Go Big or Go Home: An Interview with Olympic Speedskater Brittany Bowe

Go Big or Go Home: An Interview with Olympic Speedskater Brittany Bowe

When you’re driven to be the best speedskater in the world, there’s a lot of training and hard work that goes on behind the scenes—a level of dedication that most spectators and fans don’t see. For Brittany Bowe, putting in that hard work is just another “day at the office”. But what happens when you work for years towards a goal and the results aren’t what you expect? How do you find the motivation to keep moving forward? Following the disappointment of Sochi, Brittany came back the following season and smashed every personal goal she set for herself, setting the World Record in the 1000m and winning the World Sprint Championships. Today, we talk with Brittany to find out how she handles setbacks, and how she found strength to have such a successful season following the Olympics.

Moving Forward

After Sochi came to an end and Brittany finished skating the World Cup Circuit, she returned home to Florida to spend some downtime with family and to try to figure out her next move. She says, “After the Olympics, it was very, very difficult. It was a whirlwind of events, and then all of a sudden, everything was over. The lights were off, and no one was looking in my direction…After the World Cup season was over, I went home to Florida for about two months and really decompressed. All of my Ocala family was happy for me, and so excited to be a part of this journey. But to put on a smiling face and try to enjoy those moments with them was difficult, at times, because [the results] weren’t what I wanted. It was really hard for me to be excited over something that didn’t go according to plan.”

Learning to Trust

Another difficulty Brittany faced was putting her faith in a new coach and a new training program when she returned to Salt Lake City. She says, “As if the Olympics weren’t a crazy enough adventure, we got word that our coach was stepping down, and that [they had] to find a new coach for the National Racing Program. After a few months, they signed Matt Kooreman on board, and it was a transitioning summer. It’s very difficult, at times, to try to put all of your trust in someone else, when you’ve had a [different] routine that you thought worked. So just finding that rhythm with a new coach, finding that trust, was difficult. It was rocky throughout the summer. But I decided to buy in and trust the program—to trust Matt. Then, as fall rolled around, times started getting where they needed to be. And as we went into the season, things started going really, really well, and progressed throughout the entire year.”

She adds, “I have a great support staff, a great coaching system, and a great team. [For me], this past year really reflected on buying into the system, putting your trust in someone, and doing everything you can do to make sure that you are the best—worrying about what you’re in control of. It wasn’t all smooth. There were rocky roads….But when the lights were on, things went according to plan, and it looked nice in front of the cameras. It was definitely a ton of hard work, but I finished the year far past any goals that I set for myself.”

Basketball, Inline and Ice

As a child, Brittany didn’t start out on the ice. In fact, she participated in many different sports, including soccer, inline, and basketball. One thing you may not know about Brittany is that she attended Florida Atlantic University, where she played point guard for the Owls. Before graduating with a degree in sociology and social science, Brittany scored more than 1000 points for the Owls. She also holds the school record for free throws attempted and made in a single game.

As for her skating career, Brittany tried inline for the first time at the age of 8, and later on, she participated in the World Championships from 2002 to 2008. Throughout her inline career, she won 32 overall medals, including a gold medal at the 2007 Pan Am Games, before crossing over to the ice 5 years ago. After just one season on the ice, Brittany earned a spot on the US National Long Track Sprint Team, as well as the US World Cup Speed Skating Team. She is currently one of the fastest long track speedskaters in the world. At the 2015 World Single Distance Speed Skating Championships, she won gold in 1000m & 1500m, as well as silver in 500m. She also won the 2015 World Sprint Speedskating Championships. Concerning her athletic ability, she says, “I have been blessed with a natural ability and a talent, and I realize that I need to take these blessings and do everything in my power to excel. These things have been laid on the plate in front of me, and I want to do everything humanly possible to be able to use these gifts to the best of my ability.”

And how does she deal with the pressure that comes with being the best? She says, “I actually thrive when the lights are on, and during the big moments—I love that. If you were to ask me if I want to race or train, for sure, I would say racing. That’s the fun part. [But] preparation is what relieves that pressure. When I get to the line, I’m ready. Nothing is really in my head. I’m just focusing on the task at hand. And when the lights are on and the crowd is cheering, that’s what gets me going.”

Awards and Skating Like a Girl

In May 2015, Brittany was given the Oscar Mathisen Award for her 1000m race at the World Single Distance Championships. She finished the race with a recorded time of 1.139, making her the first skater to complete the race at a European track in under 1.14 minutes. (Brittany and Bonnie Blair are the only American female skaters to win the Oscar Award.) Brittany was also given the 2015 Eric Heiden Athlete of the Year Award by US Speedskating. Concerning what these awards have meant to her, she says, “These are awesome accolades. Being honored with these awards was very, very humbling. To be in a group of so few skaters, [who are] some of the best that have ever been on the ice, is very humbling, and I’m really thankful for it.”

The US Olympic Committee named Brittany Athlete of the Month in February, and she was listed among the USOC’s 35 Women of Winter in March. So what is her message to all the young female athletes who look up to her? “You can be whatever you want to be. Never sell yourself short. Dream big. It doesn’t matter what sport you’re doing, if it’s basketball, soccer, softball, or whatever. Shoot like a girl. Kick like a girl. Hit like a girl. Embrace the femininity and the power that you have.”

Team Stressless

Recently, Brittany signed with Team Stressless, an initiative started by Bart Veldkamp with the goal of bringing together skaters from different countries. Brittany explains how the team works: “Team Stressless is a little different than the conventional, professional team, [because] they target international inline and ice skaters....We have skaters representing Belgium, the United States, Australia, and the Netherlands. And the team is willing to work with National Governing Bodies. They’re not asking us to pick up and move…over to Europe as a centralized training area, but rather, they’re giving us access to resources, whether it’s the coaching, the program, sports nutrition, or sports science. The goal is to not limit yourself to one country, but to pull talent from all over the place and combine ideas, because when the level is raised, it raises everyone around you. And when we can pull ideas from everyone, it’s just going to [raise] our level. We’re going to keep going faster, and I think it’s a recipe for success.”

She adds, “I’m still under Matt Kooreman’s direction, and the National Training Program. It worked for me last year, and it would be silly for me to stray from that path. I’m definitely excited to also be working with Desli Hill, who is the coach for Team Stressless. I think she has a ton of knowledge, and she comes from the inline world. I’ve definitely picked up things from her that have helped me along the way. So to be able to pull knowledge from her and from the other skaters on the team is a really unique situation.”

Support

Brittany says that a huge part of her success also comes from the support she receives. “My family gives me tremendous support. Ever since I can remember, my mom and dad sacrificed everything to make sure I was at basketball, at soccer practice, at inline practice. Making sure I was to school on time. Every last dollar to their name went to myself and to my sister to pave the way for us. Without their support, there’s no way I would be here—on the sports side of things, as well as the education side, which I think is equally, if not more important. So for that, I’m definitely grateful.”

Sources

Fausports.com. “Former Owl Bowe Sets World Record in Speedskating.” November 26, 2013. Accessed 8/31/15.

* Thanks to Team Stressless for Photo of Brittany Bowe

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