Olympic athletes devote their lives to the sport they choose. But for some, the sport chooses them.
That’s the case for Jerica Tandiman, a long track speed skater hoping to compete with Team USA in the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics.
Growing up, Tandiman watched her future rise in her backyard.
“I just lived across the fields, and I got to watch the building be built,” Tandiman said of the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, where she now practices every day.
Tandiman’s introduction to elite athletes came early. After the rink was completed in 2001, her parents took her to watch the speed skaters. Then, the next year, she remembers watching the torch come through on its way to the Games in Salt Lake City.
“I don’t really know if I understood at the time, but I do remember watching the training sessions and being just super fascinated with how fast everyone was going,” Tandiman said.
After the Olympics, Tandiman’s mom signed her up for lessons.
“I was always a super competitive child and wanted to race people and beat everyone.”
That competitive spirit began to pay off. Eight years later, as a teenager, she got her first gold medal at the American Cup 2.
Since then, she’s been pushing her limit physically and mentally, working to be the best.
“You get to that point in your mind, like, ‘I can’t do this, how can I do another set, how can I do another rep?” she said. “But when you push through that feeling at the end, it’s like ‘I really can do it, if I get my mind right, my body can do more than I think.”
When practice gets particularly tiring and frustrating, Tandiman digs deep into her past.
“I always look back and remember my seven-year-old self and what got me into this sport and why I love it so much,” she said. “I’m really lucky for all that I’ve had.”
In 2018, she’ll be hoping for even more, including a place on Team USA when she heads to the Olympic Trials in early January.