Pittsburgh Superstars: Amanda Polk, women’s rowing

PITTSBURGH — As Olympic gold medalist and Pittsburgh native Amanda Polk watches these Olympic games, she’s reflecting on her time atop the biggest athletic international stage.

Polk won gold in 2016 in Rio as a member of the women’s rowing eight squad.

“It was just overwhelming joy,” Polk said. “I just could not stop singing the National Anthem as loud as I could, smiling and looking at my family in the stands. And just appreciating representing the United States of America.”

The Oakland Catholic graduate said her journey to Olympic gold started four years earlier in 2012, when she was picked as an alternate for the London Olympic games.

“I was there in London. I was the supporting the team in London, however, I was not considered an Olympian at all because I did not race. For me, I saw that as a failure,” Polk reflected.

She used that as motivation. She changed her training approach, and it paid off, making the team and reaching the ultimate goal in Rio.

“When we finished, I couldn’t believe that we finished first,” Polk said. “I remember throwing away the oar from my hands lifting up my arms and just yelling yes at the top of my lungs. I don’t think I’ve ever screamed so loud in my life.”

Now retired, and a mom of two with one on the way, Polk keeps her gold medal on her nightstand.

“It’s a wonderful reminder right before I go to bed and before I wake up. No matter what day I had with my children, I just think to myself, ok, if I can do that, I can do this,” Polk said.

Polk hopes her story is an inspiration to others in Pittsburgh and everywhere, to never stop fighting and reaching for your goals.

“Maybe I put a stamp on it. No matter where you’re from, and in my case Pittsburgh, it’s possible to reach the highest athletic performance level and to be victorious,” Polk said. “If that’s your dream, and if you have the drive, then you can do it.”