Fit Chicks: U.S. Women’s Bobsledder Lauren GibbsPhotos courtesy of Lauren Gibbs Health Features Olympian
In our series Fit Chicks, we chat with female fitness bloggers and trainers from all over the country. Equipped with their collective experience, expertise and practical tips, you’ll be happy to know that a healthier lifestyle is right around the corner.
Name: Lauren Gibbs
Occupation: Bobsledder for the US Women’s Team
Location: Currently in Colorado Springs
Lauren Gibbs, currently pumping some serious iron at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, entered the bobsledding scene just three years ago. Now at 33, she’s training hard to hopefully make it to the 2018 Olympic Games. Paste Health talked with Gibbs about her journey from getting her executive MBA to becoming a national and world champion in bobsledding. Oh, and she reveals her squat and deadlift numbers (it’s insane).
Paste Health: Your road is a little different than most Olympic-bound athletes. Can you talk about your journey from volleyball to the business world to now being on the bobsled team?
Lauren Gibbs: I played volleyball for Brown University and loved playing there. I played all four years and was captain my senior year. Second team all-Ivy, academic all-Ivy. I really loved it. When I was graduated, I figured that was it. I didn’t think I was tall enough to continue volleyball and honestly, I was pretty burnt out on competitive sports. I really didn’t do anything for about two years until I found CrossFit. I was trying to find a way to stay in shape, and I thought maybe I’d run, but I hate running. I actually found CrossFit on a run from my house in Orange County. I moved around with it for a while, which is the best part about it. I love it, but it was something I did because I enjoyed the camaraderie aspect of it, not so much the competing side of it.
Then I was bored, so I thought I’d go get my MBA. I got my executive MBA from Pepperdine [University]. That was just about wrapping up and I was doing really well at work, but I just felt like this wasn’t what my life was supposed to be like. I would put on a suit and go to work and feel like I was playing dress-up in my mom’s closet. It didn’t feel authentic. It was an environment that didn’t allow me to be very creative. Corporate America is Corporate America. I was bored and unmotivated at the time. I was living in Denver by then because I had been promoted a couple of times, and a friend of mine who actually competed in Rio, Jill Potter, she stopped by while I was squatting. She asked, “What’s your squat max?” And I said “375 [pounds].” She said, “Ok…what’s the most you’ve ever deadlifted?” I said, “425.” She came back one more time and asked, “Can you sprint?” I said, “Jill! What’s with the interview?” She said, “I think you should bobsled.” I was like, “What, bobsled? People don’t actually do that. That’s not something people do. It’s not in the Olympics.” And she said, “Yeah, actually it is.”
They were holding an open tryout in Colorado Springs and I had never seen an Olympic training center before. I thought, I’ll go do this tryout, I’ll take a tour of the training center, and that will be my story. So I did the tryout, saw the training center—it’s incredible—and I bought a souvenir, because I knew I wouldn’t be back here again. Every morning, I walk around and can’t believe I live here now. Then I scored high enough on that combine to be invited to a camp in Lake Placid, and I didn’t even know where that was. It’s in upstate New York, nestled in the Adirondack mountains. Then I thought, “That will be my story, the time I spent a whole week at the Olympic training center in Lake Placid.” I ate in the cafeteria, lived in a dorm room, which I haven’t done since college, so I was feeling really nostalgic. I thought, “I feel like an athlete again.” But I was just absolutely awful. It was just the most awkward thing trying to learn how to push a bobsled. Halfway through the camp, I thought, “This isn’t going well. But you know what, I’m an athlete. So I’m just going to be an athlete.” So we did a little competition at the end of the week and I won.
So the coaches sat down with me and some other athletes were there explaining bobsled to me. And I was like, “Wait—I thought bobsledding was an Olympic sport?” They said, yes, it is. I thought, “But the Olympics are four years away.” And they said, “Yes, it is. We have a season every year.” And I said, “Wait, so I would have to quit my job now to do this?” They said, “Yes, unless you can work around our schedule.” So the wheels are turning and the competitive nature in me came back into play. I thought, “Maybe I can go to the Olympics? That would be pretty awesome.” So I did the next phase of trials and the next thing I know, I’m standing on top of a hill in a helmet about to take my first ride with a two-time Olympic medalist as my pilot. I thought, “How did I get here? This is ridiculous.” So I did the team trials, made the team, then I was off to Europe. In August, that will have been three years ago. It’s pretty insane.
PH: Did your background in volleyball and CrossFit help prepare you at all for this new sport?
LG: I think it’s a combination of both. The explosiveness that you have to have from volleyball is really important, and the acceptance of pain in CrossFit has really helped me a lot. You know it hurts for now, but it’s not going to hurt for forever. CrossFit really helped me with mental toughness which I really appreciate. It also gave me this network of people cheering me on, which is incredible.
PH: So do you still include CrossFit type moves in your workouts, or is it strictly focusing on bobsledding?
LG: I don’t do CrossFit workouts. I don’t go to a CrossFit gym anymore—I just train at the [Olympic] training center. I do train at CrossFit gyms sometimes when I’m traveling, because they’re really nice to welcome me in. But I do a lot of Olympic lifting, so I did power cleans and sled pulls today. There’s just no longer a need for those longer workouts, or muscle-ups, or walking handstand pushups. I get a little more sport-specific than I think CrossFitters do. It’s basically all lower-body training and really working on my posterior training.
PH: What are some ways you take care of yourself nutritionally?
LG: Nutrition is a really big part for me for a number of reasons. Weight wise…this part is hard, because if I look in the mirror, my body is absolutely perfect. I think not enough women feel that way. Unfortunately, our sport has a weight limit, so every season I have to lose weight. You just get tired of not eating the way you want to eat, so in the off-season I’ll binge and gain a few pounds and then have to lose them back. Learning how to eat right has really changed a lot for me. I did Paleo while I was CrossFitting, and it was fine for CrossFit and it worked when I wasn’t a full-time athlete. I tried it for bobsledding, and while I got down to the weight I needed to, I didn’t feel great at practice and felt lethargic. I was really lucky to come across a company called, Working Against Gravity. They set my macros for me. I just keep in touch with my coach and she adjusts my macros depending on how it’s going, how my energy levels feel, how my sleeping is, and how my weight is trending.
I love all food. All of it. I wish I could be a professional eater. It’s definitely hard. I’ll say it as an athlete—I love fast food, too. I think anything in moderation is fine and that’s what’s great about my new diet, is that I can have a little bit of everything. I just can’t eat as much as I want. They’re always testing our blood, so they found out I have a high creatinine level because I’m so muscular. There’s always that concern about my kidneys. So we make sure I’m not eating a ton of sodium or drinking soda. I take a lot of ginger, turmeric, greens, and so on. I fuel my body for its best performance. There’s also the recovery side of it. Mobility is really important, so utilizing all we have at the training center in terms of dry needling, sports massage, chiropractic work. It’s a full-time job.
PH: In both the athletic and business worlds, you’ve been so successful. What do you think it takes to achieve accomplishments like that?
LG: The hardest and most important thing, and this is definitely something I’ve had to learn over the years, is to attack your weaknesses. I know that can sound cliché, but it’s just true. Growing up, I was such a crappy athlete. I wish I could do that over again. My volleyball coach at Brown [University] and I are great friends, and she knows. She was probably one of the first people to tell me. So much of my life, I looked like the perfect athlete. I came out with a six-pack. People gave me the benefit of the doubt that I was just good to have around, but I never really worked hard. I think everybody has the ability to do extraordinary things. I think it takes finding what you’re really passionate about, and be willing to work really hard at it.
Now, people tell me, “you work so hard, you work so hard.” But I really love my workouts. I love them. Sometimes I can’t sleep at night because I’m so excited to work on sprinting the next day, because I’m such a bad sprinter. Who knew running in a straight line could be so difficult? I finally have a coach that’s really working with me and I’m starting to see improvements. You have to find what you’re really passionate about, throw yourself into it, and focus on those small wins. Set it up so you’re always making some improvement. Some days, I take two steps forward, but some days I take a step back. But as long as the net gain is always in the right direction, then that’s the goal. Find what your weaknesses are and don’t be afraid to attack them.
PH: What’s your main focus right now, besides training to qualify for the 2018 Games?
LG: I’ve worked the past few summers, because being an Olympic athlete isn’t very lucrative, unfortunately. I come from an environment of sales, so I’m used to a lifestyle of being able to do whatever I want whenever I want, because I control my paycheck. Now that I don’t, I’ve had to make some adjustments. So this summer is the first time where I’m not working, so I’ve been lucky enough to come across a few different companies that are excited about my journey and sharing that journey, so they’ve decided to sponsor me. My goal is just to find ways to fund the kind of training that will be the best way to get on the team. That’s my main focus: training and funding that training.
PH: I hear you’re thinking about trying boxing and doing that for the Tokyo 2020 Games? Can you talk about that?
LG: I’m not ready to grow up quite yet. I did the whole “adulting” thing, and it just didn’t suit me the way I thought it would. By now, I really thought I’d be a c-level executive and, with my degree, I probably could still work my way there. But I’m really enjoying challenging myself in a different way and being the athlete I never was in college. There’s a few summer sports I thought of that were on my list—rugby, crew, and cycling was a potential. Then the boxing coach approached me and said, “Hey, do you want to try boxing?” One of my very good friends I met last summer, who’s actually the two-time Olympic champion, is Claressa Shields. She is insane. I thought, “I’m not boxing what you’re boxing, because I’m not getting beat up by a 21-year-old.” She’s gone pro now, so there’s opportunity there. Obviously, all my focus right now is 2018 [Olympics], so I haven’t even gotten in a boxing ring, or on a rugby pitch, or on a cycling track. But if the opportunity presents itself, yes. I would absolutely like to torture myself physically for another two years in order to try and go to Tokyo.
McGee Nall is a freelance writer based out of Athens, Georgia. She was probably eating Nilla wafers and Nutella while writing this.