Now that I am finally stateside and home, I have had about a month to debrief and sort of wrap my head around my entire Olympic experience. It was entirely electrifying, satisfying, heartbreaking, hard, testing, spectacular, exciting, disappointing, a journey within itself. Simply and basically an emotional and physical rollercoaster.

To be honest, I started this blog entry a little over a week from returning from Sochi. It has since taken me until now to be able to complete because of the wide spectrum of emotions and thoughts all garbled in the space between my ears. I have to also be fair: I was warned; warned more than once about this feeling, but to be completely frank, no one can truly prepare you for all that is about to come your way during the Olympic experience and thereafter. I’ve returned home to a house that had no heat (for two weeks our heating was broke, didn’t know what was wrong with it and couldn’t afford to fix it right away either), the ceiling leaking and the basement filling with water, two totaled vehicles (so no cars for use at all), a stack of bills needing to be paid [both personal as well as for my family household (a household we cannot afford, for the last two years barely staying afloat)], sleeping on the couch because my room had become storage, suitcases needing to be unpacked, yet nowhere to put the stuff away and… let’s face it… the reality of reentering the real world. Pfff my brain hurts just rereading all of that and makes me quite overwhelmed.

So the Olympic Games, something that I pretty much have steered my life course towards getting to and competing in was well beyond what I could have ever imagined yet far from complete at the same time. The journey alone of qualifying for the Olympics and having the amazing opportunity to be one of the best in the world to compete with USA written on my bobsled, helmet and speed suit was definitely one for the record books. But, within my experience I couldn’t help but feel something was missing, something wasn’t right and it really wasn’t until it was over that I figured it out. Unfortunately that could have played a role in my lack of “success” in performance. I got lost throughout the season (not actually lost, but mentally) and was pretty inconsistent throughout the eight races to qualify for the Sochi Games. I wanted the journey, the struggles, the sweat, the tears, the heartaches, the questioning, the lack of being home and being with my family through all the difficult ventures to all be worth it while I was at the Olympics. I should have known better that it is always worth it in the long run when you don’t quit and go after your dreams and what you want. In getting lost I confused my meaning of success in performance, and ultimately struggled during my first competition day in Sochi which put me well behind the pace and significantly back from medal position. My bobsled teammate and brakeman, Lolo Jones, answered a question during the media mix zone about competing in these Winter Olympics on whether it was just to compete in the Games for her or did she have an objective of winning a medal even though she was on the USA-3 sled (my sled). She answered it, and I am paraphrasing here, “If you aren’t going to the Olympic Games with the intention to compete going for a medal, then you probably shouldn’t bother going.” This may sound harsh to the average ear, but frankly as a true competitive athlete, your goals are to compete to the maximum of your abilities even trying to surpass the limitations put on you in order to push the envelope of your sport. Records were made to be broken, right??? Medals are also made to compete and strive for.

The first two weeks of my Olympics I was thrilled, happy, embracing every moment within the Russian culture, exploring the venues, meeting fellow Team USA members and other internationals and dialing my routine for my competition days. It seems crazy how the mood, attitude and emotions flowing through your veins can switch as dramatically as fast as it takes to flick on a light switch. After the disappointing first day of competition, I refused to let my Olympics slip away from me. Sure I was in 11th place, sure I was a significant time difference back from the top three spots, sure media was having a frenzy with “another no medal Olympics for Lolo Jones and her driver,” sure I was crushed, but I had this epiphany. It was like I was able to let go of it all and at that moment I decided I am going to stand on that start line the following evening knowing it was the last two runs of the competition and go back to basics. I went back to my old playlist for warming up, dancing and singing in the warm-up area, I was smiling, there was no more pressure on me, I have been counted out. My goals for that day changed. I didn’t think I want and need this to be worth it, I thought… I want to leave the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games with my head held high, I want to fight for every millisecond on this bobsled track having the best runs I have had here, step out of my sled and be proud that I never gave in, that I fought to the end and whatever the time and place say at the finish will just be.

My abilities and worth spread a lot further than a piece of material you can hold in your hand ranging in gold, silver or bronze and the stereotypes that lie within athletics and achieving that hardware. My focus is becoming a better me, not a second-rate version of what someone else says is me, wants me to be, expects me to be. Sometimes you may suffer consequences from this, but every time I have and will continue to learn a lesson, these lessons will carry with me for the rest of my life. I read a response recently through social media on a friend’s post, “real success is measured not in a race won but in the perseverance to overcome the obstacles that appear in pursuit of your dream.” Some may think I say this because I was on the “other side” of circumstances and did not earn a medal. I say this to be true even with a medal, the medal is just the cherry on the sundae, it shouldn’t change who you really are. Medal or no medal, I AM a champion, every athlete that has hit the highest level and pinnacle achievement in their sport, specifically the Olympic Games, can call themselves a champion. Some may disagree but the reason I say this is because these athletes have endured heartbreak, injury, sacrifice, tragedies, failures, victories, life-altering circumstances and still have pushed through with determination, hard work and perseverance to walk into the Olympic Games representing themselves, family and friends, but, above all, the nation that has raised them, that alone in itself is a feat that no one can take away or taint from you. I am honored and privilege to be an Olympian of the United States of America, not just in Sochi 2014, but for the rest of my life and know there is much more to me than just that!

Over the past few weeks my community of family, friends, supporters and fans has really helped me to get back into seeing the bigger picture. I have been honored by my hometown, city councilmen and mayor with a proclamation and plethora of awards. One of the coolest things about that ceremony was that the councilman for my ward in the district said to me, “I thought my proudest moment to date in life was when I was sworn in as city councilman, but really today is my proudest moment to honor you.” The local Boy Scouts aided an artist in doing a mural that I have chosen to be hung at my elementary school. I have received an infinite amount of fan mail, social media messages and responses to my post all showing so much pride, love and support as well as sharing personal stories of how I have motivated and inspired. I have been completely speechless at the recognition of my own personal story, how it has touched the hearts of so many and how it has inspired others ranging in all ages from first graders to senior citizens to keep fighting to be their ultimate best in whatever they so choose and keep standing up no matter how many times and different ways they are knocked down. I’d like to think that I have even given my mom a new sense of strength to hopefully continue to fight strong through her failing health and financial burdens as she has been standing next to me all along the way despite every single setback.

There is always a plan, but I’ll admit, I don’t know how things will completely turn out. That’s the true beauty of it all, right?!?! I look forward to chasing my desires and passions without restraint, and to share them with anyone and everyone who wants to come along for the ride with me. I’m hungry, and I am far from done marking off athletic achievements from my bucket list so I’ll see y’all in PyeongChang, South Korea, in 2018 (maybe even Rio 2016).

I am just continuously striving to be more than I have ever been…

“Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” – Babe Ruth

“Winners… are not those who never fail but those who never quit!”

“Be ambitious… not thirsty”

“Through every setback there’s a chance to comeback.” – Liberty Mutual Insurance

"Every time you consider the future, feel confident that something great lies just beyond the horizon, and tomorrow is always an opportunity to achieve greatness."

“Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It’s your place in the world, it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.” - Mae Jemison (astronaut)