Olympic Gold Medalist Kaleigh Gilchrist Shares How She Juggles Water Polo and Surfing
Being an athlete is no easy task, especially when you're juggling two sports at once.
Just ask Kaleigh Gilchrist, a top-ranking surfer and an Olympic gold medal-winning water polo player. Try saying that three times fast!
Keep scrolling to get to know this stellar female athlete a little better, and get ready for some stellar advice from Kaleigh on how all you future sports stars can achieve your dreams, too.
Sweety High: How did you get involved in both surfing and water polo?
Kaleigh Gilchrist: I started both sports at the age of 8. My mom signed me up for a surf camp with a couple of buddies one summer, because I was still too young to do junior lifeguards. I started water polo around the same time, because my best friend was playing and wanted me to play, too.
SH: What do you love most about each of these sports?
KG: My sports are obviously very different. I love the team aspect of water polo and being able to have common people come together to reach uncommon results. You learn to love the grind and the hardships that come along with the journey. These eventually make you stronger and make the successes that much more fulfilling.
Surfing, on the other hand, is more of a passion. I love the feeling of riding a wave. I've been able to travel to beautiful parts of the world to ride waves. On the competition side, there are obviously tons of outside factors that you can't control, like swell, wind, tide, judges, sun glare. These factors teach you to focus only on what you can control. Because of this, I've learned to be more in the moment, which has benefited me in both sports. Ultimately, I love to compete with myself and try and better myself everyday, and luckily both sports give me the opportunity to do that.
SH: Congrats on winning a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics for water polo! What was that experience like?
KG: The whole Olympic experience was obviously a dream come true, and winning the gold was icing on the cake. The world stops for two weeks to put aside their difference and celebrate sport. Rio was amazing and their people are so passionate. Being able to accomplish a lifelong goal, being on the podium with a gold medal around my neck singing the National Anthem is obviously a moment I will never forget. Having all my friends and family down there to support me made it even more special. The whole experience made me reflect on my entire journey, from the 8-year-old tomboy who fell in love with the sport, to the Olympian on top of the podium. There are really so many people who have helped me, pushed me and motivated me throughout my 16 years, who go unnoticed and deserve to be thanked.
SH: What does your weekly training regimen look like?
KG: Right now I'm solely focusing on surfing, so my weekly surf schedule always depends on the swell. I train with my surf coach at least 4 times a week. We run heats and practice strategy along with critiquing my technique. We also analyze my surfing through video. I'm in the gym training three times a week with one-and-a-half-hour sessions. I try and swim everyday along with yoga and spin at YAS. I'm running a half marathon this month, so I've been adding more running to my training schedule. It's definitely a grind and I find myself training as much as I was for the Olympics, just for a different sport.
SH: What's the most difficult part about juggling two sports at once? How do you keep going when it gets overwhelming?
KG: I've been balancing both sports for so long that it comes natural to me. I don't stress out too much, but the few times I do get overwhelmed I use perspective to get me back in the right mindset. People would die to be able to travel the world and compete in two sports they love. I just try to embrace the opportunities I have and be grateful for the sports that have given me so much. The older I've gotten and the higher level of sport I've reached, I've learned that I have to commit a little more to one sport rather than both. Yes, while I was training for the Olympics I still surfed multiple times a week, but I wasn't able to commit as much as I would like to surfing and vice versa. Yes, I swim everyday and try in stay in somewhat shape for polo, but I'm focusing on qualifying for the surf tour right now.
SH: Where do you hope your career in both water polo and surfing takes you?
KG: I hope it takes me to another Olympic games. My dad swam in 1964 Tokyo and I have an opportunity to be able to compete in the same city as him 56 years later. We may be the first child-parent duo to ever do so. That's my motivation right now. What sport? I'm not sure yet. Will I even make it? Who knows… I could get injured, get passed up by other athletes, the water polo team could not even qualify. There are tons of variables that are involved, but no reason to worry about those right now. I just need to focus on being the best that I can be. Beyond that, I want my journey to help inspire others to confidently go after their own dreams.
SH: What's your advice for young female athletes who hope to follow in your footsteps?
KG: Follow your passions. That's the first step. Luckily, I found my passions at a young age, but it makes life so much more fun if you are doing what you love everyday. The moment I wake up and don't want to go to surf training or polo practice is the moment I need to reevaluate what I am doing. Secondly, if you truly want to accomplish something, then you can. You need to commit to the goal and put your whole mind, body and soul into achieving that goal. Remember you can always be doing more. And lastly, have some freaking fun. That's what life is all about, right?!
Kaleigh isn't the only female athlete we love. Get to know 8-year-old skateboarding sensation Sky Brown HERE.