Every two years Olympic fever sweeps across the nation as the world’s eyes turn towards the top athletes from every country. Memphis’s very own Sable Otey is on her way to the 2018 winter games in PyeongChang, South Korea as a brakeman on the U.S. American Bobsled Team. This wife, mother, and full-time teacher has beat all the odds on her way to becoming a professional athlete.
Sable, 28, was raised by a single mother in East Memphis and began running track and field at Memphis East High School, which earned her a partial-scholarship to George Mason University in Virginia. She became a Division I Conference Champion and like many young and successful athletes, it was her dream to go to the Olympics. She continued training for the 100-meter hurdle while she attended graduate school in San Diego, where her husband was stationed in the Navy.
Despite her efforts, Sable failed to make it to the Olympic trials that year as she became pregnant with her first child, but she says it was more than that. “None of the training mattered. I didn’t believe in myself as much as others did. I would mentally tear myself down and I took myself out of the competition before it even began.”
She took a break from athletics and Amar’e, her son, was born in 2012. Her family moved back to Memphis and she began as a teacher at Lawrence Elementary School. Coming back to her roots and being closer to her family reinvigorated her. “Being surrounded with positive, like-minded, and uplifting individuals made the difference,” she says. “They helped me find more faith in God and I eventually developed more conviction to verbalize my dreams and goals and to believe in myself. I wouldn’t let fear control my life anymore.”
While building up her confidence over the next three years, she used her experience and training to help others in the community, work which she continues to this day. She hosts sports and nutrition clinics, track and field clinics, and an Olympic training program for kids during the summer. “It’s my goal to give back, help as many people as possible, and be a role model to the youth. You can do anything you set your mind to, no matter your current circumstances. Our current circumstances do not determine our future,” she says.
“ You can do anything you set your mind to, no matter your current circumstances. Our current circumstances do not determine our future.”
In 2015 Sable got another chance to go after her dream when her God brother, another athlete, suggested she try out for the Olympic Bobsled team in South Carolina—the caveat being it was two weeks away. “I’m afraid of heights, I never liked the cold, and I’m afraid of roller coasters, but I wanted this more than anything.” The brakeman position in bobsledding requires an explosive push for 30 to 40 meters before jumping in the sled and pulling the brake about a minute later.
Because Sable had almost no time to train or even acclimate to the new sport, the tryouts were a struggle. The nuances of working with a heavy sled on new terrain was a real challenge, despite her speed and power. She suffered a hamstring injury early in the competition. “Instead of beating myself up about it and letting it ruin my chances, I kept my positive outlook and pushed myself harder by getting up two hours before everyone else so I could rehabilitate my leg.” Three months later when the trials were over, she received the second highest score of both men and women, earning herself a spot on the U.S. American Bobsled Team.
Sable now faces the toughest part of her journey—balancing a rigorous training and competition schedule with being a wife, mother, and full-time teacher. Her family, her biggest supporters, and her school accommodate her absence when she’s at the Olympic training center, but achieving her dream comes at a huge cost. Athletes must pay for all their training and travel costs, which are usually well over $10,000 each season. Not only does Sable lose income for the time she misses work, she spends thousands of dollars on airfare, lodging, sports gear, meals, supplements, and massage and chiropractic services that keep her in top form. She’s picked up a few sponsors, but she still covers the majority of expenses herself. “One of my greatest challenges is competing against athletes who are fully sponsored and can dedicate their life to training.” Instead, Sable arranges tiny slots in her schedule to train, which means getting to the gym by 5 a.m. before going to her day job. “My family and my students are my motivation. I want to encourage everyone, especially other moms, that if you want it bad enough and you work hard enough, then you will succeed.”
To support Sable Otey in her journey to the 2018 Olympics, visit her fundraising page at www.gofundme.com/wr4jhnp3.
BEST PRE AND POST-WORKOUT FOOD
I eat greek yogurt and oatmeal before a workout. Afterwards it’s a vanilla smoothie with almond milk, peanut butter, and half a banana.
D-1 Sports Training in Collierville.
FAVORITE GO-TO EXERCISE
Squats! All the power comes from the lower body, so this one is important to do.
FAVORITE PIECE OF TRAINING EQUIPMENT
I love working with the Bosu Ball. There are so many exercises you can do with it and it burns a lot of calories.
HOW TO STAY CAMERA-READY DURING & AFTER A WORKOUT
Since I’m often photographed during training and after we get off the ice, I wear quick dry eyeliner and waterproof mascara. My stylist, Jasmine at Urban Luxe, gives me amazing cuts that are easy to maintain and don’t require blowdrying or a flat iron.
By Shawn Southwell
Photos by Ziggy Mack