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Things I’ve Learned: As Told By Pentathlete, Army Sgt. & Olympic Qualifier Samantha Schultz

By Karen Price | Oct. 06, 2020, 9 a.m. (ET)

Samantha Achterberg competes in women's fencing at the UIPM World Cup, Modern Pentathlon test event for Tokyo 2020 on June 27, 2019 in Tokyo. 


Each Tuesday leading up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, which will be held in the summer of 2021, TeamUSA.org will introduce you to an athlete you should know prior to Tokyo – as part of the “Tokyo Tuesday” series. There’s a lot to learn on your quest to becoming the ultimate fan. Follow along on social media with the hashtag #TokyoTuesday.


Samantha Achterberg was a competitive high school runner, swimmer and horseback rider when she first learned about pentathlon.

A decade later Achterberg is now Schultz, having recently celebrated her first wedding anniversary, and thanks to her silver medal at the 2019 Pan American Games she’ll represent the U.S. in pentathlon next summer in Tokyo.

Life does not move slowly for Schultz, who has to train for a sport that’s actually five extremely different sports wrapped into one event. The Denver native must be able to fence, swim, get on a horse she just met and 20 minutes later be prepared to ride it jumping around the ring, and then run and shoot a pistol.

Add to all that the fact that Schultz, 28, is a sergeant in the U.S. Army and a member of the World Class Athlete Program.

And if you follow her on social media, you’ll also know that she loves to share her workouts, recipes and other facets of her Olympic journey so that others can come along for the ride.

For this week’s installment of Tokyo Tuesday, TeamUSA.org caught up with Schultz to find out what she’s learned over the years from all her many different experiences.

Things I’ve learned from competing in a sport that’s actually five sports in one:
I think one of the benefits of pentathlon is that you do have five opportunities. If you don’t have a top swim you still have four other events that you can still push yourself in. So one thing I’ve learned is that it’s never too late. You can have a sub-par day starting out in fencing and still work your way back up. Or you can have a good day and do a bad job on the horse and things can go downhill. Things aren’t over until you cross the finish line, so if you put forth the effort all day the pieces can come together at the end of the day, hopefully. And if they don’t, then you go back to the drawing board and say, “Where can I work on this?” It’s a challenge, it really is, but I think that’s the best part about it, too, is that there are so many different parts. 

Things I’ve learned from spending time around horses:
You always have to be alert. They are big, powerful animals, and when you experience that horse going over a jump you feel all that power, but if you don’t know what you’re doing that power can be used in the wrong way. You don’t know what’s going to spark them or scare them and you always have to be alert and respectful and see what the horse does, what it responds to and be able to adapt to it. But they’ve also taught me that they’re very loving animals and being able to go to the barn and spend time with my horse when I was young was so rewarding. 

Things I’ve learned from traveling the world:
The biggest thing is probably just being aware of your surroundings. And also carrying an extra phone charger with you at all times. I like to go out and walk or go for a jog and explore and find things to do where I can experience the culture and it’s not the touristy things, but you also have to be careful. It’s important to learn pieces of the language, like thank you, please or key words to get around. It also shows you’re being respectful of their language and their culture. We’re all different, but there are so many things that are similar about us and that’s the neat thing. 

Things I learned from Basic Training in the Army:
You don’t have control over anything. The drill sergeant tells you what to do and when to do it and you get punished as a group, so even if you’re doing the right thing and your battle buddy next to you doesn’t do the right thing, you’re all going to get punished. I learned how to work together as a team, and you kind of put your needs aside to try to figure out how to get things done. You’re alone there, so being able to come together with other people and put things in perspective and be like, “Hey, we have to get this mission done so we can get some sleep, to get some food, to get from point a to point b, and we have to come together to do that.” You have to communicate and work together. Growing up doing team sports I was used to that, but you’re coming together with people from all over the U.S. and the world, and a lot of people weren’t raised the same way as you were and you’re going to have disagreements and people who don’t want to work with you and people who are anywhere from 17 to 27 years old. There are so many different culture clashes and personality clashes, but in the end, seeing the transformations people make along the way is a really neat experience. 

Things I’ve learned from serving in the U.S. military:
Gratitude and perspective are the biggest things. Gratitude that I have a family within the Army and the WCAP and fellow athletes, coaches and leadership that really want me to have success, not just as an athlete but in my career in the military and after sports. They push me in so many different ways. If I mess up it’s like, “Yeah, you screwed up but now you get to learn from it.” I’ve been promoted twice now and so now I get to be part of that leadership, too. There are so many opportunities in the Army. Unless you’re a five-star general I guess there’s always going to be someone who’s ahead of you, and if they’re a good leader they’ll try to help you get to where you need to be and teach you.

Things I’ve learned about routine, visualization and paths to success that I now share with other military members as part of the WCAP:
Consistency. A lot of people think you were born a great athlete and it’s like no, it took a lot of hard work and dedication. A lot of people think they can run and do some push-ups and pass their PT test and it’s like, “Do you want to pass your PT test, or do you want to be strong and push yourself and see how fast you can get or how strong you can be? Are you going to be able to haul your battle buddy out on your back?” I teach them that you have to have consistency with everything you do in life. All aspects of your life need to work together to produce results. You can work out all day, but if you go home and eat a pizza you’re not going to see the work you’re putting in pay off. 

Things I learned while trying (and succeeding) to qualify for my first Olympic Games:
I’ve learned so much. I’m still constantly learning, or trying to learn. I think one of the biggest things I had someone tell me before the Pan American Games is that even if I have a poor result, my family will still love me, my husband will still love me, my coach will still support me and people will still love me as Sammy. I may have let myself down as an athlete, but I don’t have to tie my results to who I am as a person. Being able to detach from that took some of the pressure off. I already put so much pressure on myself that I had to do a reality check that OK, I have five sports I have to train for, I have to keep it realistic, enjoy it and have more fun with it and not be so results-oriented to where it consumes my whole life, because that’s when it can become toxic. I’ve learned to give myself grace and know I’m not perfect and as long as I try, show up and work hard the people around me are going to see that and love and support me no matter what.

Karen Price

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Samantha Schultz