Even professional athletes face challenging times, both physically and mentally. There are days when they don’t have a team of coaches pushing them on the field or in the gym, so they must find the passion and drive to keep going—even through long Olympic cycles. Here, Olympic Rugby 7s athletes from 2016 and 2021 share their tips on staying motivated and inspired.
Alev Kelter, age 30, typically plays scrum-half in rugby 7s. She’s 5’6”, 165 pounds and was raised in Eagle River, Alaska. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2015, competed in the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics and has been named to the 2021 United States Olympic team.
“When I’m training, I keep in mind how my body is feeling and recovering. I like to cross-train on top of my rugby training, but I think you can get burnt out if you just stick to one type of workout. Some days I’ll swim or do low-impact workouts if I’m sore; on other days when I’m feeling fresh, I’ll run or surf! My advice is to get in a routine of listening to what your body needs and have fun trying different sports and workouts. I love the water and I found that Deep End Fitness [a water-based workout] has helped me tremendously with my mental skills under pressure and keeping a drag-free mentality!”
Kelly Griffin, age 34, typically plays hooker in rugby 7s. She’s 5’4”, 145 pounds and is from Berkeley, Calif. She graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2008, and competed in the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics.
“I think one misconception about training for the Olympics is that it is like a sports movie. There is a reason the ‘hard work’ part in the movies is always a montage. Every day it’s about pushing to just get the tiniest fraction better than the day before. A lot of the time it is not pretty, and I would have to remind myself that even if that run/lift/pass/etc. wasn’t perfect, it at least made progress. So, if your workout looks and feels ugly and nothing like what the trainer on a YouTube video looks like but you pushed your limits—that’s what will get you to your goals.”
Kris Thomas, age 28, typically plays hooker and sometimes prop in rugby 7s. She’s 5’8”, weighs 152 pounds and is from Philadelphia, Pa. She graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2015. Kris missed out on selection due to an injury right before the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics but has been named co-captain for the 2021 Olympic team.
“Training for the Olympics involves a lot of hard work. We have to show up each day and commit to doing our best and going beyond what’s expected to compete at a high level. Despite the many distractions that may pull us away from our goals, we continually use self-discipline and [rely on] each other to stay on task. As a team sport athlete, we lift each other up, we motivate each other daily and we trust each other wholeheartedly.”
Nicole Heavirland, age 26, typically plays hooker or scrum-half in rugby 7s. She’s 5’5”, 145 pounds, and is from Whitefish, Mont. She attended West Point Academy, was a reserve in the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics and has been named to the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.
“There is no substitute for hard work. It’s staying after practice to work on kicking, doing extra conditioning sessions, taking ice baths to recover every day, adding an extra carbohydrate to a meal, and stretching every single day. I plan to play my sport well and I plan to play my sport for a long time. I am always thinking about longevity and how I can best treat my body to perform optimally. I think: What can I do to truly set myself apart from the rest? I see obstacles as opportunities to grow.”
Abby Gustaitis, age 30, typically plays prop or hooker in rugby 7s. She’s 5’11”, 170 pounds, and is from White Hall, Md. She graduated from the University of Maryland in 2013, and has been named to the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.
“As an athlete, I know I am going to encounter obstacles, whether that’s a bum shoulder, not making selections or something unrelated to my sport. With those, I try to see it as an opportunity to overcome versus simply a setback. If my shoulder hurts, I can still work on my leg strength. If I don’t make the team, I can ask the coach to be completely honest with me and work my tail off while the team competes. And mostly, I try to remind myself that there will always be people who doubt me. If I’m willing to put in the work, then I get to enjoy the successes. I write my own path.”
Jordan (Gray) Matyas, age 28, typically plays prop in rugby 7s. She’s 5’11”, 185 pounds and is from Calgary, Canada. She graduated from Brigham Young University in 2016, and has been named to the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.
“To train like an Olympian, you have to push yourself past your limits. When you think you can’t go any farther, you continue to put one foot in front of the other until you have nothing left in the tank.”
Victoria (Vix) Folayan
Victoria (Vix) Folayan, age 36, typically plays center or wing in rugby 7s. She’s 5’5”, 160 pounds and is from Boston, Mass. She graduated from Stanford University in 2006, and competed in the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics.
“Training like an Olympian is to train not only for yourself, but for everyone invested in the journey. Every rep is an opportunity to make someone proud.”
Lauren Doyle, age 30, typically plays scrum-half/wing in rugby 7s. She’s 5’6”, 150 pounds, and is from Boody, Ill. She graduated from Eastern Illinois University in 2014, competed in the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics and has been named to the 2021 Tokyo games.
“Everything in moderation. I never deprive myself of sugar or fats, I just don’t binge on them. The other day I made cinnamon rolls from scratch, ate one and brought the rest to the Olympic Training Center for everyone else to have. It’s about finding what works for you and embracing it.”
While most of us will never know the thrill and intensity of competing in the Olympics, we can learn from those who know what it’s like to train and stay motivated in such a challenging environment. Tune in to NBC to watch the Women’s Rugby 7s on Thursday, July 29-31.