Summer Rappaport at the swim exit during the women's elite olympic race at the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final on Aug. 31, 2019 in Lausanne, Switzerland.
What's Your Why presented by DeVry highlights athlete’s individual motivations that drive them to pursue greatness on their journey to achieve their Olympic & Paralympic dreams.
My “why” is to explore my limits and find out truly how good I can be as a professional athlete. How good I can be isn’t just tied to my performances on the racecourse. It is tied to how well I take the skills I’ve honed as an athlete and apply them both in sport and in life.
With aspirations of someday competing for Team USA in an Olympic Games, as the wide-eyed nine-year-old who joined her first swim team, sport has enriched my life in more ways than I could have dreamed. My hope now as a member of Team USA is that I can inspire young athletes to relentlessly pursue their potential.
The skills that have made me an Olympian have powered me to excel in other areas, too. As I pushed myself to be the best I can be, I learned different skills at different stages of my career.
My club sports years - which I was inspired to pursue after watching the Olympic Games Sydney 2000 - taught me the joys of competition and how to be scrappy. My college years taught me how to manage long hours, frequent travel for competitions and teamwork.
Along the way, I had ups and downs. I made great friends and memories though I didn’t meet all of my goals. In the days before I had a path set towards becoming a professional triathlete, I was aggressively pursuing prestigious internships and opportunities to best enhance my future. The drive instilled in me from my youth and collegiate sporting career pushed me towards pursuing excellence outside of sport as well.
Most importantly, this base stage of my journey and desire to find out what I am capable of accomplishing led me into a career as a professional triathlete. I started out at Villanova University solely as a swimmer, but by graduation, I found myself balancing a rigorous academic load along with competing on the swim team as well as the cross country and track and field teams. This pathway was surprising to everyone, including myself, because I did not start to run competitively until my sophomore year of college.
My freshman year of college, I decided to sign up for a ten-mile road race in Philadelphia for fun. I trained fairly seriously and was surprised to find myself in a competitive position during the race. During my preparations, I found myself wondering why I was taking my training so seriously. Even though it was just for fun, I wanted to see what I was capable of.
I’m glad I did because I didn’t dream what doors my fun run could open for me. My college swim coach recognized that I had potential as a triathlete and encouraged me to consider pursuing triathlon after graduation. I learned that saying “yes” to opportunities and exploring interests could lead to bigger things.
After college, I was put in touch with a recruitment program designed to bring collegiate runners and/or swimmers into the sport of triathlon with the goal of producing Olympians for Team USA.
My start as a triathlete was not smooth. I found myself far behind the curve of what was expected of me on day one. It was only through continuing to show up day after day – despite repeatedly failing - and seeking out the best resources to help me improve that I was able to match the curve and eventually exceed it.
I recognized that I had an amazing opportunity to find out how good of an athlete I could be, and I did not want to waste it. The desire to explore my potential is what drove me to push on through the initial learning period and through later periods of injury and various struggles.
My professional years have taught me when to go the extra mile and when to allow time for recovery, how to be present while also having an eye on short and long-term goals and how to manage adversity and the unexpected. This, I believe, leads to the most important skill I’ve learned from sport - perseverance.
Every athlete who has competed at any level for a significant amount of time is the ability to not just keep moving forward, but to find a way to come back from adversity better than ever through our resourcefulness. I asked myself why I kept going more often than I like to admit, but now I look back on the struggles of my early years in triathlon proudly. Those challenges built character; and I ultimately rose to meet every one of them.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I know from my time in sport that I can handle whatever challenge life throws at me. I know that by applying the skills I have already learned - and new skills that I will learn in the remaining years of my career - that I can do anything I set my mind to.