I interviewed Olympic gold medalist Megan Jendrick (maiden name Quann) to obtain a professional athlete’s perception of the positive impact sports can have on women’s careers and their personal success.
Megan is a local legend in my hometown of Puyallup, Washington. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics she was the youngest medalist on the U.S. Olympic swim team, earning gold medals in the 100-meter breaststroke and 400-meter medley relay. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Megan earned a silver medal in the 400-meter medley relay. During her swimming career (so far) she won ten U.S. National championships, set twenty-six American and world records and was a featured athlete on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Megan now works as a motivational speaker, spokesperson and is the author of the books Get Wet, Get Fit: The Complete Guide to Getting a Swimmer’s Body and Christmas is Coming, a novel written with husband Nathan Jendrick in which proceeds are donated to Christmas charities.
Q1: You’ve competed in many different sports from swimming to water polo, basketball, soccer, volleyball and even hockey. What are some of the most important lessons you learned from participating in sports that you were able to apply to your career?
Megan: The most important lessons I’ve learned from sports are that, one, hard work really does pay off, and two, setting goals is the key to accomplishment. I learned through my goals in swimming that if I plan things out and do what’s necessary, taking things one step at a time, I’ll achieve my dreams.
Q2: How did you discover your love of sports, and what led to your desire to become an Olympic athlete?
Megan: I initially didn’t have any desire to be an Olympic swimmer. I actually hated swimming at first because I was so afraid of putting my head underwater. It wasn’t until I tested so badly into the swim team that I was put into a group with kids half my age – all of who were far faster than me – that I decided to set some goals. I didn’t like losing, especially to five-year-olds when I was nine, so I made it a point to work on one thing every practice that would help me get better and be faster. Then, I was so motivated after watching Amanda Beard at the Olympics in 1996 when she was 14 and I was 12, I told my parents, “I’m going to go to the 2000 Olympics.” I felt that if I were willing to put in the work I could be one of the best swimmers in the world, and going to the Olympics would prove that.
Q3: Training for the Olympics is no easy feat. Can you tell us about some of the difficulties you faced and what you did to keep yourself motivated?
Megan: Swimming competitively is really a unique experience in its own right. The way I went about training for the Olympics is essentially the same way every other club swimmer around the country trains. For many years I put in two practices a day for five-to-six hours in the water, another hour in the gym, and we did it six days a week. Later on, before Beijing, I swam with a club that trained seven days a week.
Doing all of that training, and losing out on most of the social aspects that kids have growing up, was pretty difficult at times. Sometimes I asked myself, “Why am I doing this when I could be going to the mall or the movies with my friends?” But I kept reminding myself of my goals and I realized that I wasn’t really missing out on anything; I was just getting different experiences than other people.
Q4: Now that the summer months are here, what tips do you have on ways to help women become fit and healthy?
Megan: One of the main reasons people have trouble committing to an active and healthy lifestyle is because there’s this mindset that working out has to be boring. People dread it because they feel like they can’t have fun and be fit at the same time. The truth, of course, is that you absolutely can enjoy yourself and be healthy. Find something you enjoy and just commit to it. Whether it’s walking, playing tennis, anything.
One thing a lot of women have told me is, “I like lifting weights, but I can’t do it because I don’t want to look masculine.” And to that I tell them, “You won’t! If you like lifting weights, lift weights! Have fun with it!” And beyond that, some people just think you have to be in a gym to be fit, which is just not true. My husband, for example, has written two really great books on getting in shape without a gym, and there are countless things you can do right from your own home to live a healthier life.
Q5: As a career coach, I’m always emphasizing the value and importance of having mentors. Please describe your most important mentor(s) and how they helped you achieve success.
Megan: I have had a lot of coaches and trainers who have each taught me different keys to success. It’s good to have people you trust because they help you find your limits. They know when to push you and how far, and their belief in you when you don’t know if you believe in yourself helps you break through barriers and reach even higher goals. My coaches did that for me and helped me realize that if I kept striving to better my best, that I could go to the Olympics and I could win those gold medals.
Photos: Courtesy of Megan Jendrick (Quann)