The Olympics have this awesome way of making the whole country feel like one united team (current politics aside). Every two years, all anyone can talk about are the latest victories (or give-it-all-you-got heartbreaking defeats) for Team U.S.A. And for the athletes, that sense of team pride is more real than anything we fans could imagine. Even for teams of one.
Maggie Hogan, who competes in kayak and canoe races around the globe and is currently ranked number two in the world, will be heading to Rio as the solo athlete to represent her sport for Team U.S.A. but that doesn't make her feel isolated or any less a part of the greater team. "Really, we're a team of two. I'm the athlete, but my coach Michele [Eray] is also my training partner, and it's really great having her out on the water," says Hogan. (Speaking of incredible women athletes, have you heard about The First Female Indian Gymnast to Qualify for the Olympics?)
Just two years before scoring that solo spot when she qualified for Rio this May, the 38-year-old was ready to retire. "This sport isn't funded in the U.S. and at the time, I was working two jobs and really struggling," she says. "I was in a slump with paddling, but I didn't want to leave my career on a sour note." That's where Eray came in. Eray quit her job as the high-performance director at USA Canoe/Kayak to train Hogan full-time. The pair started using Motionize technology—a virtual coach that provides real-time performance feedback to athletes while they're out on the water. "A year later, I became the first U.S. citizen to win a medal at an international competition in 20 years," says Hogan. "That was a real turning point."
Despite her impressive resume (she's a 14-time National Champion) and intense training, Hogan is headed for an uphill battle in Rio. Even with the help of her new tech-focused training, there's still a big gap between what Hogan and Eray have access to and the big budgets that yield even bigger science-driven training solutions athletes in other countries may use.
Then there's the threat of Rio's contaminated waters—trash and raw sewage clog many of the waterways where athletes will be competing. "Unfortunately, it's not the first contaminated body of water I've had to paddle in," says Hogan. "When it happens, we consult with doctors and have a plan to reduce contact time with the water." (Contaminated water is not the only health concern at Rio. Zika has already caused some athletes to withdraw from the Games.)
The technology gaps, environmental concerns, and her lone-wolf status won't hinder Hogan's focus on the gold, though. "I want to have the best race of my life in Rio," she says. "It's kind of the cherry on top of my career." Catch Hogan during her race on August 15. We'll be rooting for her.