'

Breaking the 100 Year Gold Medal Drought in Fencing: Mariel Zagunis Shares the Underdog Victory that made History

by | Jan 23, 2019 | podcast, Surviving Defeat, World-class Women | 2 comments

You always have to believe that you can achieve the unthinkable.

or find the file at http://traffic.libsyn.com/hopesports/HS03-Breaking-the-100-Year-Gold-Medal-Drought-in-Fencing.mp3

Listen with your favorite podcast app:

About This Episode

“You always have to believe that you can achieve the unthinkable.”

She was only nineteen years old when she won gold in Athens. Weeks before the Olympics she hadn’t even made the team.

For most of us, getting to the Olympics is a far off dream, but Mariel Zagunis shares that it always seemed completely attainable. The daughter of two Olympic rowers, she grew up believing that she, too, could someday make Team USA. Despite her parents legacy, however, rowing was not of interest to Mariel. She says that her mom put her older brother in fencing lessons to keep him from sword fighting all throughout the house. After tagging along to his classes for several week, Mariel decided to give it a try as well. What started as a way to divert boundless energy quickly became national competitions and junior world championships, all with the same coach she still trains with today.

Having Olympian parents was a real asset to her as she became a more serious athlete. They instilled in her a strong work ethic, a positive attitude towards competition, and, most importantly, a solid support system for when things didn’t go her way. This was particularly important in 2004 when Mariel was devastated to have not qualified to fence at the Olympics in Athens. All she wanted to do was sit on the couch and cry, but her parents encouraged her to continue to train as if she were going. This advice would be key for her. Just weeks before the Olympics she got a call that the delegate from Nigeria would not be going and a spot opened up in the competition.

Mariel reflects that she went to Athens to prove to everyone that she was meant to be there the whole time. Despite being only nineteen and the lowest seeded competitor, she came out swinging – literally. A true underdog story, Mariel went on to win the gold medal and break a 100 year drought in American fencing history. She turned heads not only in the world of fencing, but across the nation. Four years later in Beijing she stood at the top of the podium flanked on both sides by American women as Team USA swept the event and she went home with another gold. In those 2008 Olympics a team event was offered and she snagged a bronze medal.

Her impact on the Olympic community was recognized as she was chosen by her peers to be the flag-bearer at the London Olympics in 2012. Mariel shares that all of her success didn’t seem too overwhelming until she was highlighted at those Olympics. She felt the pressure mount and missed the podium in both the individual and team events.

Mariel headed home to the support of her family and friends, who she credits with helping her get through the aftermath of a devastating games. Humbled by the loss in the spotlight, she took quite a long break from fencing. She wasn’t sure if she would even come back to fencing, but shares, “I had to prove to myself that this one loss does not define me.” She dedicated the next few years to training even more purposefully. She shifted her perspective to see mistakes as opportunities to learn and improve herself. Rio was a bit disappointing as she walked away with a bronze medal in the team event, but didn’t medal in the individual event. But her new growth mindset didn’t leave her feeling defeated, it left her feeling empowered to train for her next Olympics in Tokyo.

Gearing up for the 2020 Olympics looks different, though. Mariel gave birth to a daughter in 2017 and now balances athletics with motherhood. She says that she didn’t fully comprehend how much her body and mind would change as she became a mom, but feels surprisingly good heading back into competition. She has had to change how she manages training, but, at only seven months postpartum, she took the bronze medal in Moscow at the World Championships and now has her eyes set on a third Olympic gold.

Today, she finds the pressure to win exhilarating instead of paralyzing. She finds confidence in her training and shows up to competitions knowing that she has put in the work, prepared as much as possible, and can let her best effort speak for itself. And win or lose, she credits her coach of 24 years, her family, and her friends for supporting her no matter what. “No one becomes an Olympic champion on their own or by luck,” says Mariel. It’s through hard work and with the backing of her community that she looks forward to Tokyo.

 

Read Episode Transcript

Laura:

[00:00:04] Welcome to the Hope Sports Podcast where we chat each week with athletes about purpose. I’m your host Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson. I’m so excited for today’s guests not just because she’s a personal friend of mine but because there is no limit or barrier that can contain this woman. And I am constantly inspired by her amazing feats. Muriel’s Zagunis is the most decorated fencer in American history. But her history-making path wasn’t without struggles disappointments and defeats. She shares about her mindset after not qualifying for the Olympic Games. How she learned to find confidence in her training and her life as a mom has changed her perspective. Now listen up because this interview is packed full of wisdom.

 

Welcome Muriel’s goodness to the hope sports podcast. I’m so excited that you’re here with us today.

 

Mariel:

[00:00:55] Thank you for having me. I’m excited to talk to you Laura.

 

Laura:

[00:00:58] Now I have been blessed and so lucky to know you for a number of years now but for our audience who might not be as familiar with you. Can you give us a little bit of background about how you got started in fencing?

 

Mariel:

[00:01:09] Sure. Yeah. It’s a very obscure sport. Not a lot of people fence or really know what fencing is all about. I have to say in recent years it’s gotten more popular which is really cool. So when I tell people that I fence now they actually know that it’s a sport and an Olympic sport rather than before when they’d be like, What’s that? And so I started fencing now almost. Oh man! Twenty-four years ago almost? And I started because my older brother when we were kids he wanted to sword fight. And so my mom needed to find an outlet for that. And so she found an after school fencing program just at a very very small club. And so I was the younger sibling just sitting there on the sidelines watching him have so much fun hitting people with swords and I thought it looked like fun. So that’s that’s how we all got started in the random sport of fencing.

 

Laura:

[00:02:00] Oh that’s great. Now your parents were both Olympians. Olympic rowers in the 76 Games in Montreal. Right?

 

Mariel:

[00:02:06] Yeah that’s how they met actually they both made the team.

 

Laura:

[00:02:09] Oh that’s so cool. So was there ever like a push for you and your brothers to be rowers too?

 

Mariel:

[00:02:14] So. Not really. I think that both my parents being Olympians gave us as kids a sense of what the Olympics were from a very young age probably more so than I don’t know your average kid. You know we I remember looking at their Olympic memorabilia books and like all their pictures and hearing their stories and just being like wow! That’s so cool! Like I want to be that when I grow up, you know? And It was just kind of this concept that was obtainable. You know I think that some people maybe when they look at trying to aspire to be an Olympian or make an Olympic team or even win a gold medal it seems so far out of reach and it seems so just I don’t even know where to begin. But because my both of my parents were Olympians it kind of seemed like oh yes you know that’s what they did. So I want to do that. Sure. Why not, you know? And so as far as rowing they never really pushed my brothers and me to try it. But we did have a monitor in our house growing up because my parents still used it for exercise. And so they got us on that a few times. And I was like I’m never doing this again. I remember I was like I don’t know eight or nine or something like that and I was like I feel like I’m going to die like I don’t even know how much how many meters or whatever I did on it. But I was like nope not for me. I did not seem like fun at all.

 

Laura:

[00:03:36] Well that’s one of those rowing machines right? You can work out on well. I don’t. That’s tough. That’s a tough workout right there.

 

Mariel:

[00:03:42] Oh my God! Yeah. For anybody. And so then yeah. I was like nope. This doesn’t seem like fun. So and luckily they didn’t push us one way or the other they were very supportive in whatever we wanted to do. And luckily we found fencing instead of rowing so we created our own.

 

Laura:

[00:03:57] Well, so I know you said it kind of made it seem normal for you. Like this is a totally achievable thing that I can do. Are there other ways that having Olympian parents is kind of help you throughout your career and even just life and generally, you think?

 

Mariel:

[00:04:11] Oh my gosh totally. You know even if you’re on a clear path towards the Olympics and you know what it takes and you know want to make those sacrifices and you are willing to give it everything you have there are. As you know always going to be ups and downs and obstacles to overcome and failures that you have to pick yourself up from. And I think having parents who went through all that in order to make a team and made the sacrifices that needed to be made and definitely went through their own struggles. For sure helped me and continues to help me to this day, through my journey and through each Olympic games each Olympic cycle. Because everyone has been so different that there’s always something that I’m coming to my parents with and needing their help on or seeking their advice for. And it just you know just they’ve been so supportive and understanding. Especially now being a grown woman with my own child. It’s like Wow! They made so many sacrifices to help me achieve these goals and these dreams. And I can never thank them enough like throughout the rest of my life for doing what they did to help me get to the level that I am. That I’ve got to.

 

Laura:

[00:05:28] That’s so cool. Was there any part of it that was maybe more difficult like was it was there any pressure on you or any kind of stress on that on that angle or were they always just supportive?

 

Mariel:

[00:05:39] Oh they were supportive. I don’t know again looking back at you know hindsight. And I’m sure you also you have this too because we have similar kind of experiences as far as getting to the top top which is the Olympic gold medal. We didn’t just make Olympic teams you and I. We won the Olympic gold medal which is just again just a completely different Echelon than even just making it on an Olympic team. Both are great achievements but of course, the gold medal is what most of us are there for. And so there wasn’t too much pressure. You know, Once I was starting to do well and stuff. But I definitely looking back again my parents instilled in me an incredible work ethic. And I think that there was definitely some pressure to be like well you know you’re not going to go to your friend’s birthday party this weekend. You’re gonna go to a fencing competition and things like that where, you know? I definitely like at the moment hated it. Because when you’re you know eleven, twelve, thirteen years old you want to be involved and have that social life and all that stuff.

 

But I think they pushed me in all the right ways and I’m thankful that they did obviously. Because now that I’m grown and have been doing this for so long and I’m on my own as far as like my mom’s not going to tell me that I need to go to practice. Like I do it on my own now because I think they instilled in me a really rigorous kind of work ethic mentality. I need to do this. I need to work hard. I need to sacrifice certain aspects of my life in order to be successful. And I know whether or not people would agree with that? It obviously resulted in my Olympic teams and my Olympic medals that I have. So you know. Of course, it obviously worked in some rest in some respects. So.

 

Laura:

[00:07:24] That’s cool. Parenting is a hard sport. I would say in itself. So kudos to your parents for doing a good job.

 

Mariel:

[00:07:30] Well you get another gold medal in that. Geez! With all that you have going on. My goodness! I have won. I have won. And I don’t even know how I make it to the gym half the time these days. And you have four. And I was like, oh my gosh!

 

Laura:

[00:07:42] Well, you just start juggling at some point. So you know one’s always in the air at least.

 

Mariel:

[00:07:47] Yeah. Yeah. man.

 

Laura:

[00:07:50] OK. Well back to where we talking about. So the women’s saber event it was being contested for the very first time at the 2004 Summer Games. But you actually didn’t initially qualify the Nigerian I guess Nigeria. Decided not to send their qualified fencer to the Olympic Games. And since you were the next highest seeded fencer in the world you got selected to go and represent the USA. And you didn’t just represent like we mentioned you won America’s first gold medal in fencing in 100 years. Please take us through that whole process because that’s it’s crazy on all friends.

 

Mariel:

[00:08:25] Yes a definite underdog story to say the least. You know not making the team initially was of course very heartbreaking. And the way that fencing. The qualification goes for fencing the cut off for us at that point was the end of March in 2004. So I had these whole couple months of limbo where I was just like I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get this alternate spot. I don’t know if my dreams are crushed. I’m going to have to wait another four years for another chance and all this stuff.

 

And so I think that one of the things that really helped me pull through when the opportunity arose was the fact that I didn’t give up. I just even though there was such a small small sliver of hope that I somehow could make the team. I continue to train as if I had already made the team and as if I was going to be there no matter what. And I think that just having that positive mentality having myself. And my whole support system supports me and be like you know what we’re going to just see out the rest of these next couple of months. We’re going to keep training as if everything worked out the way we expected it to. And you know I think that made a big difference was having that positive attitude. And staying in the gym and not curling up in a ball on a couch and crying every day which is what I wanted to do. When I didn’t initially make the team. Because you know like I said that was the end of March and the Olympics weren’t until July, August.

 

And so if I had just kind of given up on everything. I 100 percent would not have been physically or mentally prepared when that opportunity arose. And so I think that having you know very positive support system around me just really rallying and being like you know what you already we’re supposed to be you know training these months and getting ready for this Olympics. And so why don’t we just see it out and make the most of this time that we have. And that’s what I did and luckily I stuck with it because then sure enough you know a couple of months later I found out that I was going to be the alternate. And like I said it was nice to not have the pressure on me. And great to feel physically and mentally prepared for that opportunity.

 

Laura:

[00:10:37] Well so what was that like? I mean going in. You prepared. You know, Just hoping for that sliver of hope like you said. And then you got to go in and do it. But then you went and won. I mean. What? Did you expect that? Were you surprised? Or were you thinking the whole time like yeah I’ve got a shot at this?

 

Mariel:

[00:10:53] I. I believed in myself. And I believe that I had been training and preparing to win an Olympic gold medal. Like I mentioned before. Some people are just as happy working to a personal goal or working to just make the Olympic team. Knowing that I don’t know that their time or their weight or their performance isn’t where it needs to be to win a gold medal. But you always have to believe in yourself. You always have to think that you can achieve the unthinkable. And I went into that Olympics in Athens just fulfilling my own expectations. I didn’t care about what other people were saying about oh she’s just an alternate or she doesn’t stand a chance and all this stuff. I wasn’t listening to me that nobody was even really paying any attention. So I showed up. Just happy to be there. And I was like I’m glad I have the second opportunity this second chance and I’m not going to let it go to waste. And I just fulfilled my own expectations and I went there to win. I knew all along that I was working towards a gold medal. And I just tense my heart out and kind of prove to myself and to the world that I was meant to be there the whole time.

 

Laura:

[00:12:00] It’s so good. I love it! I love it now. What was the aftermath like? Because now all of a sudden you’re you’re made you’ve made history. I mean you won this first gold medal for America in like 100 years. I mean what was there a lot of kind of you know stuff thrown on you after that or how was that aftermath?

 

Mariel:

[00:12:17] I’m not some. I mean like yes or no. It was definitely a whirlwind as you know. It’s just like that post-Olympic time. But that couple of months or a handful of weeks where just like everybody kind of wants a piece of you and it’s like it’s very overwhelming especially as a 19-year-old. and so it was a little bit crazy. But of course, it ended up dying down. And then the ramp up against Beijing four years later there was a lot of hype run around me and repeating and. But you know to be honest our U.S. team was very strong so there was a lot of attention on my teammates as well. And so I don’t know I just I think back to that time was already over 10 years ago. So crazy to just think that I just put my head down and dug deep and I was like not even thinking of it as I need to do this or I need to defend my title or anything like that. I just again went out and fence my heart out and did what I knew how to do the best which is you know to perform in and fence how I knew how to fence. And it resulted in another goal which I was extremely satisfied and happy with of course.

 

Laura:

[00:13:25] And so I mean not only did you just defend your gold medal but you also added a bronze medal in the team event. Now was that? I mean, I guess how is that different having a team to stand on the podium with. Even though it was bronze versus an individual gold medal. Like what’s that what is the different feeling I guess in that result?

 

Mariel:

[00:13:44] Yes it’s very different but you know it also means a lot because you’re winning that medal with your teammates, you know. And so fencing is a very individual sport and it’s also very unique. Because it’s kind of like I don’t know if you think of it like the track events where you’re one day you’re running 100 meters against your teammates and you want to beat everybody. It doesn’t matter if they’re your teammates or not but you’re running 100 meters and you want to win and so you win. And then a couple days later you’re running the four by 100 meter with your teammates, you know. I mean.

 

And so that’s kind of similar to how it works with fencing. So actually in Beijing, I beat my teammates for brought for that in the semifinals in the finals. I don’t know if you remember that we swept so it was like I literally beat them but we also swept the podium and then a couple of days later we went and won a bronze medal together. So we were fencing together so it is a very different mentality when you’re going into the team event. But an Olympic medal chance an Olympic medal is really awesome.

 

And also just real quick not a lot of people realize this the fencing when women’s saber was added as it is an Olympic event. They took away or put us I guess in place of another event. They didn’t give fencing as a sport more medals or more events so we had to fit in there. So in Athens, we only had the individual. The individual women’s saber. In Beijing we had individual and the team back in London we only had individual again and then Rio we had the individual and the team. We have that opportunity to have the team event in Beijing because we didn’t have it in Athens was awesome because you know obviously two Olympic medals are better than one to handle.

 

Laura:

[00:15:24] Definitely. Definitely. Well, so how was winning the very first one in Athens when you were that underdog to winning and defending that title and then winning the one with your teammates? Like I was one better than the other were they both sweet and different ways? Like what? Yeah. Explain that to me.

 

Mariel:

[00:15:40] Yeah. I get asked that question a lot. It’s sweet in different ways for sure. It’s like choosing between your children. And you know like you can’t decide like which one. They’re both so different experiences and you know to win Athens you know being an alternate first gold medal in 100 years for the US, first gold medal for Olympic medal for women’s saber, and then to repeat in Beijing. That’s repeat. That’s four years later defending your title. Yeah. So is they all this every Olympics. Again as you know I’m sure has its own feel its own memories its own just everything that goes into it. It’s just a different time in your life too, you know? Four years is a is a long time a lot of changes, you know. So it’s just. They’re both very very special to me in their own way.

 

Laura:

[00:16:28] That’s cool. So      OK you have two Olympic gold medals and a bronze and you decide to keep on going. And so you’re heading into London 2012 for your third Olympic games. Did that feel like walking into Beijing where you’re defending again even though you said you kind of kept your head down and you just wanted to do your thing? Or was this like you mentioned each Olympic Games is different was this is a totally separate event?

 

Marie:

[00:16:50] I think it was it felt different for sure. Again it’s like your third Olympics is ofcourse going to feel very different than your first. And then I have the added kind of attention on me being selected to be the flag bearer. And I think that that kind of changed the mentality a little bit. Because suddenly you know I went from two Olympics and you know making history. Which was awesome! But not a lot of people really paid attention to it to all of a sudden huge spotlight on my story and my history and my performance and this and that.

 

And so I think it definitely changed the way I felt that my performance went to London because of that. I mean not to say that who knows how it would have gone if I wasn’t selected Siberian flag. Being flag bearer was an incredible honor and it was such an amazing experience to lead Team USA into the opening ceremony. I was just absolutely incredible. But it probably ended up being the highlight for me for the London games because I did come away empty handed.

 

Laura:

[00:17:57] Yeah. I mean that is because you didn’t even walk in Beijing, did you? because you were the first day of competition.

 

Marie:

[00:18:02] Yeah. We’re the first day.

 

Laura:

[00:18:03] So did you do the opening ceremony in Athens?

 

Marie:

[00:18:07] I did opening but not closing in Athens.

 

Laura:

[00:18:10] Okay. This is your set your second opening ceremony and your flag there. I mean because that’s huge. It is a huge deal because all the U.S. athletes come together. And they pitch their favorite stories. And the athletes are the ones that vote on it. And so I remember when I heard you got selected I was so excited. Just cause I knew you and I knew your story. And you know I was there with NBC with the media. But I was so stoked that it was you and watching you just carry that flag. It was really really cool. But I can imagine the pressure that must come with that.

 

So do you think you just kind of let that in? Or I guess yeah. What. You know, I guess what aspect of it that you think affected the performance?

 

Marie:

[00:18:49] Again it’s hard to say because you don’t have a crystal ball to say what would have happened had I not been flagged there? I was very excited to have been given that honor for sure. But like I said it with it comes a lot of added attention a lot of added stress. A lot of extra interviews that maybe you know otherwise I wouldn’t have been a part of. You know, what I mean? Because then you know you want to be part of all the press conferences and all that.

 

But it was I mean again to have that experience obviously. But I would have loved to have had my cake and eat it too. As far as having the flag there and then come away with an Olympic and another Olympic gold medal. So but again who’s who’s to say what my performance would have been either way. But yeah you know it does add a little bit of pressure to you because suddenly you’re being seen by millions of people in the opening ceremony. Which again is absolutely incredible. To have represented not only my country but to represent female athletes and to represent the sport of fencing. Like there were so many things that just made me beam with pride as I walked through to the stadium. But yeah I definitely probably was a little bit of a distraction a little bit of an energy drainer. But who’s to say. I mean I don’t know maybe this would have still gotten the same result but who knows. But yeah it was definitely disappointing as far as my performance side of things.

 

Laura:

[00:20:16] All right. And it’s I mean you didn’t totally take. I mean you lost in the bronze medal match. You finished fourth just off the podium which. I think we talked a few years ago about this and you said you were a little devastated. I mean how? It’s obviously a very different experience from winning two times in a row and you have won so many like world titles and everything else like. I don’t think you’re very accustomed to not being on the podium. So how did you handle that defeat and move on?

 

Marie:

[00:20:45] Yeah. I would say I was more than a little bit devastated for sure. It was like just as you said you know when you’re so accustomed to not that not that it’s been easy at all. You know. You work. You. Again. I feel like I’m talking and preaching to the choir here. But like you know how hard you have to work to win and not only win but win consistently. And I just felt like suddenly the formula didn’t work. And that was just a very odd place for me to be in. Because I’m like wait a minute this is what I’ve been doing my whole life and it’s working more often than not working. And then suddenly when it’s the biggest most important competition that I’ve already know how to win. It’s not like you know a choke under pressure. I mean I guess I did choke on the pressure but like it’s not. Like it was my first experience being in an Olympic final. To have it not play out how I was used to the last two Olympics was very very difficult to wrap my mind around.

 

And so coming back from that you know I had to step away from fencing for a little bit I took quite a long break. And I was like, man I don’t know if I can do this again. But then I was like I have to do this! Like I have to come back and I have to prove to myself that this one loss does not define me. And I have to say to myself that I have another shot at Rio and I’m just gonna take these next quad and really work even harder to make sure that you know I can not come away empty-handed from my next Olympics.

 

Laura:

[00:22:28] So I love that. I absolutely love that. And so how? What changed exactly in your mindset or in your purpose or in what you were doing? Like what shifted to make that change to keep going?

 

Marie:

[00:22:43] I think that it was definitely humbling in a way. You know it’s like I know sounds like I don’t know spoiled or something to be like Oh well I’m used to winning the Olympics. For me, you know? So I think that it was humbling in a way that I was like I’m not going to take anything for granted.

 

You know it’s not that I was before. But it’s like every minute that I was in the gym was purposeful. And every competition that I went to was I was there to prove a point to myself. And I was there to learn. And I was there to you know just to make myself a better fencer. Each and every day whether it’s through practice or competition and learning through my mistakes. Whether that be the mistakes that I made in mundane or the mistakes that I made in the tournament that I competed in last month.You know it’s like I’m constantly wanting to improve upon myself. And just getting smarter and working harder. And you know working harder in different ways as well. Because you know obviously like I said I thought the formula I have had the magic touch but it proved me wrong in London. So I just really wanted to kind of turn things around and figure out another answer to how to get there.

 

Laura:

[00:24:01] Well so four years later you are in Rio and you got another bronze with the team which was awesome. You got ninth individually. So was was that a successful Games to you? How do you feel about all that?

 

Marie:

[00:24:15] Honestly I don’t think that I would say that was not I mean successful as in not coming away empty-handed feels. So much different than coming away empty handed. So getting the bronze with my team was yes that was definitely a success for us. We lost a very very close match with Russia to make the gold medal around so that was a big bummer because we were so close. And they’re one of our toughest competitors and so to almost have beaten them if we had beat them on the Olympic stage would have just been incredible. So I wish that we had pulled through just a little bit more. But you know again to have a second opportunity after we lost to them to come away with a bronze and solidly come away with the bronze when we beat Italy was great. I think it was. We all had really great performances and I was happy with the team performance. Individually not so much and unfortunately just wasn’t my day. Like I just didn’t feel like it was my day. And that happens and that’s a lot you’re allowed to have that happen. And it was definitely again heartbreaking because it’s not like I was even close to a medal that time. And so you know again you kind of come away from that and say what can I learn and how can I change? And if I’m going to go to Tokyo which that’s my next goal again how am I going to make sure that when I’m there that doesn’t happen again. And I can have a clear mind and a strong body and connect the two in the way that it needs to happen.

 

Laura:

[00:25:49] I love your mindset. I love the way you look at things like it’s just such a gray. It’s just a growth perspective. Like you just want to grow no matter what. And I love that because you can’t be defeated if you’re continuing to grow and to change and to learn and I think that’s awesome.

 

Marie:

[00:26:02] Exactly. Yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:26:04] Well now it’s a little different like you said you got your eyes set on a fifth Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020. Which is crazy amazing! But now it’s a little different because you’re a wife and a mom. And so I’m assuming things have changed a little bit like you mentioned earlier with training and competing. Like what’s? How does that look right now?

 

Marie:

[00:26:24] I mean again I’m sure you can most definitely attest to this. It’s crazy how much your life changes when you have a kid when you are a working mom but couple that with professional athlete working mom. I mean oh my goodness! It’s just it isn’t saying the things that I let my body did when I was pregnant. I just can’t even believe that I was pregnant and I had a baby and she’s here and she’s amazing and now I’m a mom. And it’s just it just seems so surreal at times. I’m just like is this really my life.

 

Just because you know as a professional athlete for so long you have to be so selfish in the way that you train in the way that you compete and you’re traveling all the time. And you’re tired and you don’t wanna like sometimes you don’t want to talk to anybody. And you just want to lay there and you know how it goes. And so now to have this other part of my life that is now the biggest part of my life. It changes your perspective in such an amazing way. Because now like I said before when I go to the gym and I’m like I don’t want to waste a minute. Now I literally don’t have a minute to waste because like every time that I’m away from her I need to make it worth it. And I need to hurry up and get that workout in. So I can come home and give her lunch and put her down for a nap. You know what I mean. So just like it changes your outlook on the way that you train and the way that you time manage. But I’m always up for a challenge and it’s been challenging in an in a really amazing way. So it’s it’s been really great.

 

Laura:

[00:27:57] I totally agree there. Because I think now I must have been really lazy when I was just me and with my husband. Now I am like I got 30 minutes I can clean the house do all these things I can get. Like a week’s worth of stuff done in 30 minutes now.

 

Marie:

[00:28:10] I know. It’s really crazy how different you’re like. And I think that you’re probably gonna say this too. But it’s like some days you’re like I feel like I’m gonna implode. I don’t even know what I’m doing. I’m still so incompetent I don’t even know you just feel slight so drained. And then other days you get to the end of the day you’re like I’m superwoman! I keep you going! I don’t even need to go to bed! I could just keep doing! All this stuff. And so it’s just it’s crazy how just the days wax and wane like that. But it’s again it’s like every day that’s a new challenge. And it’s exciting and in some way.

 

Laura:

[00:28:46] That’s cool. Now. And you already went to like several competitions this year. And I mean I kept trying to like message you and you were like in France or you’re over here. Crazy! But how is it getting back into that groove? Because I know what seven months to the day after you gave birth to Sunday you won a bronze medal in Moscow. And then I think the last time you medaled was why you were you were actually pregnant. Weren’t you?

 

Marie:

[00:29:09] Yeah. Uh-hmm.

 

Laura:

Oh gosh! That’s crazy! So what was it like getting back into that competition groove after having some time off to have a baby and have this new kind of change of programming?

 

Marie:

[00:29:21] Uh-hmm. Yeah. And it’s. It is a change and I went to actually those were the two international or the Moscow one was the Grand Prix last season. And then I went to our national championships in April and then another national tournament in October and I won both of those two.

 

[00:29:40] It’s like it’s nice to kind of come back and feel like I can win again. And that I’m like on the podium again and I actually feel surprisingly good. Like I don’t like I was, of course, I’ve never had a baby and had to come back before. So I didn’t know how it was going to go but it’s going really well and I feel fresh. And I feel fierce. And I feel like I’m just ready to be back where I was. But just like with a new perspective because I think that break was really really good for me to kind of feel like recharged. And I’m like I want to be there instead of like again I’m sure you can attest to this it’s like when you’re going day in day out the competition. This that. And it kind of gets to be monotonous and it kind of gets to be like you feel a little burnt out. Having such a long break and now coming back and having kind of a new perspective. And also new goals because it’s like well I’m doing this for my daughter now to really kind of recharges you and energizes you to really fight even harder and gives you that extra motivation which is really cool.

 

Laura:

[00:30:49] Very cool. Well, you just wrote a beautiful article for Team USA. And you were recalling your win from Beijing because it’s like your 10 year anniversary this year. And one of the things that you wrote that I loved you said when there’s a gold medal at stake in history to be made it can feel either exhilarating paralyzing or a combination of any and all emotions in between.

 

[00:31:11] So how do you rise above all of that to perform your best when it means the most?

 

Marie:

[00:31:17] I mean that’s just such a loving question. Well, sometimes you just have to use. You just. You just gotta do it. You just really literally when you go to the Olympics or a national competition or worlds or what have you. You can’t think of it as like oh my gosh this is the Olympics or oh my gosh this is going to make or break my career. You just have to show up and know that you’ve been working so hard and that you’ve left no stone unturned when it comes to your preparation. And then you can just fall back on that. Not fall back but you can you can feel calm and you can feel in control because if you know that you’ve been preparing and working towards this moment then you can rely on your muscle memory. You can rely on your mental toughness because you know that you’ve prepared yourself.

 

[00:32:10] And I think that’s something that maybe when some. I obviously can’t speak for every situation ever. But when I think when people falter is because they suddenly think that they’re not prepared. Or that they haven’t put the work in or they have been lying themselves or you know something like that. And so all of that crowds your crowds your ability to think clearly and to perform at your best. And so I think that if you really prepare yourself and work hard leading up to the moment then when you’re in the moment it’s like second nature.

 

Laura:

[00:32:42] Perfect. You also wrote this when you stand on top of the podium at the Olympics there’s no greater feeling as all of your hard work and years of sacrifice come to fruition. And what the world sees is an accomplished relieved ecstatic and usually weeping athlete. What the world doesn’t see is the team behind the athlete because no one becomes an Olympic champion on their own luck or not on their own or by luck. To this day I’m so incredibly thankful for my support system coaches family friends and teammates who make this all possible. So tell us a little bit about your support system?

 

Marie:

[00:33:15] My support system has been amazing. It has been the reason for my success. I’ve been with the same coach Ed Korfanty for almost twenty-four years my entire career. So that says a lot about where my success comes from. Obviously, my parents have supported me from the moment I first picked up fencing. I was gonna say a saber but actually, I started with foil. But let’s not focus on that.

 

[00:33:45] You know first my parents supporting me through everything from the ups and downs to paying for the club fees and the tournament fees and all of my international plane tickets. I mean I just I look back now and I’m just like I cannot believe that they the sacrifices that they made in order for me to come from a very young age get the experience that I needed to accelerate me on the onto the Olympic path. And you know just also even my friends my very close friends whether they’re my teammates or my friends here at home it’s just to have so much support and to feel so loved no matter what. You know I think that has made a big difference because especially just looking back on my experience in Athens when I all of my friends and family obviously knew that that was my goal to make the Olympic team in 2004 but to fall short of that. But to still have the support and the shoulders to cry on when I was going through that tough time just really made all the difference. And I think that throughout my career just to be surrounded by such positivity just makes such a big difference. And I know you know this too. Because if you’re just thinking that you’re doubting yourself some days which obviously going through you know a performance-based sport where you are measured on your performance you know. Because if it’s like win or lose you need that support system that’s gonna support you no matter what. And and I’ve had that throughout my entire career and I think that that’s made all the difference because it’s helped me believe in myself when I don’t believe in myself. They believe me when I don’t believe myself and they’re there to help pick me up when I don’t. When I fall short of what it is that I think is ideal and they’ll support me no matter what.

 

[00:35:34] And so I think that that’s made a big difference in my outlook on my career and my outlook on myself and my results. And also honestly on my decision to keep going because if I didn’t have that support system then I probably would feel more discouraged and let myself get the best of myself when times get tough. So I think that this just made a really big difference throughout my career.

 

Laura:

[00:35:57] That’s great. I mean you’ve mentioned over the past year you’ve experienced amazing victories, heartbreaking defeats, days where you felt unstoppable, and days where you felt lost and unsure. What is it that keeps you going? I mean why a fifth Olympic Games? Like what keeps you motivated and pushing through all the time?

 

Marie:

[00:36:17] Well I think honestly it’s that elusive third gold medal in the individual event that I have fallen short of the past two Olympics. And to have the ability to keep going and to have another opportunity is something that I don’t want to pass up because what we do is time sensitive as you know it’s like well I mean you’re out. So like supermom you’re coming back to try the Olympics too. So it’s like it is time sensitive in a way for me. And so you know I think my motivation comes from wanting to prove to myself that I can do it because I know I can.

 

[00:36:53] And then also I don’t think that Sunday will remember Tokyo she’ll be not even three. So I don’t think she’ll remember but I think it’ll be really great to make those memories with her. Because you know I can. We can look back together and be like this is what Mommy did. And when you have a goal these are you know you have to sacrifice should resign and there’ll be a lot of life lessons I think for her as far as dedication and hard work goes. And I want to set a good example for her.

 

[00:37:19] So just being able to set one of these really crazy goals incredible goals and work really hard towards it is something that can be really satisfying. Despite the obstacles along the way. So yeah that’s that’s pretty much my motivation.

 

Laura:

[00:37:37] I totally agree. That’s great.

[00:37:39] Now, where can we follow you online to continue to be inspired and encouraged by you. And also cheer you on toward Tokyo? We’re going.

 

Marie:

[00:37:46] Yeah. Yeah. I’m on my Instagram @mariel.zagunis is my handle and yeah. Try to post our season just started but we don’t have another competition until the end of January. But once that starts then it’ll be. Go go go. So there’ll be a lot of updates and stuff going on in there. So that’s where to find me.

 

Laura:

[00:38:07] Well thank you so much. And best of luck to you. We will be cheering you on toward Tokyo.

 

Marie:

[00:38:13] Thank you, Laura.

 

Laura:

[00:38:16] I’m so thankful to Marielle for sharing with us on today’s show. I loved hearing about the pivotal shift in her mindset after missing the podium in London. Instead of focusing so much on proving herself she was able to instead move into more of a growth mindset constantly wanting to improve herself. She doesn’t let losses define her but rather they shape her, teach her and develop her as an athlete and as a person. It’s amazing to see that out of that transition not only came for their success but also a richer appreciation of her sport and more confidence in herself. To keep being inspired by Marielle and to follow her adventures toward Tokyo 2020. Be sure to check out the show notes where we link to everything that you heard today. Next week world champion water skier Ryan Dodd will be joining us. So be sure to subscribe to the hope sports podcast because you’re not going to want to miss this one. And please leave us a review because those reviews will help us continue to get these amazing athletes on this show. I’m Laura Wilkinson. Thanks again for listening. This podcast is produced by Evo Terra in simpler media. For more information on Hope sports and to access the complete archives please visit Hope Sports story.

 

 

WP Feedback

Dive straight into the feedback!
Login below and you can start commenting using your own user instantly