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Topic: Podcast - October 27 2023
Episode #145 - Lessons on Going Pro with Gold Medalist Athing Mu

Athing Mu, a professional track & field athlete and 2x Olympic gold medalist in the 800m and 4x400m relay in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, shares her journey of having success in running at an early age, and the transition to becoming a pro athlete. In this episode she takes us through growing up in a Sudanese family in New Jersey and the impact her seven siblings have had on her passion for running. Athing discusses her time as a high school and college athlete and what it was like turning pro, landing Nike as a sponsor and winning a gold medal all before the age of 20. After a disappointing result at Worlds in Budapest - she takes us through how she managed the pressure and disappointment and the steps she took to build a strong support system around her and climb back to the top of the 800m podium at the Diamond League Championship by setting a new World Record. While running is a huge part of Athing’s identity she emphasizes the importance of having hobbies and passions outside of sport and surrounding yourself with inspirational teammates that help keep the joy of sport front and center.

By: Elizabeth Martin

VIS Creator™

& Megan Dorr

VIS Creator™

Topic: Podcast

October 27 2023

Image source: Philip Winham

Transcript

Episode #115

Athlete: Athing Mu

“Lessons on Going Pro with Gold Medalist Athing Mu”

(background music starts)

Stef Today we are joined by professional runner and two time Olympic gold medalist, Athing Mu. Athing Mu is an 800 meter American world record holder and was a star at the collegiate level during her time as an athlete at Texas A&M University, where she won the NCAA National Championship in the 400 meter indoor and outdoor and holds multiple school records.

With her incredible success coming out of one year in the NCAA, a thing decided to go pro at just 19 years old when she landed a sponsorship deal with Nike. A few short months after signing her deal, she was off to the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo, where she won gold medals in both the 800 meter and the 4x400 meter relay. Mu has been blessed with a career where she does not feel the high pressure or expectations from her sport. But once she turned pro, she started to feel the increased outside noise around her, heading into the worlds at Budapest, where she finished 3rd. Third, which was a disappointing result for her after so much success on the global Olympic stage. In this episode, we will dive into her journey and how she'd gained back confidence as she headed into the diamond league championship race, ultimately climbing back to the top spot in the 800 meter and setting a new American record.

Athing is an amazing role model for the Voice in Sport community. And today she speaks about what it was like having success at such a young age.

Athing

 I've been blessed with this gift of, being a really great runner. And so it's hard for some athletes to go through the way of life that I did, but I think it's also at the same time, it shouldn't be because I didn't really think of myself as being gifted.

Stef

What it was like running in the Olympics.

Athing

I'm like, all right, we're in the final. Let's just, let's get a medal. No, we're not trying to get a medal. We're trying to win. If I did as well as this, let's just go win

Stef

And how to maintain hobbies and passions outside of sport.

Athing

I was not worried about. going professional. I wasn't worried about breaking collegiate records. No, I was worried about having fun, enjoying where I was at, enjoying my environment and just being, an individual person

Stef

So many incredible pieces of advice in this episode about how to keep the joy of your sport front and center, as you consider going from college to pro, before we get started, if you love this episode, please leave us a rating and review on Apple podcasts and Spotify.

And don't forget to sign up at voiceinsport.com. If you are a young woman in sport and a big thank you to our sponsor of this episode, Champs Sports for helping us bring more visibility to incredible women. Athing, Welcome to the Voice in Sport podcast.

Athing

Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here as well.

(background music stops)

Stef 

And let's jump right into your story. We're going to go way back to 2001, which was one year before you were born, and your parents are from South Sudan, and they moved to the United States, and specifically to Trenton, New Jersey. So can you tell us a little bit about why your parents made the decision to move to the U. S., and then what was it like growing up with so many siblings in New Jersey?

Athing

The decision was definitely I think my parents were just looking for a better place to live. There's a lot of war that's going on even currently and also the past couple of years that they've been there before I was even born and they were just looking for a better place for the whole family to live a better Place for them to raise children and for us to have you know just a easier way of living, if we want to do things in our lives we're probably gonna need to be somewhere else then somewhere that's pretty dangerous and not the best education and things like that So they just wanted the best for their children. So they decided to come here. 

But seven kids a lot for sure, but I feel like when you are when you have so many, you kind of mold it to like these sections, and I think our sections was mostly three, then two, then three, and I was part of the bottom three, which were basically the Rugrats.

Gosh, it would only be us three. We'd probably fight so much, we would laugh with each other. But overall everyone got along with each other. And I think even now it's a better time where we're all just going through life with one another and getting to know one another on a different level besides being just young children. Trying to be the center of attention and get whatever we want. So it's been a, it's been a process, but it's been pretty good overall.

Stef

That's pretty incredible to have seven siblings around you and just, the support that I'm sure that gave you as well. So was anybody else into sport or were you the only one that was going the sport route at an early age?

Athing

Everyone actually ran track. It started with my eldest brother. It's honestly crazy to think about that we all literally just fell into it, but it makes sense because, if we're coming to a new place and no one knows much about, what's happening, if one person does something, we're all just gonna follow the line. And eventually it came to me. And it's still is flowing with my younger brother, but he just graduated high school, so he's not really doing it as much, but, yeah, just started with the eldest and we all just went down the line.

Stef

That's amazing. Okay. So when you all get out there now for Thanksgiving or Christmas and you get on the track together, who wins?

Athing

It's obviously gonna be me but we honestly don't, we have not done that much, which It's crazy because we've been thinking about doing like a family relay because there's so many of us and we haven't done it yet, but I think it's still on our minds, but I think it'd be a little easier that way because we'll be able to find balance instead of one person just dominating. I don't know if anyone wants to believe it, but I am the fastest so far.

Stef

Well, tell us a little bit more about growing up in Trenton, New Jersey. What was it like going to school there and what do you remember about your childhood that has really built you into the person you are today?

Athing

It's hard just because I was super well, first of all, I wasn't even born when my family first came, but I was super young and I guess I don't really remember much probably up until like maybe seven years old, but I do remember, growing up with my dad, living with him for a while, and then moving on to my mom.

But we were always like different. That's probably like an obvious case just because we were Sudanese. We were people who, immigrated here. We're just learning this new life, new situation of being in this. country. And so I wouldn't say it was like hard for me because I was born here. And so I was already molding into this new life the only life that I knew versus the rest of my family, molding into a life that was almost new, including my, my parents. And so for me, it wasn't as bad or it wasn't as hard, but We did experience being, different because we were Sudanese and there aren't many, South Sudanese people or just Sudanese people, period, that you see just walking around, even if it's in L.A., if it's in Jersey, you don't really see many of us.

And so when you do see us, it's Oh, like they're different. And so that's one thing that we kind of always came across as we were growing up. But besides that, I got a chance to meet some good friends that I remember just hanging out with on the street, just being kids playing until the lights came on and then coming back in the house. I feel like we had a normal childhood, or at least to the best of our abilities.

Stef

How would you describe the South Sudanese culture to those of us that are not as familiar and what is the connection that you feel most connected to that culture?

Athing

For me, since I was born here, I have not had the greatest opportunity to just be involved and like learn about it and just be a part of it when I was younger. But my parents came to Jersey because there was a bit of a community here and they knew that they would, find some people that they can relate to, some people to morph with.

And that's what it was when I was younger. So we would have community gatherings, maybe a couple times a year, or even if it was just someone's birthday, we'd all come together to celebrate. I think it just made us feel more like home, like we weren't just in this like huge, country. Like it was more so just, this is our community. We're here together and we're supporting one another, no matter how much we know them, how much we don't know them, we're just here just trying to enjoy life together. And so that's what kind of helped us when we were younger, at least just so we knew. Okay. There are some people that are like cool to be around that are our family that are just like us and that's what we had. We had a bit of celebrations as well because, South Sudan is a super young country. And so whenever our yearly anniversary would come, we'd always celebrate that.

And I think we just had a good way of coming together so that we knew who we were, and what we were, focused on and our background. And that's one good thing that my parents and just the whole South Sudanese community did to help help allow the kids especially to know about , where they came from and I had that and that was pretty helpful, even though I did not get a chance to experience it on my own.

Stef

What would you say are like the one thing that you think back about your mom and your dad and you really appreciate from those younger years and you would want to whisper or maybe say thank you, shout out to them.

Athing

They've just never changed being who they were. And obviously not because they, they were pretty old, their whole childhood was in South Sudan. And even though they had to almost morph into this new country, they still never left their culture, they never left their heritage. They were always trying to push it on to us and teach us about it, even though they were, while at the same time, trying to learn English, learn about what it is that's happening, how to give their kids, the best life possible. And I do thank them because even though I didn't realize what it was when we were younger, I realize now, how great it was and how much I You know, I wish I had this mindset when I was younger, just so I could appreciate it more and, be more invested into it, but just the fact that they always kept it and they still are, continuing to nourish it into our minds is something that I really appreciate.

Stef

That's incredible. Well, you mentioned also on another podcast that since you were a young kid, you would also practice walking the runway and being a model in your kitchen. So where do you think you develop this love for fashion and modeling?

Athing

I'm honestly not sure. I feel like I'm always going back to that, just that whole idea of, why did I even do this? What was I thinking? But, the furthest I can go back to is just, I know we wore uniform in school and so I know every Friday or some Fridays we would have like dress down day and so we would like get our own outfits and dress up ourselves.

And so I would always ask my sister like, or not always ask, but she would help me. Because I want to, at least think about the fact that I have my own creativity, even though I did not yet. But she would always just help me and set up my outfits and be like, Oh, okay, here's a good one for you to wear. And I would just always enjoy those days because it gave me the opportunity to just be myself and, show what I like and just, I don't know just have fun and be creative.

Stef

I love it. Well, Many view you as a track and field fashion icon for sure. Those of us who follow the track scene, we often see runners in, typical Nike neon orange and pink spikes, but you sported a really iconic light blue bejeweled Nike spike during the world championships. Can you share with us the inspiration behind these amazing spikes and why you wanted to wear them?

Athing

This was such a last minute decision. I I don't even, I don't even know where I got this idea from, but I don't know something about, I, something about me is just, I always enjoy being different. I never like feeling morphed into like just one little ball or one circle. I always like to do something that'll make me, I don't know, enjoy whatever's going on, make whatever scenario, just. feel better or, allow me to have more fun in it. And I don't know, I think I was just like, wow, like what can I do to be different? Is what I was thinking. And I just thought about my spikes. I'm like, OOh what if I put some bedazzle on here? Because Dina Asher Smith she just posted, she's like, I wish we could like sparkle, sparkle up our our uniforms. And I was like I am so on that page, but what can I do right now to make it happen? Or it's just have fun because I do love glitz and glam. And I was like, we know a guy, so let's bedazzle these spikes. And after that, and it was just a quick turnover, just give him my spikes. He bedazzled it. And I was like, Oh, awesome.

Stef

Amazing. They looked incredible. And you also mentioned on your Team USA bio that you enjoy doing a lot of DIY projects like room decor and photography and creating YouTube videos. So can you share with us and our audience about some of the hobbies that you have outside of sport that keeps you grounded to like, you're more than just an athlete, but you're somebody who loves creativity and fashion. And what are those things that you do when you're not playing sport?

Athing

Yeah. I honestly, I like, I don't even know where it came from. One thing about me, and I think a lot of people my age, is YouTube was so huge. And I've wanted to be a YouTube star since I was in like fourth grade. We have videos on our iMac where I'm just like on the computer. I made my little brother hold up a little, a sheet to be my curtain, because I don't know what I was doing. I'm just like, Oh, okay. Hey guys, welcome back to my channel. It's LomaBasicallyFat. And so I would just do that all the time. It'd be so fun. Just because, I don't know, I used to watch it all the time. I used to watch other girls just Do these DIYs, and I think DIYs was really popular in, I don't know, whenever I was in like fourth grade.

Just like room decorations locker decorations, or even dorm room decorations. And so I've always been interested in that because I'm like, oOh, this is so fun. I want to create these things on my own and make it my own personality. And so that's what it's been since that point. I've just really enjoyed doing things on my own and being my own person and just Embracing who I am and the things that I like instead of trying to be the standard, you know and follow after one another and I feel like DIYs gave me that opportunity and also, there were plenty of things I would have liked to do but my family didn't come from a lot of money and so most of the time I would have to do it myself, and so I would, do it in whatever way possible to make it happen. And that would be a DIY way. And yeah, from that moment, it's just been that way. And I've just always enjoyed it because I love seeing things change from nothing into something. And I don't know, it's just always been really fun and just enjoyable to watch.

Stef

I love that. When you're putting everything into sport and you're training so hard, especially in the professional landscape, it can be really hard to also focus on things outside of sport. And we see mostly you in the media participating in sport and, totally kicking butt on the track, but what would you want other people out there, especially the young girls in our community at Voice in Sport? How would you answer this question? Who are you outside of sport?

Athing

I really don't know how to put my own self into words because I'm just like genuinely and authentically myself, which includes being silly and goofy and just creative and not caring, I feel like I just feel the best when I am just my true self. Like I could care less what this person is doing, what that situation is like. I enjoy being myself because there is no filter and there is not much effort to be myself. And I think once I got into that point, that's what I've carried on even into the track world. Just, you know, enjoying being who I am and who I was created to be. And I think that's something that I would 1000 percent give to other girls.

It's just literally be yourself. Whoever likes it will like it. Who doesn't love it. That's okay. But you will absolutely bring in a crowd that appreciates you and you'll also appreciate them. What is it worth to have people who only like you for being a false you? It's best if you're just your true self and you have genuine and authentic people just as you are. That are following you or just appreciating you or, just going along life with you.

Stef

Such a great message and reminder to all the girls out there. So thank you for sharing that. I'm curious to know like, what do you do on your rest days?

Athing

When it comes to in season, honestly, there's not much at least, there is time, but there's also not much time. So it's hard to figure out what you can do that's not so consuming. That's not exerting your energy and things like that, as you are just recovering and getting ready for another day as a workout or another week.

I do just enjoy quality time. So whatever it is that I can do that's outside or even inside, that's no phones, just me. In my own zone, doing my own thing, or even if it's with someone, I would love to do that. If it's just sitting at a park, reading some devotionals, or reading a book, or walking with my Benny Bear, that's something I would so love to do.

Just taking in the whole environment and just resetting. I feel like, whenever you reset, there should be no distractions, because it messes up whatever you're trying to do. So whatever I can do that can just put me in the place of basically nothing, I would absolutely love to do that.

Stef

I love it. You're resetting and that's super important for your, mental health as well as you're heading into those really difficult trainings. So we're going to shift gears a little bit and go all the way back to your early track and field journey you started actually running at age five, and that's when you met your first coach Al Jennings.

So when you started running for the Trenton Track Club they have a certain philosophy that philosophy is running as a way of life. Can you share with us why you joined this club and why you started running track at such a young age?

Athing

Yeah, I think they might have shifted it a bit the past couple of years. But if I'm not mistaking, it was running for the fun of it back when I was running. And I think that's something that I've always carried, just. Enjoy where you're at, just have fun. I think because it's also a youth team, I don't think youth should be taking what they're doing so seriously. I mean, for me, I'm always like, okay, whatever is meant for you is going to come into your path. You don't have to force it. You don't need to you know, overexert yourself, even though obviously, like it's taken me a while to get to this point, but now that I'm a bit older, I realize okay, this is what I've been missing when I was at that point, I was too busy focusing on what other people are doing, how they're getting to that point, how many things they're doing, instead of just, you know, enjoying where I was.

And even now, I feel like this past year was the only point where I, or not even past year, but the past two months. Where I'm actually like, Oh, I love this and I need to get back to the point of me just embracing all of me all that I've done and where I'm at, because if I'm thinking about anything else, it's just going to get in the way of me progressing. And so that was definitely something that was embedded into my mind when I was younger and not really knowing it. But still just carrying it onto the track when I was younger was definitely helpful.

Stef

Yeah, it definitely worked and we hear this a lot right from a lot of pro athletes today that like they started running or they started their sport because of the fun and the joy. And then sometimes you lose that a little bit on your journey, but if you always go back to like why you started, a pretty common reason is joy and what you get out of the sport and how it makes you feel. And it worked well for you because from that really young age when you started at Trenton Track Club, it was in when you were 13 entering eighth grade when you won an 800 meter event in AAU Junior Olympic Games in the category I should say of 17 to 18 year olds.

So pretty incredible, but very young, it was clear that you were going to be really good. So can you share with us what that, that event was like, if you can remember when you were 13 winning that and how it felt?

Athing

Yes. I got a bit of experience. or. helpful experience when I was younger. We used to go to AAU club championships which would always be in Florida. And so I've won a couple championships there. I felt like I was staking in the 800, but going to JO's was a bit more of a bigger deal. But I don't know. When I was younger, I never really thought about what I was doing.

I was just going through the motions like, Oh, okay. We're running at this thing. Great. Oh, we're going to practice. Great. Oh, Junior Olympics. Cool. I mean, And I feel like it's obviously I've been blessed with this gift of, being a really great runner. And so it's hard for some athletes to go through the way of life that I did, but I think it's also at the same time, it shouldn't be because I didn't really think of myself as being gifted.

I was just going, you know, I was just running, you know, and I feel like if we just all carry this mindset of just, if it's meant for me, it's going to happen. I'm just enjoying what I'm doing and the progress will be made when it happens. I've gone through years where I did not PR. For two year, two years or three years straight. And the next scene on that third year was just like, there you go. I'm PR-ing, but being 13 and winning my first title, I think it was just really enjoyable because also watching other athletes do these things that are ahead of me, like older than I was, and also just those athletes that I've been following.

I'm just like, Oh, wow, that'd be so cool to do that. And being able to do it that year was almost like scratching off a goal off my list, even though I did not have a list. But looking back, I think that's what I felt. It was just enjoyable to win. Who doesn't like winning?

Stef

I mean, If you come to the Henderson household winning is like a, or like even board games is like an Olympic sport for us.

Athing

Oh yeah, 100 percent can relate, especially in our family.

Stef

Yeah. I understand you made the decision, in high school not to run for your high school team, Trenton Central High, but instead focus on competing at your club team. So can you share with us what really led you to that decision? Because a lot of young girls out there might be facing a similar decision, between choosing between varsity sports at their high school versus sticking with a club team.

So, I don't know if you knew, if you remember making that decision or if it was made for you, but either way, what advice do you have for young women that are going through that decision right now?

Athing

I would I would say everyone's process isn't the same, everyone's journey isn't the same. As I was saying earlier, I mean you have to figure it, I wouldn't say figure it out on your own, because obviously you'll have people around you supporting. But, I wouldn't say force anything that's not guaranteed. A lot of things can change in one year. A lot of things can change in six months. So I would say there's nothing wrong with going and try it, especially because you're still a youth athlete. You're not even fully developed. You're not peaking yet. I'm not even peaking yet. And so there's just a lot of time that you have to make up and so one mistake if something doesn't go your way There's always gonna be a point where you can, get that back just because one thing doesn't go right doesn't mean it's the end of your career.

No, there's always a way to make things better And so just enjoy whatever you're doing. Don't force it If it's something that you should do, then go for it. Try it out. If it's not, if you don't think it's the best time, then don't do it. I think when you're in youth, as long as you're getting good in competitions with other athletes, then you should enjoy what you're doing. And, it takes time for you to develop and get to the next level. So just enjoy every step. And hey, when it's time for you to move on, if you feel like there's no progress happening and feel like you are stagnat go ahead and get to the next level. But enjoy where you're at.

Stef

I love that although you weren't running for your high school varsity team, you still were active in your school. You played the saxophone, so did I. And you participated in student council and volunteered. So I guess what was the reason that you were still really active in school and what did you love the most about high school?

Athing

The group of friends that I had, we were probably like a group of five if I'm not mistaking, but we were always just interested in doing more than just school. But I feel like we were always I'm not trying to flex or anything, but we're definitely at the top 10 percent academic wise of the school, and so school was pretty easy just, we would always help each other out if there was any questions, but overall, we didn't really struggle too much, and so we were always like, oOh, we always heard, Oh yeah, doing extra things outside of, just regular academics will be good for college.

And so we're like, Oh, okay, let's be filled with extra curricular activities. And in our school, we didn't get offered too many, unfortunately, but student council was one playing an instrument was one. And also, I got that from a couple of my other siblings who also play instruments.

So I knew I wanted to try it out a little bit, but just overall, we just wanted to be active, which is why. We all ended up doing the same exact thing. We were part of the same exact clubs. I don't know. It was just fun to do things outside of just the regular academic things. And just get to be a part of a school and part of a community and a group, especially because we didn't really get a chance to have an actual school until our senior year.

Stef

That's right, because you were in COVID during high school.

Athing

Yes, exactly.

Stef

Oh, that must have been super hard. When you reflect back on that what did that feel like?

Athing

It was definitely an experience. They always talk about senioritis, but we for sure, we, I don't even know. We were like COVID-itis. I have no idea, but we in no way, shape or form got to experience a high school the way that we should have. But I don't know, I think just having good people around you, we were still supporting each other outside after COVID happened. We were still hanging out, even though we probably shouldn't have been, just trying to make a way of life, especially at this, pivotal point of our own lives, getting ready for college. It was, it was an experience, but I think it was also helpful for just the progression of our own lives and just getting ready for college.

(background music starts)

Elizabeth

I'm Elizabeth, a VIS creator, and this episode is presented by Champs Sports. Step into the Nike Pegasus and fly through your running routine. You've got goals to crush, and Nike Pegasus takes you exactly where you want to be. Shop Nike running in store or online at champsports. com. If you enjoy hearing from Athing Mu and would like to get the chance to talk to athletes like her, go to voiceinsport.com/join to sign up for a free membership and gain access to exclusive episodes, mentorship sessions, and other weekly content. Don't forget to follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok @voiceinsport. Now let's get back to the episode.

(background music stops)

Stef

Well, you went on to break the American record in the 600 meter when you were only 16. And your time was the second fastest time anyone had ever run the event, trailing a world record holder, Olga, by just 0. 13 seconds. So since that time on people have been obviously. Knowing who you are and contacting your coaches about going professional, I guess at that moment, was that a moment when you realized that you were really talented and that you had a future in this, in track and field? Was that the moment or was it a different moment?

Athing

I wouldn't even say that was the moment that I realized that was good. I would, eighth grade is probably when I was like, Oh, wow, this is pretty cool. I guess I am pretty good because I ran at states or it was either states or regional and I ran four events getting ready for the Junior Olympics.

And I won all four of them. And I think I've set the state record for my age group. Maybe an all four or it was like at least three. So at that point, that's when I was like, Ooh, okay. I guess I am good, but didn't take that idea anywhere. But running that 600 when I was 16, still at that moment, I didn't really think much of it.

I was like shook and I was just like, Oh my God. Wow. I did that, following it, it still wasn't something that I'm just like, sitting on and just being like, Oh my gosh Oh my God, I can go professional. I can do this. No, it was just more so Ooh, I just ran a really great race. Cool. I broke the high school record. I'm the second fastest ever. Wow. That's so cool. But it was not anything that was like, Oh my God I need to go professional now or I'm the next big thing though.

Just how I am when it comes to the sport, at least, before these past couple of years, it's just I'm just going with the flow, just going through the motions and cool, I'm running, I'm fast. Great. Not really thinking about everything I'm actually accomplishing. So that was a pretty good moment,

Stef

Yeah, that was an amazing, that was an amazing moment. Then you obviously went on to create, choose to attend college, right? And becoming part of a collegiate team is pretty important. And it's also really hard to decide where to go. And a lot of people decide whether or not to go that route or go the professional route right away.

So can you describe your decision process? Deciding to go to college. I don't know if it was then in college that you realized, Oh, maybe now I should go pro because when you got to college, you absolutely crushed it. And I'm going to talk about that here in a few minutes, but what was that moment like for you when you decided to go to college for sport and how did you make that decision?

Athing

Yeah. Honestly, it wasn't even a hard decision. I knew after when it came to my junior, I would say junior and leading up to my senior year, just my junior year as a whole, I ran a lot. We were just trying to put myself in a better position to where I was running with some professionals getting into competitive races and that kind of drained me a bit just because, I'm also still in high school.

 I'm barely able to make these activities that other students are doing or my friends are doing because I'm too busy competing over the weekend. And so that was a bit draining just because I wasn't really at the position yet where I'm like, Oh yeah, I want to go professional.

I knew it was a possibility. And I knew that was like the end goal dream. After, especially after watching 2016, I'm like, Ooh, I want to go professional and I want to be an Olympic gold medalist. And I just kept that on my mind as the years went by through high school. But overall, I was not really dying to go professional.

I think it was because I didn't get a chance to run with my high school team. And so I never had that group feeling. I never had that family feeling, of just fun and joy of everyone doing the same thing, everyone being on the same page, I never had that. And so training every day by myself and these workouts were draining and then going to these meets sometimes on my own not having the other high school athletes was a bit draining because they're too busy running high school track. And so from that, I knew I for sure, I want a team.

And when I started the recruiting process, of course, they were always telling me about the fact that you would be with the team and we have this many athletes and you'd be doing this and you'd be doing that. And that's something that really was like in my heart just to be part of a team and not be the center of attention. I didn't want to be that athlete. I wanted to just enjoy being another person as part of this larger picture instead of being the larger picture. And so that's the one thing, main thing that I was looking forward to going into college.

Stef

That's incredible and it's also a great lesson to for other young women out there that might be interested in or trying to still make that decision about do they join their high school team or do they do club. And I think what you called out, I like having that team component is so important. It's one of my favorite things also about playing college soccer was the team aspect. And in your first indoor season you also did incredible things. You set an under 20 800 record. You broke a 40 year old college record in the 600 meter, but the time of 1:25.80 and you won an sec 800 meter title with a collegiate record breaking time of 1:58.40.

It's really pretty incredible. So after a very successful indoor season, you carried that same energy and competition dominance really into the spring outdoor season, you set the Texas A& M school record in the 1500 meter with a time of 4:16.06.

You won the Michael Johnson Invitational 800 meter with a collegiate record time of 1:57.73, and crossed the finish line first in the SECs and NCAAs in the 400. It's actually quite remarkable what you did in your first year, setting over 12 different marks, top marks dominating the landscape. What prepared you for this success in your first year in college? Because it can often be super hard for any athlete to transition from that high school to college landscape.

Athing

Yes. Going to college after COVID I was in COVID and also my mindset changed about being, a professional and what I was focused on, I was not focused about myself like on myself, I was not worried about. going professional. I wasn't worried about breaking collegiate records. No, I was worried about having fun, enjoying where I was at, enjoying my environment and just being, an individual person because also, when you are growing up with such a large family, there's there's not much space, there's all of us.

And so I wanted to go ahead and be free and just, I don't know grow in myself and grow what I love and create new memories and new friends And so that was my focus. I wasn't worried about I don't want to say I wasn't worried about track because I was excited to be out there running track, but I also was not thinking about doing all of these things. I just let everything go and I just gave it all to God and He definitely walked me through just that whole season and as I went meet by meet and I broke these records and I ran these fast times I'm just like Oh cool okay another meet let's do it again I guess like I don't know like I was locked in but I wasn't overly consuming myself with these things. I would hear you know the possibilities of things that I could do by coaches and things like that but I was like, okay, cool. I'm just going to go to practice and continue to do whatever I'm doing because I'm having fun. So the transition definitely be hard because The collegiate level is totally different and way more aggressive than high school, especially with academics and being a student athlete. But I would say you just, you can't put expectations out there.

I feel like that's probably a really big problem that a lot of high school athletes do going into colleges. They expect so much. They're hoping for so much and there's nothing wrong with having goals and wanting to do things, but you have to realize. First and foremost, you need to adjust to what, your environment is adjust to the time management, which is something I struggled with a bit and just all the things that are going to be at your hand because it's not just going to be you being a student and then, okay, we're at practice just like high school.

No, you all around. You have to be ready for practice. It's definitely consuming your whole life and so that's you have to just be prepared for everything and until you get into it and acclimated to everything that's around you, that's when you can probably start setting expectations for yourself.

But realistic expectations is also something that's important. Instead of just, thinking about something that probably will happen years and years away just take it step by step because you have a long process. College is not just a one year thing. College is five to even six years if you get the chance. So just taking it step by step and enjoying where you're at, I think it's definitely helpful because when you start thinking beyond yourself and just where you're at, I think you are able to progress a bit more and just, simply enjoy. And I think when we enjoy, that's when we start to have things changing in our lives.

Stef

How do you think you establish that mindset of of going into college and focusing on the enjoyment and the team aspect because it's really clear that is part of your success is that you haven't put you didn't put a lot of expectation on yourself. You didn't necessarily feel the pressure in that early career in college. So how do you have that mindset? Because I feel like that's almost the opposite of what most young women athletes that have goals in sport feel. So like, how do they get that? Like, how do they get that sort of mindset that you have? Where do you think that comes from for you?

Athing 

It definitely came from, like I said sophomore going into junior. And then my full junior year, I just did a lot of running and I did a lot of. A lot of things that weren't as enjoyable in the sport. I feel like at some point also, I wanted to like, almost not run track anymore because it wasn't enjoyable.

And so I knew that wasn't something I wanted to do. So going into college, I was just like, First and foremost, we had COVID, and so COVID was something that I was just like, Oh gosh, this is terrible what am I going to do with my life now? Now that COVID's over, and honestly, do I even want to go to college?

Do I even want to run track? I feel like that also gave me a bit of time to just, overwhelm myself with the ideas and possibilities of, doing something else because I wasn't really having a chance to go out there and compete because we were all in lockdown. But afterwards, I just took a step back and I'm just like, okay listen, obviously I have chosen this school for a reason, and I'm at the point where it's time for me to go to college, and I do, enjoy running, and I honestly just had a faithful breakthrough, and I started listening to the Lord a little bit more, and I got into my devotionals, I got into my Bible, and I think he just led me to the whole idea of, just let me guide you, and everything will be fine, and that's exactly what I did, and so I think, like I said, it's you just have to learn it on your own, I would, if I have to say, because anyone can tell you like, Oh yeah, go to college or, and do this, just like go and see how it goes, but you have to truly believe in yourself.

That things can change for you and that you can, you are able to progress and that this is not going to be a one time show where you have to go and kill it. And then, that's the only way out. No, you have to realize yourself that this is a process and this is something that's going to take time.

This is something I can take time and there's nothing wrong with like time go by, track and field careers are not that long, but they're still long enough for you to make progress. And, get these accomplishments and make things happen in a timely period and timely matter.

You just have to believe that yourself. And I think I've gotten to that point where I believed it myself, which is why I had so much confidence going into freshman year. I was just like, okay, whatever, let's do it.

Stef

I don't know if you know this fact, but like around that age 17, a lot of young girls drop out. There's a really big dip in age 14 in middle school. And then there's another really big dip in high school. So I think a lot of it has to do with the pressure, but also the burnout. And it sounds like you went through that too. So if they're

Athing

Sure. Like both spot on.

Stef

So what advice would you have to girls that are in that moment right now? And because our goal at Voice in Sport is to keep these young women in sport. They might not all go out to be like winning gold medals like you did, which we'll talk about next. But it is so important sport can give you so much more.

So, if you reflect back, what would be a great piece of advice for your, 17 year old self? To hear

Athing

Everyone's journey is not your journey. Like it's. I feel like that's something that I struggled with when I was younger is I was always looking at other people like, Oh my God, they have so many followers. That's so cool. What are they doing?

I want to get there. Hey brother, give me a shout on Instagram, things like that. And I was just always just interested and intrigued by how people got to the point that they got, but regardless of what it was, I didn't realize until I started progressing and I started doing things on my own and, hitting these athletes and making these accomplishments happen that my journey is literally my journey. I've surpassed these other athletes who I was looking on to at a further time, but I still have gotten to another point, another level. And so it's just, , you can't round your life on someone else's like you can't make your life someone else's,

I can talk about ooh the time that I broke my collegiate record. Someone else can talk about the time they broke the collegiate record and their path will not be the same path that I had. And when you decide that you're okay with that, I think that's when you start to let go of everything, expectations pressure, and that's when you start to be able to take things step by step and just go through the motions and go through whatever it is that you're looking forward to doing and then things start to fall on your lap because you're just letting it happen instead of trying to force something that's not for you.

 And when you get a chance to look back at it You're like, Oh my gosh, dang my story is actually pretty great because I let this happen instead of trying to do the same exact thing as someone else is

Stef 

Such good advice. Thank you for sharing that. So after your amazing first year at college you turn 19 and you actually signed a deal with Nike and not a lot of people know this, but only about 2 percent of athletes in the NCAA actually go on to a professional sport. So it's pretty rare.

But you, you know, finished your first year, signed with Nike at 19 years old, and then decided to forego the rest of your collegiate eligibility at the time and headed to the Olympics for your debut about a month after you signed with Nike. So walk us through that time in your life when you decided to sign with Nike and declare your professional status.

Athing

Yep, since the indoor season, which probably ended in March if I'm not mistaking, I knew that there was a possibility now that I could really go professional because I was bringing all the collegiate records and, doing this and that. I was already selected to be a nominee for the Bowerman, so I knew that there was a chance for sure.

But I still wanted to go ahead and finish my outdoor season just because, the reason why I came here is because I wanted to enjoy the team. I want to experience college and just the level of sport. So it wasn't really that hard getting to the point at the end of the season when I had all of these accolades and I accomplished the things that I wanted to accomplish, which was breaking the 400 record outdoors and then also getting a title and then, of course, breaking the 800 record, plus all the other things that came across during that time.

But when there's an opportunity in place for you, especially as big as the one that was for me, I knew it was a great idea just to take it because I didn't have to change entirely my whole entire life. I knew I could still be in school. I could still be in the same environment as I've been in, and coaches were really helpful with that, especially the head coach at A&M.

And so that was just really nice because I knew though I was taking this opportunity and this chance, I would still be able to be in the same environment and just enjoy the things that I decided to come to school for. It was pretty easy to choose, but I felt a bit more safe and just more settled knowing that I would still be able to continue to do the things that I was already doing.

Stef

Yeah. And what an incredible opportunity to go, to the Olympics, but be signed, feel like you're, in a good space and then coming off of an incredible season where you went on to win an Olympic gold medal in the 800 meter four by 400 in Tokyo.

And all of this happened like in a pretty short period of time. Finishing your college, season, signing with Nike, winning a gold. That's a lot. That's a lot of changes, a lot of really incredible accomplishments in a very short amount of time. When you look back at that moment how did you do it? How did you stay calm, get to the Olympics, your very first Olympics, and crush it like that?

Athing

I have no idea. I think I was still, at this point, I was still carrying the same mindset that I've had all year. It's just okay, I remember our first meet Coach Henry was like, it's COVID. We don't know when they're going to shut this thing down. So run every single meet like it's your last one. Don't hold back. And I, that's what I carried every single meet. It's just I don't know when they're going to shut this down. So let's just do it. Let's just do it. And by the time I got to the end of the season and I'm getting ready for U. S. trials, I'm like, ooh. I want to make the Olympic team.

I don't think I was really saying Oh, let's win. I was just like, I want to make the Olympic team. And then when I made the Olympic team, we were training. Training was definitely a really hard part throughout the summer, just because we finished the collegiate season in about June. And I think I trained for about two months before heading out to Tokyo. So that was a pretty hard part because I was doing it on my own once again. So I was a bit traumatized, but just being able to experience it was really great. And then when I got out there, I kept the same mindset. I'm like, okay, cool. We're here. That's so fun. Training is done. Now. It's all about just going out here and competing. And as the rounds went by and progressed, I just. I just, I feel like I put my expectations a bit higher and higher as I got through the rounds and then the semis, and then I got into the final.

I'm like, all right, we're in the final. Let's just, let's get a medal. No, we're not trying to get a medal. We're trying to win. If I did as well as this, let's just go win. And so I, I didn't know what was going to happen, but I just set myself up with realistic expectations. And as I progressed throughout the rounds, like I said, I just put it a bit higher and higher, give myself a bit more confidence and more confidence as I competed and I was just like, Oh, okay, it's possible. Let's do it. But the transition was not, it was fine because I was still going to the just the motions of things. I didn't really think about the fact that I was professional. I'm just like, okay, cool. I'm still training. I'm still at A&M. So it's helpful. I'm just. getting money for what I'm doing now. I'm still almost in the same position. So that was helpful. So same coach, still at the same place, same environment. So it wasn't that much of a transition, but it was just helpful to have those people around me to help support my decision.

Stef

Absolutely. Congratulations. It's really an amazing accomplishment and I can only imagine coming off of that experience in Tokyo with a gold medal would really generate a lot of excitement and momentum, but also additional external pressure. And this is something we talk a lot about at Voice in Sport.

We have a lot of really amazing articles on the platform where we've interviewed a lot of Olympic athletes, including Catherine Plummer from Team USA Volleyball and in one of our articles, we talked with our sports psychologist here at VIS around the pressures that you get from sport, but obviously that sometimes feeling the pressure can actually encourage us to achieve an optimal level of performance, and sometimes as VIS experts have noted that pressure that is really what can create a positive experience rather than a negative one if you frame it right.

Does that resonate with you? How do you personally approach dealing with that sort of external performance pressure?

Athing

I've definitely dealt with it different over the past three championships, I guess I could say, cause I haven't in three years, but Tokyo, totally different world championships in 2022, totally different. And then worlds this past year, totally different. So I've had multiple different experiences, but I think that was just my growth within the sport and within learning myself, learning my environment and what expectations come with, the sport and just all things around me.

But I can definitely agree that. pressure is always going to be there. It's just about how you take that pressure and how you use it to, fire you up for what you need to do and what you need to accomplish. And so I think I've struggled a bit the past years on learning how to use the pressure, but also understanding what the pressure is.

But this past year post world championships, I've realized who I was as an athlete, which was definitely helpful and I feel like it takes you a little bit of time and a little bit of experience of just different years because things are not going to be the same every single year. But it's how you use those experiences and what you learned from it that's helpful and what molds you into, the set point of how you're going to continue to proceed with your career.

And so that's where I finally got to these past two months, actually. As you can see, it's not easy. It's not just a one year go around. It takes a bit of time.

Stef

Yeah, and we're all work in progress, right? But I think it's it's really important, I think, for young girls to hear from women like you who have won gold medals and then maybe in that same year didn't have a performance that they were as excited about still did great. Like you did in Budapest, you did well, but it's not to what you wanted to do.

And you were disappointed with that result, but You picked yourself back up again and headed into the Diamond League and then won. And not only won, but you also set the new American record in the 800 meter clocking at an astounding 1:54.97 so you did bounce back and not only bounce back, but did a record breaking performance.

So I think it's really important for young women athletes or even just new professional athletes to understand. Even if you're at the top of your game one minute, then you're going to have a result that maybe is not as great. And that's the highs and lows of being a professional athlete, but maybe not something that you were personally expecting, to have happen. So when you reflect back on that, What have you mostly learned, about what it's like to be a professional athlete?

Athing

I honestly think I just didn't take professional athlete into consideration as much as I should have, you know, I feel like my main thing is I'm still going through the motions, or that's why, that's what I have been doing. But then I realized that, okay, professional athlete is more than just going through their motions.

Everyone here is not going through their motions. Everyone here is trying to be the best. And so every, everyone's working hard. Therefore, I need to also put that same effort into whatever I'm doing and realize, okay the sport is progressing, the events are progressing, the times are progressing, and though I am talented and I've been blessed with this this gift, I'm still gonna need to progress into whatever I'm doing, and put the effort into my abilities, and I think I just realized okay. I am who I am and I'm this really incredible athlete, but I also need to go out there and be intentional with whatever I'm doing and not take things for granted. So it's just putting it into perspective and. just resetting my mind. And now I'm like, okay, I'm a professional athlete. This is my job. This is what I do. This is who I am to a certain extent.

Stef

Yeah, I mean, that, that makes a lot of sense, especially with the earlier part of your career and your journey being so free flowing for you where you weren't really setting those expectations for yourself, or maybe other people were, but you didn't really put it for at the forefront of your mind.

So it's such a interesting way that you have, you've gotten to where you are. Like you said, it's different for every single person. And you've made some decisions along the way in some of these last competitions to turn off social media a couple of weeks before, I think Budapest and then obviously you did something coming out of Budapest before you went into the Diamond League.

So what would you say, what are those learnings, those little bits of learnings, from the last couple of months that you would want to share with other, young women and professional athletes out there? 

Athing

I feel like one of my mistakes was absolutely turning everything out. And that was like going into Budapest because I'm just like, Oh, everyone's talking about me like I haven't run this much this year and there was just a whole bunch of talk and expectations out there. And just, I don't know, a lot going on. And I was like, I don't have time for this. And so I absolutely shut everything out. I'm just like, I'm just going to focus on me. Let me just go work out, travel to Budapest. No one's going to know I'm here, whatever. We're just going to show up and do all that stuff. But post worlds, when I got back into town, which I was so happy to be because I love my own space. I love just, I don't know, I've built this own area on my own and I'm just like, ah, it's just makes me feel like home and so comfort.

So whenever I went out and just was hanging out in the streets going shopping, I think for like furniture or something, I had two people who supported me and watched Budapest and they're just like, hey Like, how are you doing? Like, Oh my God, you did so good. And Oh my God, we love you. You probably have the best fans around, than any other athlete that you can probably see. I'm just like, Oh my God, like these people love me and they know that I wasn't happy. And I'm just like, it just warmed up my heart because one of the things I've totally disregard is the fact that you have to almost find the happy medium because there's so many people that love you, but then there's also people who are going to be like, trying to make articles and trying to put themselves out there to get whatever they need to promote their own selves.

And so you just have to find the happy medium of you taking in what you want to take in and what you should take in, but also just disregarding the other things that are just a distraction. And instead of finding that happy medium, I just took everything away, which kind of almost made me feel like I'm just like the lone soldier going into this, going into this competition instead of being like, Oh my gosh, I'm here and people are supporting me and people love me and people are here to see me compete. And that's what I mean by almost taking it for granted. It's just, I didn't take in everything that was going around and also post worlds I just realized like there's so many things that create this one puzzle.

And just like this one thing as a whole as being a professional track and field athlete, at least for me, is like, there's so many pieces. There's fans, there's supporters, there's coaches, there's, nutrition, exercise, whatever. There's just so many things that just build this one thing. And I did not take that in until after worlds, where I see these people who are supporting me on the streets and like people sending me such nice messages. I'm just like, Oh my gosh there's so much more than just like winning. There's so much more than just competing.

 People just love me for who I am and just like my personality and just whoever Athing Mu is and I did not realize that and I'm just so thankful for the opportunity to be able to take a step back after that me and that race and just take it all in because it's helped me get to the point where I'm just like, okay, now I understand.

Now I get it. And now like people just want me to be happy, and that's what makes them happy. That's what makes me happy, is making other people happy and just love flowing all around, and so I'm just like, okay, now we're in a good place, and now we're ready to go again.

Stef

Amazing. You're back. You never went away, but now you're back with a different mindset, which an appreciation, I think, for that integral support system. And that's really the last thing I wanted to talk about with you is how do you build that support system? Because, you did get a new coach in 2022 and you moved to Los Angeles, which is exciting.

And you have a whole support team around you that is really helping you become your best person on the track, but also off the track. What advice do you have for other young professional athletes that are trying to think about building a support system? What does that look like for you? And what should they think about? And, specifically a coach change. That's huge. How did you decide on that he was the right coach for you. And that was the right team environment?

Athing

Yeah, I mean having a different coach is definitely really hard. But as I said earlier with just the advice to younger athletes is everyone's journey is not your journey. And so you're going to have to make changes. Eventually, at some point you're going to have to change what you're doing. You're gonna have to adjust to whatever you're not going to keep the same nutrition plan that you had when you were eight years old up until you're 20 no, you're going to change. You're going to adjust to how life is progressing.

And so this was almost one of the decisions as well was. Okay, I think I'm ready to leave the school because I don't think it's fitting for where I'm at and just me mentally. And how I'm taking in being a student and also being an athlete, professional athlete.

I don't know if I'm taking it in the way that I would like to. And so I think it might be time for me to get into a professional environment and finding the coach was almost easy because we, I've saw what Bobby has done in the past. I saw all of his accolades and all the athletes he's worked with, and we spoken a little bit, I think that world, especially last year, he just, said good job to me and just good luck and just do what I do.

And I'm just like, Oh my God, stop. He loves me. I love him too. And I don't know. I just, we had conversations. He talked about, what he could see and what we could do together. And so I was just like, okay. Listen, I don't have anyone else in mind and I would love to live in L. A. because L. A. is cool, I've never been here before, but let's do it! And, I'm just a go with the flow athlete, so hey, if I think the coach can do something great, I'll just follow by the rules, follow by whatever they're telling me and do it!

Stef

Well, it's also an incredible group of women that you're training with. So what is it like to be training with other incredible women?

Athing

It's great. The one thing that I love about our group is just the fact that we're all literally doing the same thing. And I've always talked about having a team and having people that are doing what you're doing, obviously to their different extent into the different points and just whatever, but we're all on the same page.

We're all working towards the next championships. We're all working towards being the best athlete that we can be. And so I think it's just really nice to have other people to relate to. And just, if we ever need a moment to take a step back, we have people to rely on. It's not just about us, you know, and if we do just need help or if there's anything happening, we can just look at the next person and be like, Oh, okay. They're doing this. When we have super hard workouts, we already know that the next person is going to have an extremely hard workout.

So it's just nice to know that, we're on the same page. We're all almost suffering with Bobby, but also doing some great things with him. So I don't know. It's just great to have that nice balance of everyone being on the same page and just creating these memories and, just progressing through our sport together.

Stef

We are all looking ahead to Paris Olympics in 2024 and really excited to see you and your other teammates there performing at next year's Olympics. So what is your mindset, heading into the next Olympics?

Athing

I am just taking exactly what I've gained from Budapest into Paris 2024. I'm really excited to get into training and to just get into the progress of going through practice and just working towards all the goals that we want to accomplish. Just going free, just knowing how to have a balance within the sport, but also like within myself too.

And just everything else that comes with it. That's just. That's what I'm going into it with, just always staying happy and having a balance all around.

Stef

Love it. Well, We're excited to see you and we always like to end the Voice in Sport podcast with two key questions for our community here at Voice in Sport. And the first one is what is one single piece of advice that you have for all the girls out there in sport?

Athing

I would say being confident is a really big piece of advice. You have to be confident in what you're doing, confident in yourself, and confident also in the results. Because if you have those three components, I feel like you will be able to be successful in whatever you're doing. Whether that's sports, something else, just, confidence all around is a huge key.

Stef

I love that. And last question. What is one thing that you would like to see changed for the future of women's sports?

Athing

I wouldn't say, I don't know, I, so far I feel like I'm seeing what I would want to have been changed a couple years ago, which is just women putting themselves out there. I feel like we're seeing that a bit more just all around. It's just, women taking up men's sport pages and just pages that would be emphasized with men.

And so I just feel like it's us continuing to put ourselves out there being bold because we can be and we are strong enough to be. But it's just nice to see that's already happening. I just hope that throughout the years, the next generations can also pull that together and take a hold of what we're doing and what these other athletes are doing.

Putting women's sports on a pedestal just a bit because we can do the things that, men are doing. We can do things that other sports are doing. So just putting yourself out there, being bold, being strong, and, being brave.

Stef

Thank you so much, Athing, for joining us on the Voice in Sport podcast. We're so excited to see what you're going to do next. And you have a whole community here cheering you on.

Athing

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

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Stef

This week's episode was co-produced and edited by VIS creator, Elizabeth Martin and Megan Dorr. Athing's journey teaches us how to balance success in sport with mental health and the pressures that come with it.

Building a support system as we transition from one level to another is so critical and she reminds us that the people and the routines we set up around ourselves can make all the difference in our success. At the end of the day, she reminds us that our dreams are never too big and we can never be too bold in our pursuit.

Please click on the share button in this episode and send it to another athlete that you think might enjoy our conversation. And if you liked our conversation with a thing, please leave us a rating and review on Apple and Spotify. You can follow a thing on Instagram @athiiing, three i’s.  If you're logged into the Voice in Sport platform, head over to the feed and check out our article about how to brand yourself in the era of NIL deals. Take a look at the sessions page and sign up for one of our free or paid mentoring sessions with our over 250+ VIS mentors and 80 VIS experts. If you're interested in advocating for yourself as an athlete and looking to find an agent, check out episode #86, where I talk with Maddie Price and her agent Georgia Simmerling about all things of finding and dealing with agents.

A big thank you to our sponsor of this episode, Champ Sports, for helping us bring visibility to women athletes. See you next week on the Voice in Sport Podcast.

(background music stops)

Host: Stef Strack

Producer: VIS Creator™ Elizabeth Martin and Megan Dorr