21 Jun Megan Rapinoe on the Hardest Part of Training for the Olympics Amid the Pandemic
In a year of constant change, it’s comforting that some things never let you down. The sun still rises in the east and sets in the west—and Megan Rapinoe still wants to win trophies.
After an unusually early quarterfinal exit from the 2016 Rio Games, the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) star and her teammates are hungry for Olympic redemption. But, as Rapinoe tells SELF, the road to Tokyo has been longer and bumpier than usual. In a recent phone conversation, she discussed work-life balance, and her partnership with sports drink BODYARMOR LYTE—all of which have informed her approach to fitness and wellness in a uniquely challenging year.
Even without a global pandemic raging, training for the Olympics is physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. And social isolation threw all of that off balance. For Rapinoe, the hardest part is not having an outlet outside of soccer. “I love playing soccer, but I don’t need to be thinking about it 24/7. I like to think about it maybe 4/6,” she says, laughing. “To not be able to have my family come around all the time, or to go see them…that’s [been] difficult.” With most normal social activities off the table, there hasn’t been much to distract from the anxiety of waiting for test results or the general uneasiness of competing in a pandemic that’s still far from over. It all adds up to an unusually stressful Olympic year—which is really saying something.
Once they get to Tokyo, USWNT players and their opponents have grueling conditions to look forward to. The two teams that make it to the final will play six matches in just 17 days, in oppressive heat and humidity. Summers in Japan are famously brutal, and climate change has only made them worse; as Rapinoe put it, “It’s going to be damn near a thousand degrees with like, a thousand-percent humidity.” She’s barely exaggerating.
All that heat, humidity, and sweat means dehydration—an instant performance killer—will be a constant threat in Tokyo. Athletes will need to replace all the water and electrolytes they sweat out during training and matches, every single time. “It’s not like you’re going to lose all your water weight in one game,” Rapinoe explains, “but if you’re losing 3% after every game [for 6 games in a row], that obviously adds up.” That’s why Rapinoe regularly incorporates BODYARMOR LYTE as part of her training routine (she is also a partner with the brand).
And there are still some unknowns about what competing will be like. “You’re trying to do all of these things while not being in the exact environment you’re gonna be in….It’s like a fact-finding mission all the time,” Rapinoe says. Some USWNT players have been training in acclimatized heat rooms to get a taste of what to expect. Playing international friendlies in cities like Houston and Austin also helps—but even Texas in June is child’s play compared to Tokyo in late July, at least where heat and humidity are concerned.
Despite everything happening off the field, Rapinoe tells SELF that the day-to-day reality of training hasn’t actually changed much. Soccer is an outdoor sport, so some amount of COVID-safe training has actually been possible for most of the past year. Now that she and just about everyone she works with is fully vaccinated, running drills on the pitch and grinding in the gym feels normal—or at least something like it. “We’re in a global pandemic,” she says. “We’re incredibly lucky and fortunate to even be going to the Olympics….It’s a little bit different [this time], but that’s the way it is, and I think everyone has done an amazing job to adapt and just do the best that we can.”
For Rapinoe, that can only ever mean one thing: winning. “We want to continue to be the best team in the world. We want to continue to win championships. We want to continue our off-field platform—and we know very well that those things are intrinsically tied,” she tells me. “But ultimately, it’s like, winning is awesome. Losing sucks.”
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