PHOTOS BY BRODY WHEELER
Rochester Woman Online is very proud, and honored to have had the chance to sit down with 2x Olympic Gold medalist speed skater, singer, mother, local celebrity, and well the list is just endless of this ladies talents…Please welcome Cathy Turner as our latest RWO cover woman.
She has an incredible story, is a true inspiration and mentor, and well lets just say we had a lot of laughs during our eight hour photo session. From playing dress up, to talking about how I had a crush on Apollo Anton Ono and so much more. We hope you enjoy our Q&A with her and get to know more about this amazing Rochesterian that just happens to be an Olympian too!
Tell us about who Cathy Turner is. Where were you born? Do you have brothers and sisters? Do you have any children?
I was born and raised in Rochester, NY. I have a brother and 2 beautiful daughters, Britney (22) and Bayli (20).
You are best known for being a 2x Olympic Gold Medal in short-track speed skating… What has that been like?
It still feels like a dream to me. I do get really excited when I watch old videos of my races. It’s kind of like I’m cheering that person on that I’m watching and then I realize it’s me! LOL When I was on the podium, it was surreal. My childhood dream was really coming true! I just kept saying to myself, “Wow, this is it! This is REALLY it! I won! I won!” Then I wish they could just play the anthem one more time…”Hey guys, I get it now! Please, one more time!” It really does go by so fast and by the time you start to actually feel it, it’s over and you’re asking yourself, “What just happened?!” When I arrived home, there were thousands of people at the airport to celebrate my return. Then came parades, appearances and non-stop travel all over the country to attend celebrity functions and dinners. The whirlwind had begun. I had become an Olympic Champion and I was one of only 4 gold medalists – all women – that year. Then it all happened again in 1994.
You came out of retirement to capture a gold medal at the sport’s Olympic debut (1992). What made you decide to try and make a come back?
It was the last Saturday in August after the 1988 Olympics that changed my whole life. That’s the day I decided, out of the blue, to skate again. I remember reading a newspaper article about a former teammate of mine who had just competed in the Olympics and I was like, “I can do that too! That IS me!” and that’s when my Mom said, “Maybe that’s what you should do.” I couldn’t believe it! I had just gotten the “go-ahead” from my Mom who had always believed in me. Thanks Mom! Today, we talk about that day and how I actually went on to win a real Olympic Gold medal….then I say, “OMG, Mom, I won TWO!” and then we both tear up and chills come over us. It’s still unbelievable.
What made you pick speed skating?
I was a bit of a Tomboy when I was young and I loved sports, I loved playing in the dirt and I loved to just keep moving. My parents had me water skiing and snow skiing when I was just 4 years old.
When I got a pair of figure skates for Christmas, I couldn’t wait to try out a new sport. My Dad took me to the rink and there were some speedskaters there with their coach. When the coach saw that I was trying to race everyone, he talked my Dad. Next thing I knew, I had a new pair of speed skates, a uniform and was introduced to the sport of speedskating. I entered a novice race and won a blue ribbon! It made me feel so special. From then on, that became my life, my family’s life, as we travelled most weekends to out of town skating meets, where I usually brought home the overall prize trophy. I made the US Team when I was 16 years old. I did quit for 9 years or so, but I made a come back and trained for just over 3 years for the 1992 Olympic Games. Well, the rest is history.
What do you feel are your greatest strengths? What about some of your weaknesses?
I think my greatest strength is that I know how to “Git ‘er done!” and make things happen. I’m not afraid of failure anymore (I was when I was younger). I dive right into something that I get excited about, attack it head on and worry about the logistics later on. “Signing up” for something is the first step! Weaknesses?! Huh? LOL
What have you been up to since the Olympics? What career path did you choose?
I completed my degree while training for the 1992 Games and I am now an Operations Engineer and a Database Engineer at Paychex. I’ve been there over 8 years now and I love my job. I get to troubleshoot and fix technical issues, learn new things everyday, share my own knowledge with others.
When did you first realize you wanted to pursue going to the Olympics?
People used to tell me I would go to the Olympics one day (how did they know?!) and I used to pretend winning a Gold medal and having it put around my neck, the whole nine yards. I would get so excited about being able to dream about it. I even used to make a wish on every penny I could find to be an Olympic Champion someday, but then reality would set in.
Who are some of the people that empower and inspire you and why?
My Mom for sure! She gave me a second chance. She knew me and empowered me to go be the best at what I loved to do. Even when I’m sure many others doubted me and thought I was nuts to start skating again after so many years away.
If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s the pursuit, the journey that makes us who we are today.
You were the American short track champion in 1979, but failed to make the 1980 Olympics. How did this make you feel?
It was not my time. I was young then and I was not mentally or physically ready for those Games.
You left skating to pursue a music career. What type of music is your favorite to perform?
I loved to sing and write pop music back then. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to sing with some top, local bands such as CC and the Cats, Sky Coasters (Barcelona Spain for NBC Olympic closing ceremonies party), Nik and the Nice Guys (State Fair guest appearance), Roger Eckers, Henry Brennana traveling Vegas-style show group as the lead vocalist, among others. I sang on many jingles and also recorded background vocals on several albums. Other styles of music included Jazz, Country, R&B and Rock. I also really LOVE to sing Opera (no one knows that)!
What do you think would have been different if social media was around when you won the Olympics?
Wow, I’m sure there would’ve been a lot more opportunities. That would’ve been nice but, part of me can’t imagine how much busier I would’ve been trying to keep up with all the social media, as I wore myself thin after my Olympics. I even started growing nodes on my vocal chords from talking so much! Doctor’s orders had me spending time alone in the Caribbean just to rest my voice for a while.
Name one special moment during your career that has stood out to you and why.
When I won my favorite medal…the Silver! It was the first medal I ever won and that’s something you never forget. I kept waking up in the middle of the night to look at it. I couldn’t believe it! Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that night. My sports psychologist took my medal away from me the next day and told me I needed to focus on my next race, the 500m. The next day, I won my first Olympic gold medal!
You are known for having an aggressive style on and off the track. Do you think that has helped or hindered you in your success professionally and personally?
Being considered an “aggressive” athlete is a compliment and I say “Thank you!” If I had let those much bigger, much taller girls intimidate me, I may have taken myself out of the driver’s seat mentally, which could’ve jeopardized my focus. I worked way too hard mentally to ever let that happen at the Olympics. I trained myself to actually look forward to racing and enjoy every second of it. When you simply remind yourself that you love doing what you’re doing (for me, skating really fast), then you are in complete control and you will always perform at your best.
What do you do today?
I’ve learned that challenging myself in one way or another is what makes me happy. Today, I strive to be very good at my job as an Operations Engineer at Paychex. I’m constantly trying to master new technologies as well as help others by sharing my own knowledge. When I’m not working, I enjoy playing platform tennis, pickleball, golf and I also enjoy getting out on the ice to help coach the Rochester Speedskating Team.
How has being such a decorated athlete and Olympian affected your family life?
When my daughters were young, I got to know many of their friends from school, since they would call and ask, “Are you really an Olympic Champion?!” Yeah, that happened! I eventually did several school assemblies and shared my and medals with the students. That set the record straight. LOL I can remember my girls running around with my medals around their necks when they were little. I was like, “Woah! Woah! Come here honey, take those off!” They had no idea.
I love being a Mom and that’s my main priority. They are both natural athletes themselves. Bayli was a level 10 gymnast and Brit was on the high school tennis team when she was still in middle school. Bayli is now studying to be a veterinary technician and Brit is in her senior year at Ithaca College, majoring in Film Production. She is very artistic and loves to create characters. She hopes to pursue a career in animation. I taught my girls the importance of using imagery to achieve their own success. Bottom line, to my girls, I’m still just “Mom.”
What’s the most important discovery you’ve made about yourself and what lessons have you learned being an Olympic athlete?
I feel fortunate to have learned how to overcome obstacles that I used to impose on myself, such as “fear of failure.” I now know how to use imagery to turn scary situations into positive, fun, exciting challenges. I call it my “cognitive attitude.” It’s simply how we look at things. I can be nervous and scared to sing the National Anthem in front of 80 thousand people, or I can remember that I love to sing and allow myself the privilege to enjoy it and feel good about the accomplishment. Yup, that actually happened to me.
What is something unique about you that others may not know?
I starred in a movie called “High Stakes” with Tiny Tim and Jerry Mathers (the “Beave”). I was the 1992 Eastern Regional Water Ski Champion in tricks, slalom and jumping. I competed in the National Skeleton Championships and won a silver medal. I was on American Gladiators. I also attended a State Dinner at the White House with President George H. W. Bush. It was such an honor to be invited by the President.
Describe one of your biggest failures. What lessons did you learn, and how did it contribute to a greater success?
The “fear of losing” had such a grip on me when I was younger that I quit for 9 years. I finally learned to face my fears by simply reminding myself that I LOVE to skate instead of being afraid of losing. This is when things turned around for me.
How did you prepare yourself mentally and physically for the Olympics? What were some of the pros and cons?
It took me a long time to be able to see myself winning the gold and crossing the line in 1st place. I kept seeing other girls beating me in my head. Working with my sports psychologist taught me how to overcome my intimidators and other obstacles in order to be able to win the gold. I also trained with our men’s team. I knew that if I could keep up with the men, then I was the fastest woman in the world and that helped give me more confidence to win.
What was it like starring in the Ice Capades?
This was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had! I got to star with Dorothy Hamill and Christopher Bowman and perform in 26 major cities on the “Made In America” tour. I got to sing, skate (on figure skates too!) and perform my own songs that I had written for the show. I can remember one special moment in particular. It was the end of an intermission, just before the 2nd half of the show was about to start. Frozen in my pose for my next number, the elevator had just taken me to the top of the stage. It was dark. A video was playing behind me on a giant screen. People could barely see me but I could see everything! I could see the audience with their little hand-held lights and other ice capades memorabilia. I couldn’t believe I was there, about to sing and perform this number all by myself at Madison Square Garden! When the spotlights finally came on, I owned it and loved every second of that performance. I remember it like it was yesterday. This is definitely one of the best memories of my life.
Who is your favorite athlete then or now and why?
There were several athletes I admired but, I don’t think I ever had a favorite. I always felt that if someone else could something, then I could do it too.
What advice would you give to other athletes, especially now in 2021?
It’s all about being mentally prepared and having a vision. You need to be able to see yourself accomplishing that vision and overcoming all the obstacles along the way. It’s not easy work and will take time, but it’s worth it. It’s what makes the difference between being good at something and being the best. My motto has always been “See it, Believe it, Be it” and that kind of sums it up nicely.