By Mat Mikesell | BSU at the Games
When she was 16 and already the youngest athlete ever to make the national team, Caroline Queen came just short of qualifying for the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing for slalom kayaking.
She finished third in her class when she needed a win to make the Olympic Games.
Now, at age 20, Queen is a favorite to earn a spot on the Olympic roster heading into the World Championship, a three-day event starting on June 8 in Cardiff, Wales, where she ultimately will learn if she will compete for Team USA.
Should she make the team on June 10, it would be an accomplishment she’s worked for from a very young age.
From an early age
Queen picked up slalom kayaking at Valley Mill Camp in Darnestown, Md., when she was 9 years old. It wasn’t the first sport she was introduced to—t-ball, soccer, tennis and lacrosse all came before she started paddling.
She said because her parents, David and Sharon, were heavily involved in sports is why she picked up on so many.
“My mom was a P.E. teacher, cheered and played softball,” Queen said. “My dad played football, basketball and tennis.”
While at Valley Mill she caught the attention of Martin Nevaril, the coach of the Bethesda Center of Excellence, where he coached club teams and a U.S. national team training center.
Nevaril was standing on the shoreline one afternoon with the national team coach when Queen zipped through the slalom course. The national coach timed Queen thinking she was there for practice and showed Nevaril the stopwatch.
He recruited Queen to compete for the national teams but anticipated she would eventually compete for the Olympic team.
“The hope was to make the junior and senior national teams, then try out for the Olympics,” Queen said. “I think it all happened faster than I anticipated.”
The balancing act
In 2008, Queen was among the top three women’s kayakers and had a chance to make the Beijing Olympic Games. But at the same time she was a sophomore at Bullis High School and had to balance the two obligations.
Though she had to miss about 80 days of school to train, she made an agreement with her parents and the school that allowed her to continue to pursue the Olympic Games.
“I had a deal with my parents and the school that as long as I stayed on the honor roll, I could continue,” Queen said. “I felt fortunate to earn their trust and just worked really hard to make sure I kept up my end [of the deal].”
But she would suffer a setback a year later when she was hit with a knee injury that forced her to miss the 2009 competitive season. Queen said even though she couldn’t paddle, the injury came as a blessing and a curse.
“It did kind of throw off my momentum as a racer. I had made a great deal of progress and it got kind of lost,” Queen said. “But it also gave me a chance to do other things that summer.”
During that time, Queen spent more time with her friends and family and even got to learn some things about theater—but she calls herself someone who appreciates it more than wants to practice it.
Her hard work in physical therapy paid off, as she was able to play club field hockey for Davidson College, where she currently is a psychology major with a minor in education.
Sights set on London
After earning the title of 2011 National Champion in women’s kayak, her focus turned back to preparing for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in April.
She came out of the three-day event as the points leader and earned a chance to compete for an Olympic roster spot for the 2012 Summer Games. But Queen knows it isn’t guaranteed she will make the roster.
“The best and most stressful thing about slalom is that anything can happen,” Queen said.
She’s currently training in Cardiff, Wales, the site of the Canoe Slalom World Cup ,which begins June 8.
Her training schedule varies between whitewater and flat-water workouts and cross training, which depends on if she’s doing an official team camp or not.
On days when she isn’t doing official team training, she has the freedom to make her own schedule.
With the final qualifying just over two weeks away, Queen has come a long way from just missing out in 2008. In the four-year span, her perspective of competing for an Olympic roster spot has also changed.
“It doesn’t phase me as much as being a 16-year-old with a legitimate shot at the Olympic spot,” Queen said. “But at the same time I come into this selection as a favorite, not as an underdog.”
When her fate is decided on June 10, Queen said it’s more than about just making the team.
“One of my goals as an athlete is to lead by example. There are a lot of girls in the 14-17 age range who could make the senior team in the next few years. I just want to demonstrate that one can still be a good student and a well-rounded person while training to be a top-notch racer.”
A top-notch racer who could represent her country in London this summer.
Mat Mikesell is a senior journalism major at Ball State University covering badminton, canoeing and sailing for BSU at the Games. Follow Mat and the BSU team at @MatMikesell, @bsuatthegames and www.facebook.com/bsuatthegames.