The four-time All-American at University of Notre Dame trained twice a day and worked full time while competing for a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic rowing team. She made the squad, but as an alternate. “It was a bittersweet experience to go as part of the team and be a part of such an amazing group,” she says, “but it was hard to sit on the sidelines and watch my teammates race.”
Not getting the chance to compete in the Olympics was a tough pill to swallow for Polk, who held down multiple jobs to stay afloat financially while pursuing her dream. Among her less-than-glamorous roles: working security at Morven Museum & Garden in Princeton, New Jersey; babysitting; dog walking and dog sitting; and, ironically enough, taking an office job for a small financial advising company.
Four years later, Polk finally got her chance, in large part because of what she did outside of training. Namely, Polk stayed with a host family of another Notre Dame alum during training so she would not need to work to pay rent. Her reward came in June, when she earned a spot on the 2016 USRowing Olympic women’s eight team—a boat of eight rowers and a coxswain—that won its third consecutive Olympic gold medal.
Competing in the water puts Polk and her teammates more at risk of Zika than athletes competing in indoor sports. USRowing, knowing the risks, advised athletes on what clothing to wear, including a new, one-seam unisuit made of antimicrobial material to reduce exposure.
But Polk, who turned 30 a few days before the Olympics, says she’s worked too hard not to compete. “It’s been my dream to be an Olympian for such a long time,” she says.
Photo Credit: USRowing