Her Olympic dream in flux, Jordan Raney embraces the chaos

U.S. water polo player Jordan Raney
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By Jordan Raney

Editor’s Note: Jordan Raney is a member of the U.S. women’s water polo team. She is attempting to make her Olympic debut at this summer’s Tokyo Games, where the U.S. women’s water polo team will be aiming for a third straight gold medal. 

I feel like I’ve always dreamed of going to the Olympics, almost in a way that I don’t know when the dream first began. Growing up, I wanted to go the Olympics in every sport I played, from soccer to karate.

In water polo, the community is so small that you know who the “big guns” are from an early age. I started in the Olympic development pipeline in 2011 and slowly started going up the levels until I finally got called up to the national team in 2017.

In non-Olympic years, the national team usually gets together for the summers so we can prepare for various tournaments. But in the year leading up to the Olympics, we are together full-time. People take time off from college, leave their club teams overseas, and we train together in southern California. So at this point, we’ve been together pretty much non-stop since the spring of 2019.

[Read more: Maggie Steffens: There is tough. And then there is water polo tough]

Right now, there are 19 people training with the team. When the Olympic roster is named in May or June, it will include 13 players who will travel to Tokyo. The hardest part of this process is that you really want to achieve your goals, but you also want all of your friends to achieve their goals, too. It’s a really hard balance between being competitive, but also wanting what’s best for everyone.

Last March, when the Olympic postponement was announced, there were a lot of emotions: disbelief, denial, frustration, sadness, anger, you name it. It felt like we had put in so much work towards this big goal and we were back at square one.

Even now, looking ahead to the summer of 2021, there is no guarantee that I will make the team and see our work come to fruition.

Am I afraid? Of course. But am I still going for it? Hell yes.

When the pandemic put my Olympic goal on pause, instead of wallowing in self-pity and negative feelings, I decided to take a different approach. Quarantine allowed me the space to re-evaluate, reflect, and shift perspectives. It provided an unparalleled opportunity to explore myself on a deeper level and I discovered a term that has completely altered my perspective: antifragile identity.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote about the term in his book, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. Here’s an excerpt:

Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.

In essence, the moment life becomes disrupted – even chaotic – it can actually be beneficial. Chaos is what you need to grow and flourish because it forces change.

This is the approach I am taking. I will take advantage of this chaos.

I’ve applied this mentality to my full identity. If I only see myself as an athlete, I won’t push myself or test the waters of what is possible. Now, and in the future, I will maintain an unbreakable sense of self through the ebbs and flows of life and embrace the chaos and uncomfortability of growth. If an aspect of my being leaves or is no longer relevant, I won’t be destroyed. This may sound abstract, so here’s an example:

Almost my entire existence has involved playing sports and for the past twelve years I have been almost solely devoted to water polo. There was school in the background, but water polo was the focal point of my attention. Before the Olympics were postponed, it was full steam ahead with horse blinders to Tokyo. I didn’t allow space for other endeavors. However, this forced standstill allowed other ideas and interests to seep through the walls I had put up, finding a way in through the cracks.

I became more interested in playing the piano, taking weekly lessons to learn how to play better and understand music theory. I love playing classical and contemporary music. Instead of cruising down the highway blasting tunes, I listen to podcasts (current favorites include Ted Talks, Finding Mastery, On Purpose with Jay Shetty, and WSJ news). I’ve become more interested in sustainability, and one of my goals for the future is to create a sustainable straw instead of the cardboard ones that disintegrate in your mouth when you use them.

[Read more: Olympics or not, Tara Geraghty-Moats is making nordic combined more equitable]

A realization surfaced: sport is certainly a part of me – and an important part – but it is not all of me. It is something I have devoted years of my life to, but it doesn’t define who I am. From the outside, this may seem like an obvious realization, but when you’re training for something like the Olympic Games, it can become easy to wrap up your whole identity in your athletic goals.

This is where antifragile identity comes into play. If I view my athletic persona as my only persona, I will be utterly devastated when it is gone. To be sure, I am chasing a really big life goal – representing the United States on the biggest world stage with my best friends – but I also have to remind myself that there is more to life than that singular goal. It is inevitable that – at some moment in the future – it will be time to pass the baton to the next generation of water polo players and pursue other passions.

But my life will go on. So then – and now – I will maintain an antifragile identity, aiming to constantly reinvent myself. I invite you to join me in rejoicing in the chaos.

[Related: Continuing the count: American women look to extend Olympic medal streaks]

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Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
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PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP COVERAGE: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
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PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.