Interview with Maame Biney

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Maame Biney is the first ever female African-American speedskating olympian who competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeong-Chang at the young age of 18. She is a powerful inspiration to many young athletes and wishes to spread more mental health awareness around athletics.  Read on to learn more about her amazing journey!

(SLM) What age were you when you started competing? Who inspired you as a young athlete and why? 

I’m pretty sure that my first nationals was when I was 9 or 10. When I was younger, whenever Shani Davis came to DC to visit I’d always get super excited. I never fully understood how good he was until I got older, but I will always be grateful to him because he was really nice and he was (still is) an inspiration to me.

(SLM) What kind of positive thinking tools do you use to prepare mentally?

I recently learned this trick where I think of a very detailed room and it has all the things that make me really feel comfortable. From my favorite food/drink, an animal that I’d want with me to what the color of the carpet is. So basically, as detailed as possible. And in front of me there’s a TV and it’s playing a couple of my favorite races. Using that trick really helps me get into that right mind (especially for races) and the right feelings.

(SLM) What do you do to calm your nerves before competing? 

So, in addition to that trick mentioned above, watching a TV show or playing games on my phone really helps me calm my nerves so that I don’t get too into my head when it’s competition day.

(SLM) On average, how many hours a week do you train?

I would say 25-30(?) hours a week. I’m not really sure if that’s even right because I’m never really home and if I am it’s on our rest day or if we happen to have a one-day training day.

(SLM) Are you naturally motivated or do you have to work at it?  If so how?

I wouldn’t say that I’m naturally motivated, I think over the years I’ve gained more and more motivation to work harder than the previous years. Hahah maybe I’m more of the “working at it” one.

(SLM) What was your best day ever as a professional athlete?

I can’t really choose between making the Olympics or setting a Junior World Record. They both for sure are special to me, but in different ways I guess.

(SLM) How do you deal with the pressure of performing?

Honestly, not very well. That’s one of the main reasons as to why I play games on my phone, so that I don’t have to think about the amount of pressure I’m putting on myself in order to do well in a particular race. It’s definitely a process to figure out what in that moment is your priority and what is a waste of time. Freaking out about something that may or may not happen is a waste of your energy before/during a race. But focusing on what you have to do in order to be the best you can be at that moment is a good use of your energy.

(SLM) What challenges have you faced in this and how did you overcome them?

I’m actually overcoming right now. So, this past season hasn’t been very good and it was really difficult to figure out if I wanted to keep going or move on to the next chapter of my life. It wasn’t only because of my results but because of the people I was surrounded by. But with the help from people that I knew were there for me no matter what and understood the situation, I was able to know where I stood with the sport of speedskating. So, the challenge that I faced was more of a mental one, then a physical one. I feel like I’m on the way to overcome it and I’m excited to see where it takes me.

(SLM) What is the best advice for teenagers starting in any type of sport?

Make sure that you’re doing it for you and no one else because what’s the point? Know that at the end of the day, it’s your life and you need to be able to do what makes you happiest. What makes you excited and fearless.

(SLM) What aspects of mental health in sport are often overlooked?

Oh man, that’s a really good question because in recent months I’ve experienced a lot of mental health issues and I feel like the people close to me didn’t understand what I was going through. So, I think the most overlooked one would be depression for sure. I feel like the world expects all pro-athletes to always be on their a-game, always be excited to go to practice, and all these things that mentally can’t happen every single day. So, the days that you don’t feel like getting up and being around people or going to practice are very much overlooked and kind of looked down on because “you’re not a REAL athlete if you’re not excited to go to practice every day.”