Clockwise from left: Nancy Fiddler, Tommy Czeschin, Karen Keehn, Deena Kastor, Robin Morning, Jill Kinmont Boothe (Photo by Layton Petersen)
For many television viewers of the Olympic Games, the advent of this global ceremony only comes every two years. For athletes who compete in the games, however, their sport consumes virtually every aspect of their lives. Even when retired, athletes pass the torch on to those who will follow in their footsteps, as their legacies and lifestyles continue to shape lives beyond their own.
On Tuesday night, the Inyo Council for the Arts in Bishop hosted an evening interviewing a panel of both past and present Olympians. The crew included world-class athletes Deena Kastor, Tommy Czeschin, Nancy Fiddler, Karen Keehn and Robin Morning. The panel answered both prepared questions and inquiries from the audience, on topics covering career highlights, the steroids controversy, and overcoming adversity.
Karen Keehn, who made the 1976 women’s rowing team for the Summer Olympics in Montreal, said she felt honored to compete the first year women’s rowing was included at the Olympics. She said she remembers wanting to march into the stadium at the opening ceremony on the right side, where she had calculated the TV cameras and the queen would be. But when she marched through the tunnel into the light of the stadium, she said it felt like she had been “microwaved.”
“Every thought and preconception I had before the experience flew out the window,”
Keehn said. “I don’t remember the video cameras or the queen, just the incredible feeling of being there.”
Born and raised Mammoth Lakes resident Tommy Czeschin, who competed in the 2002 Olympic team for snowboarding, described his experience at the Winter Games as, “Just wow.” He said competing in the United States right after the attack on Sept. 11 made him feel honored because the national pride was so palpable.
Although all five athletes who spoke on Tuesday participated in the Olympics during their lifetimes, it was not always a life dream for each of them. Robin Morning, who competed in downhill skiing at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, said she never had a great desire to go to the Olympics when she started learning to ski.
“But when you’re doing something, you just want to get better and better at whatever it is,” Morning said.
Since she was learning to ski under the first-class mentorship of Dave McCoy, Morning said she was constantly surrounded by other great role models in her sport who, by virtue of proximity, influenced her to strive for greater goals.
Deena Kastor, the 2004 Olympic marathon bronze medalist in Athens, said her calling wasn’t clear until she had tried almost every other sport before attempting long-distance running. Not having much success in soccer, she said, “I was the girl who scored goals for the other team.”
When she took up softball, she was designated as an outfielder, and spent her time blowing bubbles and constructing daisy chains. When she began running through the Santa Monica Mountains with her track team though, she said she didn’t want to turn back. She has now been dedicated to the sport for 26 years. In addition to medaling at the Olympics, Kastor was the 2004 USA 10,000m champion, won the Jesse Owens Award in 2003, was a two-time World Cross Country silver medalist and a four-time USA 10,000m champion.
When watching the Olympics, viewers get glimpses of the athletes’ sense of glory and pride. What the viewers don’t often see is the athletes’ dedication to a certain kind of lifestyle, the hours of training, and the overcoming of major obstacles.
For example, marathon competitor Kastor said she averages 20 miles per day of running. When she was training for the 2004 Olympics, she said she wore layers of clothing to simulate the heat of Athens during the winter months in Mammoth Lakes. She also said tests showed that her body doesn’t feel the effects of altitude until 12,000 feet, so she had to train at 9,000 feet in elevation.
“It’s a pretty intensive lifestyle,” Kastor said. “But I absolutely love it.”
She said she has to think about everything she does and how it will affect her performance, including how she eats, sleeps and thinks. Bending her day around her sport has just become an engrained part of her life.
But Kastor is not the only one who monitors her lifestyle. In an age when performance-enhancing drugs are more accessible than ever, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has become a professional athletic watchdog. Kastor said the agency must know where she is at all times, so if they plan to make a random visit and administer a drug test, she will be at the prearranged location.
“They can give you a random test at any time,” Kastor said. “If you get three missed tests, then it counts as a positive test. So I have to text in any changes in plans so I can always be followed.”
Although some might see this as an invasion of privacy, Kastor said she feels it’s necessary. She said taking drugs is like cheating in sports.
Nancy Fiddler, who competed in two Winter Olympics in cross country skiing, had strong feelings about steroids. She said knowing that her competitors were taking performance-enhancing drugs made her feel like she had been robbed of her true results.
“I feel like the athletes who take drugs are missing the thrill of victory—of seeing what their bodies can do,” Kastor said.
Sometimes, however, bodies don’t do what athletes want them to do. When the panelists discussed how they have faced adversity, they primarily talked about their injuries. Kastor described how disappointing it was for her to compete in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, only to withdraw from the race after about 3 miles due to a debilitating foot injury. After winning the bronze in Athens, Kastor said, she wanted to bring home the gold from Beijing.
“I had such high hopes,” Kastor said. “It was very devastating. But challenges and obstacles are undoubtedly opportunities in disguise—opportunities to grow as individuals.”
Kastor was the only one of the five athletes on the panel who is not retired. She is still training, competing, and loving the lifestyle she has chosen. Each athlete remarked on how their sports became both their passions and their lives. They described how enriching and fulfilling it was to travel and find companionship and fellowship with their teammates.
“I didn’t lose things from that lifestyle,” Morning said. “I only gained things.”
Keehn said, for her, team became family, and every morning she woke up looking forward to advancing in her sport.
“If you think you should be doing something else besides your sport,” Fiddler said, “then you shouldn’t be doing it.”
Kastor emphasized how giving up things to focus on a sport shouldn’t feel like it’s a limiting factor in life. She said if you’re finding joy in what you’re doing, then you shouldn’t feel like you’re sacrificing anything.