March is Girls Sports Month, and as part of USA TODAY High School Sports’ third-annual Girls Sports Month celebration, we’re speaking with some of the most influential female athletes, coaches and celebrities in the sports world.
Today, we connect with Maame Biney, an Olympic short track speed skater. Biney was a member of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic speedskating team. The Reston, Va. native was the surprise winner of the 500 meter event at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials and competed in the 500m and 1,500m in Pyeongchang, finishing 14th and 31st, respectively. By doing so, she became the first black woman to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic speed skating team.
GIRLS SPORTS MONTH: See more athlete interviews here
USA TODAY: Congratulations on the Olympics! Tell us more about what it was like?
MAAME BINEY: It was definitely an experience to remember because it was my first time being on a big stage like the Olympics. It was a lesson I needed to learn before 2022 and I was excited to have the experience and opportunity.
I learned that I need to be able to be in my own mind, being calm in a really pressurized situation in particular. The Olympics was such a huge stage and I’d never been there before. I’m a people-pleaser and wanted to please everyone, but I needed to please myself and be happy with what I got and not be focused on what everyone wanted. For 2022 I think I’ll be able to be more relaxed because I know what’s happening and what’s going on. I’m so glad I was able to go to the Olympics as such a young age so in 2022 I can perform better.
USAT: What role did being a part of a team help get you to the Olympics?
MB: Having a team means everything to me. I like having people around me to guide me and learning things from other people. My two teammates were Jess (Jessica Smith-Kooreman) and Lana (Gehring), and they’re veterans. I loved having them with me because that meant they could teach me so in the future I wouldn’t have those mistakes. I could continue doing what I love because I love it! As far as having a team outside of speed skating like my Dad and my family, that is the most important to me. They’ve supported my Dad and I, and having that kind of a team is a major part of my life. It’s a very good thing.
USA TODAY: When did you first know that you wanted sports to be a critical part of your life?
MB: So, in 2014 and 2015 was the first time I was able to qualify as a junior to go to Junior World Championships. I didn’t make the team and was really bummed and super down on myself. As soon as I came back from that competition I was really, really motivated to keep pushing myself and keep going. I wanted to make the junior team, then the World Cup team, then my ultimate goal was to make the Olympic team for 2018. That season was really the year when I was motivated to make the Olympic team.
USAT: Why is participation in sports so important for girls today?
MB: Number one, participating in any sport allows you to meet people you would never meet anywhere else. Young girls participating in a sport is really important because it ensures you’re really active and healthy. Then the people you meet in that sport are remarkable. It’s a really good lesson and makes you more prepared and disciplined for the outside world. It’s a regular thing that forces you to get into a scheduled mind. I think that’s really helpful when you’re applying for colleges, then later going to college and going to work.
USAT: What was your favorite sport growing up, and why?
MB: I actually did several sports growing up. I did soccer for a few months and did figure skating for a few months before speedskating. And I did gymnastics and tried dance, too! I think my favorite has always been speedskating. I just loved it and was so comfortable with it that it came naturally to me. I didn’t have to put my body in crazy positions like amazing gymnasts do or run everywhere like in soccer. And dancing, I just can’t dance.
USAT: What is the biggest life lesson you took away from competition?
NO: The biggest lesson I’ve taken from competition, this year especially, is to take each race one step at a time and not focus on the ultimate goal. My goal is always to be in A Final, but I can’t fixate on reaching the A final when I haven’t even raced my heat. I need to focus on my heat, then my semifinal and then hopefully my A final. Believing in myself is something that I had to learn very, very quickly this year.
USAT: Why is being a role model for younger girls important to you?
NO: It’s 100 percent an honor to be a role model for younger girls. Going on to this huge stage I never thought I could be a role model for little girls and boys around the world. I want to continue that and hopefuly do something good for this world when I’m done with skating. I want to help them get involved with sports and hopefully have them smile every day.
USAT: What should girls do who don’t have access to a sport they want to play?
MB: The real key is just to try really, really hard to find something that you love and to do something you love. It’s going to be hard and there will be times when you want to give up and not do anything. But you have to stand back up, get back up and realize that you have a goal you want to achieve and you need to make yourself proud. Try to make yourself proud in something you want to do, then go out and do it.
USAT: Did where you grew up play a role in your development?
MB: I moved here to the U.S. when I was five, so I don’t remember my early years in Ghana. But I grew up here in a very safe and comfortable situation. I always had food and a place to sleep. It was good and a very nice and comfortable situation to keep going. The village that I have is supporting me in everything. That has really helped because if I didn’t have my Dad to support me and push me to keep going I probably would have stopped when I didn’t make the junior team. I might not have made it here without him and my village around me.
USAT: What else do you think is important for girls to know about sports and participating in them?
MB: I think having a sport in your life is an amazing thing. It’s a hard thing to do and a hard thing to be the best at, but at the same time it’s equally as fun because you’re meeting new people, having fun and exploring something in you that you never know you had. I think that’s the most beautiful thing you could ever ask for yourself. Finding something new in yourself.