Sep 17, 2018, 11:14 AM EDT
This feature appears in the Notre Dame-Vanderbilt Game Day Magazine.
A number of Notre Dame athletic teams are celebrating milestone anniversaries this year and the Monogram Club is catching up with Monogram winners from those sports to get their reflections from their time as a student-athlete and how that impacted their lives.
Amanda Polk ’08 was a four-time All-American during her stellar career with the Notre Dame rowing team, which is celebrating 20 years as a varsity program. She graduated in May of 2008 with a degree in biochemistry from the College of Science. Polk won an Olympic gold medal at the 2016 Games in Rio when Team USA claimed victory in the women’s eight.
What lessons did you learn from being a Notre Dame student-athlete?
“Through hard work and perseverance, anything is possible. I was challenged at Notre Dame mentally, physically, and spiritually. For me, it was putting time and effort into my degree, rowing, and faith that were important to me. Although very difficult, it helped me build character and strength in what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be.”
How has being an Olympic gold medalist impacted your life?
“It’s been incredible. The media and support has increased substantially. I think part of that is because it’s such an honor to go to the Olympics, let alone win a medal. I didn’t realize how many fans I had behind me along my journey. When I won gold, I was getting messages from the Notre Dame community along with family and friends at home in Pittsburgh. When I came back from Rio, it was very surprising to me and very humbling to know I had all of these people along the way. Maybe I wasn’t focusing on it because I was just focusing on what I needed to do to perform well at the Olympics.”
What advice would you give to current Notre Dame student-athletes who are aspiring Olympians?
“When you feel overwhelmed, simplify things. It was often very overwhelming for me to think of not just racing at the Olympics, but my goal of winning an Olympic gold medal. From the 2008 to 2012 cycle, every day I dreamt about my goal and every day I thought I had to improve dramatically to get there. When I put that pressure on myself, I was not able to perform to my potential. In the 2012 to 2016 cycle, I decided to take a different approach and simplify my moments and days. I focused on how to improve a little bit every day and that approach helped me to eventually make dramatic improvements later in my performance leading up to my selection for the Olympics, the Olympic games, and achieving my ultimate goal of winning the gold medal. Even when I was sitting at the starting line of the Olympic final, my mind raced with many scenarios of what could happen versus what will happen and I started to feel overwhelmed. Then, I decided to simplify what I needed to do to reach my goal. It was three things: listen to my coxswain, Katelin Snyder, follow my teammate in front of me and pull really, really, really hard. When I identified those three things, I was calm, cool, collected, and ready to race!”
What is a favorite memory from your time at Notre Dame?
“Traveling to and from practice. The St. Joe River is about three miles off campus and actually was an enjoyable bike ride. I probably broke two or three bikes along the way. I remember distinctly calling my dad and telling him that I broke my first brand-new bike and he responded with, ‘how on earth does that happen?’. I had to proceed in telling him that I was very excited about having a great practice and I peddled so hard back to campus that I broke one. He was not thrilled, but I did get a heavier duty bike after that.”
When you make it back to campus, what’s a location that you try and visit?
“The Grotto. I like to say a special prayer and light a candle. I use it as a time to reflect on my journey in life and to show gratitude for all of my blessings past, present and future.”
What are you currently up to and what’s next for your rowing career?
“I am currently living in Easley, South Carolina with my husband, Eric Sobolewski, and our one-year-old daughter, Adalie. We actually are expecting our second child in February 2019. I recently stepped away from collegiate coaching at Clemson to focus on my family. As for what is next, I hope to mentor young rowers to help them reach their aspirations whether its collegiately or at the national team level.”