Meet 3 Olympic Hopefuls Looking To Bring Home The Gold
On taking the field: I've always been sporty—I skateboarded and played basketball in high school—so when I got to college, a few girls on the rugby team tried to recruit me, mostly because I looked strong. I'd never even heard of the sport, so I said no. But when they asked a third time... The first practice I went to focused on tackling—I had no idea the game was so physical—and I just never looked back.
On her greatest win: In 2014, I was diagnosed with stage III synovial sarcoma, a rare form of soft tissue cancer. Luckily, it's a fight we won. I say we because without the support of my wife and teammates, it wouldn't have been possible for me to be back on the field, let alone preparing for Rio.
Ashleigh Johnson, 21, Water Polo
On diving in: When I was 6, my mother signed up my siblings and me for swim classes because she didn't want us to be sitting at home alone all summer. I found swimming really boring, but if you did well in class, you got to take water polo lessons as a reward—and I was instantly hooked.
On defending the net: Being a good goalie requires being able to let things go. You can't dwell on getting scored on or missing a block here and there. And, of course, it helps to have strong legs!
Ibtihaj Muhammad, 30, Fencing
On suiting up: I tried tons of sports growing up, but the uniforms were always tricky because my religious beliefs require my arms and legs to be covered. So when my mom spotted a few students fencing one day—and saw them dressed in head-to-toe protective gear—she told me to pursue it. As soon as I put on the uniform, I felt a sense of belonging I'd always wanted.
On family support: If I could have one thing with me at every competition, it would be my sister Faizah. She's my biggest cheerleader. And she's a fellow fencer! If anyone can talk me out of a bad balestra, it's her.
In her words:"When people think of Muslim athletes, they go to Muhammad Ali or Hakeen Olajuwon. No One can name a female Muslim athlete—especially one who wears a hijab! I feel blessed to be in a position where I can show Muslim girls that they can participate in sports at an elite level."
Additional photo credits: Johnson: Robert Hanashiro-USA Today Sports/SIPA and Muhammad: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images