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Mallory TseFebruary 21, 2024 at 4:05 PM5 min read

The Bittersweet Journey of an Olympic Hopeful

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Source: Mallory Tse

My alarm quietly starts buzzing at 5 am; the only problem is, I have been up since 4:30 and am already halfway through my coffee and heading out the door. I don’t think my alarm has been useful in many years, but I still turn it on just so it feels like it has a purpose. In the mornings, I get to feel like I have a purpose.

 

My body wakes up on its own, excited and ready to train, even when my body feels like it’s one entire bruise.

 

Every weekday from 5 am, when I leave for the gym, to 8:45 am when I am finished, I get to be an athlete. But as soon as 9 am hits, everything changes, and I become part of the American corporate life.

 

I often feel as if I live two separate lives in one day every day.

 

This comes with the territory of being a development athlete and having to fund myself. I started this athletic journey 3 years ago when I was recruited by USA Bobsled and was a development athlete for 2 years until this year when I decided to switch to track cycling, essentially starting at the bottom again. Through these years, I have never quit my day job. I have actually had to make strategic career climbing moves in order to pay for my sports, going from being a zookeeper to a teacher to a corporate HR/credentialing Specialist.

 

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Source: Mallory Tse

I am one of the lucky ones though; I found a remote job and a good company that gives me as much room as I feel like any company would to do what I need to do for my sports. But it still doesn’t make it any easier to work 40 hours a week and train 20-30 hours a week. It also still doesn’t bring in enough money to be both the breadwinner of the house and pay for such expensive sports. It’s exhausting physically and mentally.

 

My mornings are the highlight of my day! Even if the training sessions are bad, I am so much happier working towards my goal of making an Olympic team than I ever am at work. Once 9 am hits, the athlete hat has to come off, and I am answering emails and calls and sitting in Zoom meetings, all while struggling to stay still.

 

In meetings, I am often introduced by my coworkers as an Olympian to which I politely have to correct them with a “not yet, but hopefully someday”.

 

The hopefulness though often fades after morning. I look at my expenses and training, and all I see is how far behind I am and how many obstacles are in my way. I feel in my heart I am part of the Olympic movement as an Olympic hopeful, but the way sports funding in this country is set up, I often feel like I am not part of anything because I don’t have the “right” circumstances to succeed.

 

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Source: Mallory Tse

I am also asked, “How do you have time for everything?” I don’t!

 

I don’t spend nearly enough time with my husband and family. I have almost no friends outside of sports, and my social life is nonexistent.

 

Weekends are to catch up on extra training because I have the time. These are sacrifices I am happy to make because the big picture is that Olympic Dream, but to those outside of sports, it can be confusing. I am, once again, lucky my husband and family understand that I am doing what I have to and are my biggest supporters. When we do have time together, it makes it even more special!

I often have to work during training camps and events. It’s not uncommon to see me with my laptop in the start house for bobsled or at the side of the velodrome, answering calls and emails in between reps just to show I can do it all, and because PTO is a precious and scarce resource.

 

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Source: Mallory Tse

I quietly wonder how much the stress of doing this affects my performance.

 

My mind is rarely focused on just one task but a series of athletic tasks and work tasks which flood me with an almost constant anxiety. This summer I will be working through my most important event, Track Cycling Nationals, because we aren’t allowed to take PTO in the summer because it’s our busy season. I have tried not to think about it because even now thinking about how I am going to balance competing and working causes my heart to race.

 

I often wonder, would I be making more progress and placing higher if I could just focus on sports? I don’t think I will get to know that answer.

 

Now, I am not the only athlete who works and trains full-time, and I look up to those who have seen more success than me while doing it. They are the reason I believe my dreams are possible. That hope is what keeps me going every single day.

 

But the pit of despair is easy to fall into when you are filing paperwork when you could be training more, doing recovery work, going to physical therapy, or traveling to compete.

 

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Source: Mallory Tse

By the end of the day when I am off work at 6 pm, all I want to do is stare into the void for an hour and then go to bed because the sooner I go to sleep, the sooner I get to wake up and be an athlete for a few hours. But I am grateful to have a reason to wake up every morning.

 

I have a dream to work towards, I have big goals I am moving closer and closer to, and I have a determination that doesn’t allow me to quit.

 

And maybe someday soon, I will be able to drop the title of development from my title and just be Mallory, Team USA Athlete… and HR girlie.

 

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Source: Mallory Tse

 


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Mallory Tse

Mallory Tse is a 2028 Olympics hopeful in track cycling, having transitioned from a fulfilling career as a zookeeper to pursue her athletic ambitions. In 2021, she made an impressive entry into the world of bobsledding, quickly advancing to become the top-seeded first-year rookie and competing for Team USA in international circuits. In between bobsled training and work, Mallory discovered her love of track sprint cycling and committed to training and auditioning for Team USA. Beyond the track, Mallory has an extensive background in science education and has worked in various roles that leverage her expertise in zoology, environmental science, and conservation. Committed to making a difference, she continues to engage in philanthropy, education, and advocacy, aiming to foster inclusivity in environmentalist spaces and promote conservation-focused initiatives.

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