"I MAKE TIME FOR MY FAMILY"
Laura Bennett, 33, Triathlete
How do you decompress after swimming one mile, running six, and biking nearly 25—all at top speed? With a relaxing dinner, a bottle of wine, family, and friends. "Being a triathlete can be really self-absorbing," says Bennett, who will be competing in her first Olympic games this month. "You have to make so many sacrifices—missing friends' weddings, staying behind on family trips. Getting together after a race is how I reconnect with the people who are important to me. I have to build that into my life—otherwise it's easy to let it slide," Bennett's parents often travel to watch her compete, and her brothers meet up with her when they can (her husband, two brothers, and father are also triathletes). Seeing the people she loves also helps keep her work in perspective. "After being so focused on a race, it's nice to sit back and enjoy simple pleasures like a good laugh with the family," she says. It reminds her that, medal or not, there are more important things in life.
"WE WIN BY WATCHING EACH OTHER'S BACK"
Kerri Walsh, 29, and Misty May-Treanor, 31 Beach Volleyball Players
Most of us meet up with our workout partner once, maybe twice a week. But beach volleyball duo Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh can be found doing drills in the sand five days a week. "Kerri and I really push each other," says May-Treanor, the top-ranked player in the world. "We pick each other up when one of us is having a bad day, cheer each other on, and motivate each other." The two also rely on exercise partners, often their husbands, during their own workouts. "I like knowing someone's waiting for me at the gym so I can't say, 'Oh, I'll do it later,'" says May-Treanor. "Having a friend to train with makes me work out harder," adds Walsh. Both say that selecting the perfect partner is key. "Kerri and I have styles that complement each other," says May-Treanor. "We not only want the same things, but we trust each other completely."
"I HAVE A BACKUP PLAN"
Sada Jacobson, 25, Fencer
When your father and two sisters all fence competitively and your childhood home was littered with piles of masks and sabers, it's hard not to become consumed with the sport. Luckily for Sada Jacobson, one of the top saber fencers in the world, her family also had their priorities straight. "School was always number one," Jacobson says. "My parents knew fencing wasn't going to pay the bills. They encouraged me to get the best possible education so I'd have plenty of options when my athletic career was over." Jacobson earned a degree in history from Yale, and in September she heads to law school. "I think the qualities instilled in me through fencing will translate to the law. Both require flexibility and poise in order to transform conflict," she explains. Jacobson believes in pursuing your passion wholeheartedly, "but even if you put a huge amount of energy into one area of your life, you shouldn't let it keep you from enjoying other things."
Two Olympic veterans share how they've been spending their time off the track and mat.
"MY PASSION IS TO GIVE BACK"
Jackie Joyner-Kersee, 45, Veteran Track and Field Star
Jackie Joyner-Kersee was just 10 when she began volunteering at the Mary Brown Community Center in East St. Louis. "I was putting away Ping-Pong paddles, reading to kids in the library, sharpening pencils—whatever they needed. I loved it so much and I was there so often that eventually they told me I did a better job than the people who got paid!" says this world-champion long jumper and heptathlete, who took home six Olympic medals. In 1986, Joyner-Kersee learned the center was closed, so she established the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation and raised more than $12 million to build a new community center, which opened in 2000. "Getting started as a volunteer anywhere can be a challenge to a lot of people. The biggest hurdle is that people think they have to give all of their spare time. But if you only have a half hour, you can still make a difference," explains Joyner-Kersee. "Assisting with small tasks is invaluable."
"THIS IS HARDER THAN THE OLYMPICS!"
Mary Lou Retton, 40, Veteran Gymnast
In 1984, Mary Lou Retton became the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics. Today she's married with four daughters, ages 7 to 13. She's also a corporate spokeswoman and travels the world promoting the merits of proper nutrition and regular exercise. "Training for the Olympics was much easier than balancing my life now!" Retton says. "When practice was over, there was time for me. But with four kids and a career, I have no downtime." She stays sane by keeping her work and family life completely separate. "When I'm not on the road, I finish my workday at 2:30 p.m.," she explains. "Then I pick the kids up from school and they get 100 percent Mommy, not part Mommy and part Mary Lou Retton."