. I minored in it in college and now I will do some research on the basic geology and formation of different countries and race courses I go to.
It won’t be pretty every day but aim to have more good days than bad and keep reminding yourself why you love what you do. — Christine Cavallo
Deedra: I recently started learning to play Bridge with my grandmother’s bridge club. It’s definitely not a talent, but it has become a hobby that I enjoy sharing with my Nana.
Jessica Dennis is an intern with the Women’s Sports Foundation. She is currently a student at St. John’s University and ran track & field in high school.