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Conversations with the Inspiring Samantha Achterberg

Today we’d like to introduce you to Samantha Achterberg.

Samantha, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I am 27 years old and have been competing in the sport of Modern Pentathlon for about 9 years. I was born and raised in Littleton, Colorado and currently train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO.

When I was younger I grew up swimming on a summer club swim team and played soccer for fun along with many other sports. My family was very active and we hunted, skied, played tennis, and did a lot of things outdoors. At about eight, I convinced my parents to let me start riding horses and eventually progressed to jumping. When I reached high school, I started running cross-country and track and swam for the high school team. I built up a huge passion for running as well as continuing my love for swimming. I was also riding and training my own horse on the side. It was a ton of work juggling all of the sports and school, but it kept me focused and busy which was good.

I heard about Pentathlon when I was 14 and thought it was interesting but crazy that anyone would compete in five events. When I was 18, I became more interested and did my first camp at the Olympic Training Center in March of 2010 which was followed by my first competition. From this competition, I qualified for Youth Worlds which would be in Uppsala, Sweden. The summer after I graduated from high school was when I went to my first international competition for Pentathlon in Sweden for Youth World Championships. I loved the sport but was unsure of the path ahead and if I really had what it took to be competitive in the Pentathlon world or qualify for an Olympic team. The coaches felt strongly that I did and I took the opportunity ahead and moved to Colorado Springs to train at the Olympic Training Center in August of 2010.

Since then, I have won five USA Modern Pentathlon National Championships in Senior and one National Championship title for Junior. I have been on the National Team as well as the World Championships team seven times have competed at multiple world cups all around the world. In 2016, I made the list of 36 international athletes that qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics, unfortunately, I was ranked the #3 U.S. female and was five points short of qualifying for Rio and was the reserve athlete as only 2 per country are allowed to compete. Last year I joined the Army to become a part of the World Class Athlete Program and not only represent Team USA but the US Army on the road to qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The road has not been smooth or easy by any means. There have been a lot of setbacks, injuries, mental barriers, and physical barriers. When I first started the sport, I struggled a lot with overuse injuries, muscle tears, strains, and stress fractures. In 2012, I had to have surgery on my hip to repair a torn labrum. Earlier that year, I had a stress fracture in the neck of my femur which led to the doctors finding the torn labrum. Even with rehab I was unable to keep the pain levels down and proceeded with the surgery once I finished the 2012 season. I rehabbed back and am so glad I had the surgery. It was a long process and definitely tested my patience to hold myself back and make sure I was taking care of my body and properly following the rehab protocol. I learned a lot through this process and it was also a big reason I pursued getting my certification to teach Pilates! A lot of the exercises were similar to my rehab and made it more fun for me to learn about the strengthening process for my hip and body overall. When I have taught classes to others, I have loved seeing the transformation with the awareness they are able to gain with their bodies.

With all of the injuries and surgery, I have made a point to find ways that I can improve my training as well as the mental side of my sports. With so many events to train for I have had to improve the way I train, recover, and my mental state to be at the top of my game and continue to get better. I always say that you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable because it never gets easier we just get better and keep striving for more.

This also leads me into an important message for not just young women that are starting their journey, but I think applies to all ages. Try to avoid comparing yourself to others. There is a quote that says comparison is the thief of joy which I believe is so true. With our society today this can be so hard to not compare ourselves to the Instagram and Facebook models, athletes, businesswomen that we see. We only see one side of their story and not always the hard struggles, setback or failures that they went through or are currently going through to be where they are today. We all have a journey we are on and all started in different places. Setbacks and failures are hard to get through, but having positive people around you, mentors, family, friends, etc. that know your goals and help you strive to achieve them is key in the journey.

When I did not make the Olympic Team in 2016, I was devastated and crushed. It took me a long time to realize that I would be ok and some things are just not meant to be and I needed to reevaluate the ways I trained, my lifestyle, the people I surrounded myself with, as well as my own mental and physical well being. Coming so close has helped to keep me hungry and drive me moving forward towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. We can’t always do everything on our own so I encourage people to reach out to others and ask for help or advice. Share with others your dreams, goals, aspirations so they can help keep you accountable and push you when you lose motivation or hit a plateau. Find those positive people and make your journey yours with your goals, not the goals you see from someone else. We all start from somewhere and have to create our own path and journey.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into USA Modern Pentathlete in the US Army World Class Athlete Program story. Tell us more about the business.
I have been doing the sport of pentathlon for about nine years, but that is not all I have been doing. Alongside training for the Olympics, I went to school on and off through DeVry University’s online program. I finally graduated, Suma Cum Laude, this past year in August 2018 for a Degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Health Service Management. Alongside school and training, I would work part-time at the Olympic Training Center as well as house sit and babysit to make money to fund my competition and training expenses. As an athlete in a sport that is not well known, it has been a financial struggle, but I have gotten a lot of help and support from family, friends, and donations from people over the years.

In 2017, I made the decision to join the US Army and was accepted in the World Class Athlete Program. I am stationed at Ft. Carson, CO where I am able to train in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center for Modern Pentathlon. This has been an amazing opportunity to compete not just for Team USA, but also for the US Army and Armed Forces. The support that I have received from the Army has allowed me to continue to do my sport and also have a career alongside and for future endeavors after my athletic career.

I also obtained my phase 1 and 2 certifications for Mat Pilates Instruction a couple of years ago. However, I have not been able to pursue teaching as much as I had hoped to due to my training and competition schedule. I hope to be able to teach Pilates and someday get my certification to teach Yoga as well. I have found both of these workouts really help to get myself more in tune with my body and have been an important part of my training regimen.

I am most proud that I was named to the Rio 2016 Olympic team even though I was the alternate. I still made the qualification list for international athletes, however, was ranked the #3 US Female and only 2 per country are allotted slots for our sport. I am currently ranked as the #1 Female Modern Pentathlete in the US and in the top 25 in the World. I will continue training over these next two years to fight for a spot on the 2020 Olympic Team with the hopes of winning a medal for Team USA and the US Army in the sport of Modern Pentathlon. I am also proud of my accomplishment of completing Basic Combat Training, BCT, for the Army. It really tested my mental and physical abilities and pushed me to a whole new level mentally and physically. It also opened up my perspective and mind to so much more and how lucky and blessed I am to be able to pursue a career as a professional athlete and as a soldier in the Army.

What sets me apart from others is that I took the road less traveled and although it was rocky and hilly at times I have still stuck through with my passion and love what I do no matter what gets in my way or the obstacles I am faced with. I know that I have to continue to grow and learn. It has been a continuous challenge, but staying humble and hungry for more and to help inspire others along the way has helped to push me for bigger and better things in all that I do.

Who do you look up to? How have they inspired you?
There has been a multitude of women that have inspired me in my life. My mother would probably be my number one as she has been such a strong person and shoulder to lean on throughout my journey and in life. Even when she may have not seen why I was so passionate about a sport or hobby she would support me and cheer me on in any way she could. She is also athletic and in her 60’s she is still competing and staying active with tennis, running, swimming, biking, and hunting with my father. I am so lucky to have a mother that has been such a big part of my life and continues to push me but also offer support and a shoulder to cry on when I need it.

Many female athletes, authors, and businesswomen continue to inspire me in my journey. Whether I am watching them achieve success in their respected sports or listening to their books or see accomplishments in the news; I am inspired and proud of the women that continue to strive for more and never settle, but that also inspire and give back to others along the way.

A mentor I think in some ways finds you or will come to you at unexpected times or places. I believe there are a lot of people out there that want to help or offer advice and at times we do have to seek that out. However, there can be mentors in unexpected places and with people that we don’t always expect. I mentioned above that surrounding yourself with positive people that you trust is important. Being able to share your goals, dreams, and failures requires vulnerability and it can take time to build trust with people. Finding special people that you are able to trust with these things can really help to hold yourself accountable and help you find what your journey and goals look like for the future and present. It can be hard to ask for help or advice but don’t be afraid to ask questions. I used to think that I would be thought of as dumb if I asked too many questions, but people love to talk most of the time about things they are passionate about and if they want to help and be a mentor they will thrive with the time and the questions that you bring to them.

Being a mentor to others can help you grow and learn as well. Even if we do not know a solution or the right thing to say, sometimes just being there for someone who needs support and motivation can mean the world. To be better versions of ourselves we have to read, listen, respect others and ourselves along with so much more which I think that mentors can be very helpful with.

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Image Credit:
Melissa Rae Photography (personal photo)

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